Starr Forum: NATO, the Balkans, and Ukraine: The Geopolitical Implications of the European Periphery

MICHELLE ENGLISH: Greetings. I'm Michelle English, and on behalf of the MIT Center for International Studies, I would like to welcome you to today's Starr forum. We're honored to have with us today Una Hajdari to discuss NATO, the Balkans, and Ukraine, the geopolitical implications of the European periphery. Ms. Hajdari is a freelance journalist from Kosovo and is at CIS as the 2018 Elizabeth Neuffer fellow. This fellowship sponsored by the International Women's Media Foundation and provides a unique opportunity to female journalists working on human rights and justice issues, allowing them time away from the field to do research at MIT and to report at the Boston Globe and the New York Times.

In our typical fashion, today's talk will begin with our speaker followed by a conversation between our featured speaker and our discussant. Followed by that, there will be Q and A with the audience. For those asking questions, I'd like to remind you to line up behind the mics and to please just ask one question at this time just so everyone can get their questions in.

And also because this talk is offered as an IAP for MIT students, I just wanted to take a quick count of first all of the MIT graduate students who are attending today. If you could raise your hand? Any MIT grad students? OK, two, four. And if you are a MIT undergraduate, raise your hand. OK, thank you.

Now I'd like to introduce our discussant. Elizabeth Wood is Professor of history at MIT and the author of three books, Roots of Russia's War in Ukraine, Performing Justice, Agitation Trials in Early Soviet Union, and The Baba and the Comrade, Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia. I think I got-- OK. She has also written numerous scholarly articles on gender and performance, as well as blogs and other publications about Russian history and current events. Within MIT, Professor Wood serves as co-director of the Misty Russia program coordinator of Russian an adviser to the Russian language program, and she also holds a secondary appointment in MITs global studies and language section. Please join me in welcoming Professor Wood.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Greetings. It's great to have everybody here. I'm going to be very brief. I just want to set the stage for what we're about to do. First, let me say thanks to Michelle English and Laura Kerwin who do an amazing job with these Starr forums. They're really, really extraordinary.

I also want to make two quick announcements to say that the MIT Russia Program in conjunction with the Center for International Studies is going to be bringing to Russia related speakers this spring. One is Brian Taylor who will be here on February 26 speaking on Putinism, his new book, and the second is former Ambassador Michael McFaul, who will be here on March 14 also in a Starr forum. So if you're on the Starr forum mailing list, you'll find out about those-- both of those-- certainly, the Michael McFaul event.

If you want to find out more about our MIT Russia events, [? Kati ?] Zabrovski is our managing director, and she is over here in blue and red, the Russian colors. And we have a sign up sheet out in the lobby. So please feel free to join our mailing list. And if you want to be on the CIS Starr forum mailing list, talk to my-- to Michelle and Laura.

So obviously, this is a key moment to talk about NATO, the Balkans, and Ukraine, as you've all probably been thinking which is why you're here. President Donald Trump has just said that he is not sure the US should be part of NATO, and President-- Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has just said-- has just yet again lambasted NATO as he's about to travel to Belgrade-- to Belgrade. So what's interesting is to see why NATO is becoming the hotspot, why there's so much insecurity and uncertainty right now as to the size of NATO, what's going to happen with NATO, and especially what's going to happen to NATO in the Balkans.

One of the things that we know Hajdari and I are very interested in is how did the conflict get going in 1999. What's been happening since then? I'll say a few more words about Una Hajdari. We're extraordinarily lucky to have her here this year. Thanks to the committee that brought her for the Elizabeth Neuffer fellow, she has published extraordinarily widely for someone who is still-- I'll say this-- fairly young.

She got her start in Kosovo, which is where she's from. So she's from the Balkans. She's fluent in many languages, at least four. She has published-- she got started in the Balkans where she wrote for Balkan insight. She was the managing editor of a journal called Kosovo 2.0. She has contributed to Agence France-Presse. She has contributed to German newspapers, Die Tageszeitung and Berliner Morgenpost.

She's published widely in the US press in Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Nation, The Guardian, and of course most recently, The Boston Globe where she's been interning this fall. And what I think is extraordinary is that she publishes on all sides of the spectrum, both the more conservative American papers and the-- or news outlets and the more progressive. Exactly. Anyway she's also won awards for her journalism. One award was for a study on the education of minority groups, and another was on war criminals who have maintained a hold on power in post-war Kosovo.

