NATO launched a military intervention in the Kosovo conflict without a UN Security Council mandate. Russia is now intervening in Crimea without UN backing. But comparisons are problematic, says DW's Verica Spasovka.
Serbs and Albanians are closely observing events in Crimea, and the way that the West has unanimously called Russia's intervention there a breach of international law. The comparison has especially come to the fore after former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder remarked that Russia's actions clearly violate international law while adding that the West also broke international law 15 years ago when NATO intervened in Kosovo without a UN Security Council resolution.
Kosovo as a precedent?
Schröder is not the only one to have made statements of this kind, which have brought the long-running debate about the conflict in Kosovo back into the public eye. Kosovo's independence has, after all, remained a controversial issue even among EU countries. Greece, Romania, Slovakia, Cyprus and Spain reject the independence of the country, especially since they are concerned about minorities in their own countries seceding. Even the 2010 verdict of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, when the court recognized the lawfulness of Kosovo's independence but did not endorse secession or actual statehood, has not changed the position of these European countries towards Kosovo. This seems to be an indication that the West acted in contravention of international law in Kosovo, and is only grist to the mill of those who are accusing the West - perhaps rightly - of having double standards.
It is true, after all, that the NATO military intervention in Kosovo was not backed by international law. That fact has remained a weak link in NATO's argument for intervention. But it is worth remembering why there never was an international resolution on Kosovo: Russia resisted it by pointing to the UN Charter's ban on intervening in a country's domestic affairs. But that detail is not preventing today's Russian government from presenting its own intervention in Crimea as a duty to interfere, apparently in order to protect Russians in Ukraine.
Intervention in Kosovo was a final resort
The comparison between Kosovo and Crimea is, however, also problematic in other ways. In Kosovo, the West was acting after massive expulsion of Kosovo's Albanian population by the Yugoslav army. There is no such persecution of Russians on ethnic grounds in Crimea.
What is more, the shock of the mass murder of Bosnian Muslims that took place in Srebrenica in 1995 still ran deep for the international community. The Western alliance was convinced that a second Balkan genocide - this time of Albanians - had to be prevented. The West had already exhausted all its diplomatic possibilities before it intervened militarily. It only resorted to military means when years of sanctions and negotiations failed to bear fruit.
It is strange that Moscow is now using Kosovo as an argument for the referendum in Crimea and for the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. The West itself, goes Russia's justification, let the genie out of the bottle when it recognized the independence of Kosovo - and Crimea is just following Kosovo's example. But that logic, too, is flawed, since the West wasn't planning to make Kosovo part of a neighboring state.
Many in Serbia are also puzzled by Moscow's take on international law. Until yesterday, Serbian politicians were sure that Kosovo's example would serve Russia as an ominous example of Western intervention policies. Today, they are realizing that their counterparts in Moscow are making Kosovo a welcome precedent as a way to justify their power play in Crimea. But the Kremlin's verbal acrobatics are easy to see through. Because the fact remains: Crimea isn't Kosovo.