And at the end of this month, January 28, she'll be leaving us to go to The New York Times where she'll be interning at the international desk. So I'm going to turn it over to Una Hajdari, and she can talk about the Balkans. We have a couple of slides if you want to use them.

UNA HAJDARI: Yes. Hello. Just a quick check. Do I speak-- my mic OK? Whoever I'm looking at. OK. Hi everyone. Thank you so much for your interest in this topic. I feel that NATO is only the subject of scandalous and sensationalist headlines and that not very often people don't-- are not interested in getting into the meat of the issue and the reasons why NATO expansion is such a big and important topic in eastern and southeast Europe. The fact that it's being mentioned more than ever by the current US president is something that has brought it to the foreground of political debate on a global level, but most people don't understand why the post-socialist East European and Southeast European societies have been focusing on NATO so much over the years.

So just, briefly, to go back to the history of NATO for those who might not know very much about it, in 1948 and '49 after World War II and the defeat of Nazism in Europe, the European security situation is divided between the spheres of influence of the Soviet Union and the spheres of influence of the Western powers, divided along the lines of where they advanced during World War II and where the world war ended. For the Western European countries that had definitely collaborated amongst each other but also with the United States in World War I and World War II, it was important to solidify this relationship and to make sure that they could rely on one another in case they were threatened by Germany. This was before West Germany join NATO. And in case they were threatened by the Soviet Union.

And this is an important element in this because NATO is, in many ways, formed to prevent a possible Soviet threat. And this is something that defines the role of NATO later on in history up until this day with the successor state of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation. And so NATO doesn't do very much, initially. With the Korean War in 1950, which is, in many ways, A, a proxy war, but then develops in a full first and only confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, the signatories of what was initially just the North Atlantic Treaty form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They assign a Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, and decide to make this military alliance a formal thing and something that dictates their foreign policy.

And for most of the Cold War, NATO acts in different ways. It's more active. Sometimes they act more as a unified front. Sometimes more individually. This is shown through the example of, let's say, France and other countries that end up developing their nuclear arsenal as independent countries, just in case they have to fend off for themselves and not as part of the total military alliance.

But all of this changes in '89 or '90 with the fall of the Soviet Union and the breakup of-- oh, and, of course, we need to mention that in retaliation to the formation of NATO, the Soviet Union forms the Warsaw Pact or signs the Warsaw Pact, where it and its satellite states decide to organize for their common defense, mainly. It's much less a society of equals, which NATO was considered to be. But definitely organized the security situation in Eastern Europe along the division line through Germany and what is referred to as the Iron Curtain.

This changes in '89 with the fall of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, it sets its satellite states free. They're independent countries that can do their own thing, militarily and otherwise. And so NATO does some intense soul searching, at this point. What does it do as an alliance that was formed to ward off this other big power? Is it still necessary?

And, also, this comes at a time of big, massive euphoria in Europe and in the world. Neoliberalism is spreading. We don't need wars. We're not going to have wars. Nuclear arsenals are toned down. Demilitarization happens in many, many parts of the world. And at the same time, in Europe, specifically, this new political alliance was formed, which existed as an economic one for a long time and got transitioned into a formal political alliance, officially, with the Maastricht Treaty in the '90s, which, sort of, forms this new political community of nations in Europe where all of these post-socialist states were going to become a part of.

Now, as all of this is happening-- and then, of course, mercifully, the Soviet Union breaks apart peacefully, and there is no escalations in that aspect. Of course, one doesn't think about Chechnya and other things. But that's a topic for Russia experts, not me. But with all this happy euphoria in Europe, there's one part of it, the southeastern region of the Western Balkans that doesn't seem to want to transition peacefully into this neoliberal European global order.

Yugoslavia was less a big worry for the Western powers because having famously split from Moscow or split from Stalin but then maintained its own form of socialism after '48, it had received US aid for the Marshall Plan but also formed the non-aligned movement, which incorporated other socialist countries and post-colonial countries and states through different parts of the world like India and Syria and Egypt and stuff like that. But, anyway, it wasn't a big problem for the West because there were lines of communication that were open. And it was, actually, even considered to be a place where a lot of people who wanted to be involved in Russian issues from the West would meet.

The Yugoslavs were good intermediaries because they were socialists so the Soviets were OK collaborating with them. That changed a lot but, again, different topic. And they also had lines of communication open with the West and were a meeting point of East and West, which is very symbolic considering what happened in the '90s.

So Yugoslavia descends into, first of all, crazy nationalist-- I don't know what to call it. Crazy nationalism, intense nationalist sentiments erupt in Yugoslavia, mainly because most of its constituents-- it was a federation of socialist states, which was made up of republics that had different ethnic groups as the dominant one in each separate republic. And every single one of these republics wanted to be independent and felt like now that the Federation was falling apart, they could deal with all their grievances they hadn't dealt with during the time of the socialist federation, during World War II, before World War II, as has happened in other places in the world.

And so it started with the northernmost republic leaving Yugoslavia. That's Slovenia. That's where Melania is from for people who might want a reference point. Oh, now would be a good time for maps, since I've gotten to that point. Is that-- yeah. So Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece, and Albania are, obviously, not part of Yugoslavia. But it's from Slovenia to Macedonia. So Slovenia is the first Republic. There's a pointer here. I don't know how to use it.

Slovenia leaves first and we then see the remaining republics clash with each other, first politically, and then on an individual level between groups. And that escalates into war. And with the war properly starting with various interventions by the Yugoslav army and in Croatia, as it was preparing to secede.

Now, this was a tricky question because many believe that Yugoslavia should survive as a federation. It did have pluralist elections in some parts of it, even when it was a federation. And its survival, the plan was to have Yugoslavia survive as a federation and be incorporated into the EU as a whole. But since some of the republics wanted to leave and do their own thing, not be part of Yugoslavia-- especially because at this point it was led by the head of the Serbian branch of the Yugoslav Communist League, Slobodan Milosevic.

Who, many of you might not know very much about, but was a Serbian strong man who definitely believed that Serbia, that bigger country there and with the lower part that's partitioned, as the biggest republic, as, perhaps, the republic that had participated the most in the Yugoslav economy, in the development of the Yugoslav system, should get more out of the country once it was leaving it. If it were to leave it. The alternate description of his policies would be he wanted to keep Yugoslavia together.

Again, this is a completely different topic that we don't need to talk about today. But, basically, these ethnic groups or nationalist groups were clashing, and the Yugoslav army was being used to intervene and, first of all, calm things down. But then ended up becoming a warring party in this conflict. So this is happening while Europe and NATO are thinking about what their future role is. So with the formation of European Union, NATO becomes-- and this was something that the US side was very involved in. But the European Union wants to form its own military structures, mechanisms for future military actions and/or financing and establishing its armies.

This was a big part of the integration of the new countries that had-- do we have a wider UK map? Anyway, new countries that had left the-- former socialist countries that were going to be part of the union. And we don't know, exactly, to what extent these countries were interested, initially, in the conflict, mainly because it started escalating very quickly. We have the first casualties in 1991, massive casualties in 1991 in Croatia. The war in Croatia, it spills over to Bosnia very quickly. In Bosnia things escalate even more. There are more civilian casualties in Bosnia.

All at the same time, in Kosovo on the other side we have incidents breaking out, isolated, not as many civilian casualties because the war there hadn't escalated yet. And all this is happening while the situation in the country is not going very well. And so now NATO has two options. It could either choose to not become involved, or it could choose to think of a common response with Russia, now, because this was the vacuum that was created with the fall of the Warsaw Pact where Russia was supposed to have a new role in the European security apparatus.

What happens, initially, is that UN monitors and OSCE monitors later on, and EU monitors are sent in. And the crime keeps escalating. The incidents keep escalating. In April of 1995, UN monitors get taken hostage by the Bosnian Serb army in Gorazde. And this is the first time where NATO has to actually consider launching airstrikes because it has to protect its own personnel that were taken hostage in Gorazde.

This makes the situation really tricky because if this conflict escalates to airstrikes, what would stop them from sending more air strikes should it get worse in eastern Bosnia. And the Russian side is involved in all of this. They're part of the contact groups. They're part of the debate about this. They end up sending peacekeepers in Bosnia, not militarily involved, but peacekeepers. And then, in July 1995, news breaks of the large scale massacre in Srebrenica on July 11 of 1995, where around 8,000 civilians were killed within one day.

And this is the massive wake up call to the West where it's like, we have to actually step in. We can't have our little liberal freedom end of history party in Europe, while this is going on in the Balkans. And the security general at this point, NATO secretary general, decides to speed up things. He doesn't go through the Security Council, which would actually be needed to give NATO approval for airstrikes in Bosnia. He goes to the UN military general and gives him approval to request airstrikes from NATO. And NATO launches two weeks of airstrikes in Bosnia, which, effectively, end the war.

Then NATO and Russia and all these other countries become part of the Dayton Peace Accords, which end up setting up the post-war Bosnia. Peace is restored in Europe, to some extent. However, the situation in Kosovo has still not been solved because Kosovo, as the southern province of Serbia, has this large Albanian majority. The Albanians don't want to be part of Serbia anymore. On the other hand, Serbia doesn't want to grant independence or any sort of autonomy to its southern province, which is also, ironically, the place where its first medieval kingdom was set up, the heart of the Serbian nation. It's something that they don't want to relinquish easily.

But all these groups that were involved in Bosnia now transfer to Kosovo. And they are involved in intense negotiations with Slobodan Milosevic to use diplomatic means to prevent any form of Western intervention. And, again, this doesn't produce very many results because Milosevic is facing a big crisis back home.

There are protests going on in Serbia on a monthly basis. Inflation is high because of the many embargoes that have been imposed on Yugoslavia at this point. He has created this network of criminal organizations that are propping him up and making sure he stays in power. And they also want him to stay in power. And also, because, on one hand, Russia's strong resistance to air strikes and air strikes were put on the table very early on. But on one hand, because of the Russian reluctance, nobody expected for it to actually escalate to this point.

And then, to the very point that in early 1999 as the last attempts were being made by the US side, by everyone else to solve this, airstrikes were so negatively perceived in Europe that even, let's say, a country like the Czech Republic that builds a lot of its modern identity on a failed revolution, a failed revolution that was made to liberalize Czech socialist society, where it bemoans the lack of Western intervention in this revolution to help keep that government in power. Even the Czech public is like, no. The German public, the German political elite keeps going on TV all the time to talk about these airstrikes.

We have to intervene. It's a massive humanitarian crisis. We have to get involved. Germany, especially, since this will be the first conflict that Germany or any military action that a unified Germany was involved in since World War II. At some point the diplomatic efforts imploded, and NATO decides to launch airstrikes on Yugoslavia, the interesting thing being that the Russian party, which was involved in the debate the whole time does not get notified until three hours before the bombing starts. Where the prime minister, Primakov at the time, literally, is on a flight to Washington, DC and has to turn around once he realized that the bombings on Yugoslavia have been launched.

Again, the airstrike was supposed to be short-lived. It was supposed to be limited to military targets and other resources that were associated with the military. But Milosevic didn't want to give up. And what happened was that the worst atrocities in the Kosovo conflict actually happened during the bombing because utter chaos erupts.

You have the Yugoslav army that is now making use of this free-for-all to do what it wanted to do in Kosovo. The Kosovo side, which is usually-- so in Kosovo there was a separation between the main political party at the time, which had a non-violent approach, and these self-organized guerrillas called the Kosovo Liberation Army who were armed and wanted to take an armed revolt against the Yugoslav army. These were escalating. The number of casualties were going up, and most [INAUDIBLE] didn't want to give up.

There has never been a bombing like this. And 11 weeks, NATO keeps looking for new targets, new places to bomb, obviously, because of the difficulty of carrying on air strikes without-- they didn't have any ground support. They did rely on the Kosovo Liberation Army as they do in any other conflicts that NATO was involved in. They relied on the Kosovo Liberation Army to be the local eyes and ears for the stuff they were doing. But, of course, intelligence was flawed. And they end up hitting refugee convoys, buses, and stuff like that.

Only in June of 1995, he had been assigned earlier, but Yeltsin assigns a special envoy for this war, Chernomyrdin, if I'm not mistaken. And he ends up convincing Milosevic to sit down and sign an agreement. This agreement is signed in [? Kumanovo ?] in June of 1995, and it signifies the end of the war in Yugoslavia, completely, because Milosevic-- and Milosevic, sort of, his last stand because very quickly he is toppled from power through elections that occur soon after that in Serbia.

Anyway, Yugoslav troops pull out. Yugoslav political elite pulls out. And Kosovo becomes the first European protectorate that is completely monitored and overseen by NATO. NATO oversees its airspace. It oversees its borders. And this pet project of the West has, to this day, remained a thorn in the side of the Russian foreign policy security efforts in Europe because it was seen as an overkill, too much of an overreaction to a situation that might have, at some point, been solved through diplomatic efforts.

Anyway, fast forward, this is 1999. Fast forward nine years later, in 2008. In 2008, Kosovo was overseen by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, again, which is the top political level of the country. It does organize its own elections. It does have a parliament. But it functions, effectively, as a UN and NATO protectorate.

In 2008 there are debates going on about Kosovo finally declaring independence and solving the political status of Europe. Because since then, between 1999 to 2008, all these countries end up joining NATO, so the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the Baltic States. NATO has expanded. The EU has expanded. Most of these countries that have joined NATO also joined the EU, which is why these two parallel processes are often referred to as Euro-Atlantic integration. And the NATO forces in the country and the UN forces in the country have to come to a decision as to the future of Kosovo.

2008 is also the time when escalations were happening in Georgia. And there's this pattern since 1989, at any given point when there is a big hurdle, a big achievement that has to be made in the solidifying independence of Kosovo, the Russian side has used for either escalations on its end or a complete disbanding of diplomatic communications or a degradation in communications between DC and Moscow. Kosovo does declare independence. And this is seen as the final straw of any efforts to re-establish an international security system where Russia and the United States will be on the same side.

Because even in the Bush years or the early Obama years-- Obama followed after that. There was an attempt to sort of reset the clock, and be, like, OK. We can go back and talk about these things. And, on the other hand, NATO was strongly involved in expanding its presence in the Balkans.

And to this point we have, obviously, Croatia, Slovenia who joined NATO, Montenegro recently joined NATO, and Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria, and Romania before. And Greece and Turkey, one of the first states to join in 1955 after the initial Western European expansion. So Macedonia is set to join. And so now-- slide. So these are the countries that are not part of it. Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo and Serbia, obviously.

So Bosnia-Herzegovina is separated into three-- has a political system, currently, not to go into detail about that, but that is basically separated along ethnic lines. You have a Serb, a Croat, and a Bosnia group representative. And the Serbian presidential representative has often been strongly under the influence of Belgrade. And Macedonia is probably set to join NATO very soon.

Macedonia held a recent referendum regarding its name in October of this year whereby it went from being called the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to being through a referendum changing its name to North Macedonia. Why this is an issue is because Greece, which is found in its southern border has a northern province that is also referred to as Macedonia historically. Alexander the Great is the son of Philip of Macedon. So he's also of Macedonian descent, claimed both by Macedonia and Greece. Nationalism and history, again, nothing surprising.

So Macedonia is set to join NATO very soon. And we have all this big block of countries that surround Serbia who definitely doesn't want to be part of NATO at this point, even though the current president Alexsandar Vucic has hinted towards-- he's definitely supported European integration, which has often gone hand-in-hand with NATO integration. But the NATO bombing is such a big scar in Serbian society. And it ends up dividing the Kosovar and the Serbian political elite, or making it difficult for them to communicate to this day.

They're now found in a dialogue that is facilitated by Brussels and the European Union, which is set to normalize relations, which has not being completed and will probably stretch on to the next couple of years. And so the population in Serbia remembers the bombing and everything that occurred around it in a way that will make it very difficult for them to integrate into NATO very soon. So that's when it comes to the Balkans.

The big question now-- so the Kosovo bombing or the Yugoslavia bombing for Kosovo, if you want to refer to it as that, is seen as having set a precedent that will reverberate or influence future decisions of NATO to intervene in other parts of the world. The point where the issue of NATO intervention is debated is, of course, the Ukraine crisis, where we see-- and to be very, very brief because I assume there are people in this room who know this 10 times better than me.

So in 2013 the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych decides to reverse or not go through with an association plan with the European Union. This causes mass revolt in Ukraine because it is, on one hand, seen to be a decision influenced by Russia, which doesn't want the EU to get so close its border. On the other hand influenced by other groups within Ukraine who want to see it on a more pro-Eastern path rather than a Western one.

These protests spread across the country. Unrest erupts on the eastern Ukrainian border region of Donbas and, to some extent, Crimea. Russia ends up supporting, politically, the eastern Ukrainian separatists who formed their own independent states that supports the referendum in Crimea. Ends up absorbing Crimea into Russia, a decision that is not accepted by the West. And so we have this new big crisis on Europe's eastern border that, if we were to follow the logic of the '90s, would definitely require NATO intervention. But NATO has been very reluctant to become involved because it's considered to be too close and too provocative to Russia.

But, on the other hand, you have a Ukraine, which sees this as the European Union and NATO have invested endless amounts of money in setting up Kosovo as the perfect pet project. Most of the economy is run-- the economy is very, very small. And Kosovo sees a lot of foreign aid and both economic affairs, infrastructure and developmental affairs, and all that. And so then Kosovo gets all of this. Whereas Ukraine gets a lot less and nothing in a moment where it finds itself in crisis.

And how this affects a very specific sort of mindset on what is commonly referred to as the European periphery, is that the Western community of nations only wants to intervene and get involved in our conflicts when there is a direct interest in that. In the Kosovo scenario, NATO needed a foothold in southeast Europe. They needed to show that it could become involved in solving big conflicts. This is in the '90s when a lot of the other conflicts that NATO had been involved in had subsided. Whereas Ukraine, which is a latent and active issue that they could become involved in, does not apparently require intervention.

This combined with the lack of a clear EU perspective is something that has affected voters and citizens in a similar way that it did in the Balkans the '90s, and it still does. In the Balkan case, Serbian nationalist groups see the Balkans as the Western playground where they get to do whatever they want, intervene wherever they want, intervene in internal affairs because in the Kosovo scenario Kosovo was part of, officially, the southern province of Serbia. So was part of the country.

And so now we have a situation where-- the biggest irony of all of this being that Kosovo was neither a NATO member, and not even close to becoming an EU member, because it has functioned as a protectorate for so long. It needed the West to be part of every segment of its existence to the point where it didn't manage to establish democratic institutions. It didn't establish elections are relatively fair. You have the dominance of the political party that came out of the KLA, the guerrilla movement I mentioned there was fighting the Yugoslav forces in the '90s. And it has not been able to get on its own feet and form an effective and functioning country.

So the failures of Kosovo and the successes often reflect the way NATO chooses to act and expand in Eastern Europe. And, again, in this discussion with Elizabeth, what should be mentioned about the NATO bombing as well is that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the bombing. And in no way have the problems that were present in the '90s been solved in the Balkans. It is still an example of extreme nationalism, ethnic divisions, escalations, not war, not military because NATO peacekeepers are present in Kosovo and, to some extent, in Bosnia. But this region has definitely not recovered from its breakup.

And so people who were against the NATO bombing would say that this should have been handled, yes, supported diplomatically, but handled by the people on the ground. Others who support the NATO bombing insist that these arguments shouldn't be had because the moral debate about preventing casualties and actually saving lives is the one that trumps everything else.

So, that's all for me. And I look forward to your questions. This was more of a background, and I really hope that in the discussion we can hash out the intricacies of this issue. Thank you.

ELIZABETH WOOD: So, following the Starr Forum format that many of you have enjoyed every other time, what we'll do now is we'll have about 10, 15 minutes of discussion in front of you. I have some questions for Una that I think will be interesting. And then we'll open it up for everybody else's questions. There's water right here.

So, Una, it sounds like what you're saying is that if we compare the Kosovo situation and the Ukraine situation, NATO has acted really quite in different ways. That in Kosovo the situation has been NATO, a complete takeover, extensive bombing. I looked up the numbers and there were 38,000 sorties in that four month period. There were 700 US planes. There were just huge numbers of violence and so on.

Ukraine, the opposite. Luhansk, Donetsk are sitting there. Huge debates in Congress, whether even to give the Javelin fighters. Why do you think that the two situations are so different? What is it about Kosovo? Partly, you've said it's geography. Perhaps, the geography of being closer to Russia, being closer Europe, say more. What makes these two situations so different?

UNA HAJDARI: So the main difference is the setting. And that's why I spent so much time setting up the setting in the '90s and the setting right now. So in the '90s, NATO and the EU and the OSCE, which was then being set up, all of them wanted to incorporate Russia and the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe into its security structures. And Yugoslavia was seen as just a hitch. We needed to intervene to get rid of this little problem, and then we would incorporate everyone in the same structures. And then we won't have to worry about the way we'll intervene in future conflicts because we're all going to be part of a wider security structure.

This doesn't, necessarily, mean that they actually-- even though this was often discussed-- planned for Russia, itself, to be part of the EU. Definitely not, but NATO, as well. But it was seen as the small problem that can be solved easily. At this point in a process that was started by the bombing in Kosovo, the relationship between Russia and the EU and NATO when it comes to security issues has gotten-- the divide has grown so big that now we're talking about opposed side, which wasn't the case. The NATO bombing resets the East West divide that was sort of overcome with the end of the Cold War, in many ways.

Not to the same extent, of course, not to that size, but we're talking about a different world order where it's not as bipolar. Where it's not as divisive. And where there is more consultation from the US and Russia on issues of security. And the fact that Russia's opinion regarding the intervention in Serbia was not taken seriously or not incorporated a lot-- so Russia was part of the contact group, was part of the negotiations, the diplomatic efforts and all that. But the airstrikes were always something that was a no-go.

And so that's very different with the Ukraine because now we're talking about a NATO that is most likely not going to expand into Ukraine anytime soon. And they know that this would be an escalation on the borders.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Yeah. I mean, certainly, from the Russian perspective you're absolutely right that in '97 there was discussion of NATO Russian charter. That they would be working together, that there would be harmony. '99 from the US issue as the US press covered it was, oh, the human rights violations, what the Kosovar Albanians could be doing to the Serbians, what the Serbians could be doing to the Albanians, and so on. Whereas in Russia, this led to a whole set of resentments and frustrations.

And at one point Alexander Lebed, who was trying to position himself as a potential presidential candidate in Russia, referred to Russia as a humiliated and offended nation. August of '99 Putin is brought in. And I remember myself thinking during that period of the bombings that while everyone here was busy talking about the human rights issues, they were ignoring the bludgeoning, I would call it Neanderthal use of force that was so extensive. And I predicted, and it seems, alas, that I was right that it would give rise to strongman politics in the region. As local nations decided we have to have a strongman politics because the US and NATO are going to use this.

And I'm wondering whether you think that's true. Do you think there's been a kind of strongman politics that comes out of this? Putin positions himself from the beginning as a war president. He has to solve Chechnya first. But then he can position himself as he's not going to be kicked around by the West. Vucic does the same. Dodik, we should explain who they are. But do you feel that in the Balkan context that the local leaders are also trying to play a strongman politics both vis-a-vis each other and, potentially, vis-a-vis Europe?

UNA HAJDARI: So, with Kosovo there's a big client state that's basically created. I mean, the [INAUDIBLE] of our government does not only consult with the west, it literally-- their press releases are handed over to them directly from the Western embassy. And this is fine because those people who were elected in power after 1999 were not very efficient leaders. So from all these scenarios, that might not be the worst one.

So it's separated. It's strongly separated. And Serbia is also humiliated. And this has made it really hard for this Serbian society to recover. The current Serbian prime minister denies, openly-- she did that on Deutsche Welle a couple of months ago-- denies that there was genocide in Srebrenica because the way Serbia dealt with the bombing. It's different when you have combatants on the field. And you have one army, and then you have another army. And it's equal. And they felt there was this big Western power that just came in and-- for reasons and I talked about some of them, reasons that might have been legitimate. But there's this big Western power that comes in and just rains down bombs on us.

And, especially amongst the population, because Serbia, again, unlike other parts of the Balkans, had been spared from war directly. People in Belgrade hadn't seen any war. Novi Sad hadn't seen any war. These are different parts of Serbia. The south north hadn't seen any war. And then all of a sudden there's these bombs that come in.

Of course, just like the Russian situation with Chechnya and all that, the Serbian public was handed strong-- only had access to intense Serbian TV propaganda, which made their awareness about what was going on in the rest of the Balkans very, very low. And so this has made it so hard for the Serbian politicians, even the reformist prime minister, Zorin Dindic, who was killed after getting power. He was probably the most progressive force the country has seen since 1989 or since Milosevic. Made it even for him and then Boris Tadic as well later. All of them have had a hard time dealing, A, with the Kosovo issue, talking about Kosovo openly, and, B, getting the country out of this wartime fatigue that was created in the '90s because of its implications in the Yugoslav wars. If that makes sense.

ELIZABETH WOOD: That makes a lot of sense. So as a Russia watcher, I see a lot of connection between both Vucic in Serbia and also Dodik in Banjaluka and Republika Srpska. So just quick background, and thank you for all this background. Bosnia, itself, is divided into two parts. One is as Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the other part is Republika Srpska, which is still Serbian dominated.

Putin has been to Belgrade four-- he's about to-- his coming will be the fourth time.

UNA HAJDARI: I think three or four times, yeah.

ELIZABETH WOOD: And he's come on the liberation of the Red Army day at the end of World War II from October '44--

UNA HAJDARI: To set up a statue of Nikolai II.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Exactly. He came. I guess he sent Lavrov for the Nikolai II. He had Tsereteli, this famous Georgian sculptor who made the Peter the Great in Moscow, which is an absurd statue, make a Nicholas II, the last Russian Romanov Tsar in Banjaluka. What do you make of all these connections? Are they just fraternal relations of two orthodox powers? Is there more going on? What do you think?

UNA HAJDARI: It's very interesting because what the bombing also did-- so Serbian society, of course, with the fall of socialism you have this initial sort of re-traditionalization of these societies in the sense that they become more religious. They become more nativist, they are more focused on their ethnic and national identity. This happens to the Croats, the Bosniaks, or the Catholic ethnic group, the Muslim ethnic group, the Serbian Orthodox ethnic group. And so, in that sense, yes, there is a re-establishment of relations with Russia.

I say re-establishment because even while there were sentimental ties between the Yugoslav Serbs and the Russians before, Yugoslavia maintained a policy of not-- even as a socialist country it didn't favoritize the Russian Federation or the Soviet Union and even was very open to mocking and criticizing its form of socialism. And we met with one of the later US ambassadors to Russia, and he remembers during a trip in the '90s in Belgrade, where he jokingly referred to one of his friends, oh, you're acting like a Russian. You got offended because it was, like-- not that that's a good thing to be offended for. But I'm just saying, in terms of context, that's what the situation was in the '90s, which isn't the case now.

You have Putin coming to Belgrade tomorrow and the Serbian press has been going out of it's way to show how happy they are that they have him there. And how they want people to come in and to organize a grand parade around his visit and all that.

ELIZABETH WOOD: I know you've actually been writing about the protests in Belgrade right now, and I'd be curious. What do you think is going to happen when Putin comes tomorrow? There's going to be these pro-Putin demonstrations. What about the protesters on the ground? Maybe say a few words about that?

UNA HAJDARI: There have been opposition protests going on in Serbia for a couple of weeks. They began in early December after an opposition politician was beaten up in a South Serbian city before a debate. And so they launched these protests. But very quickly they expanded. And people of all different kinds of backgrounds and they didn't necessarily have a party affiliation when they joined the protests, started protesting in Belgrade every week. And the protests keep getting bigger.

Vucic downplayed them mainly because the opposition in Serbia is so fragile and disorganized and unable to present a credible threat to his power. But people who've been involved in protests have announced that they're going to be gathering in Belgrade tomorrow. However, knowing Vucic, I believe that there are security measures set in place to not let them interfere with the parade. Because there were protests announced in 2014 when Putin visited the last time.

ELIZABETH WOOD: I think I'll ask one more question, and then we'll open it up. I'm very curious. Kosovo has announced that they're going to create an army. And it seems to me that there's much symbolic meaning for Kosovo as not quite its own nation developing its own army. But I'm so curious if you could spell out for us, what are the symbolic issues? Why upgrade their security force to an army? And, also, what might be the repercussions if other powers in the area say, whoa, we're not comfortable with Kosovo having an army?

UNA HAJDARI: So after the bombing, NATO was the peacekeeping force there. And having the world's best trained military be your peacekeeping force made it clearly unnecessary for there be an army, as well as the fact that the agreement that led to the capitulation of the Yugoslav army in Kosovo or their removal from Kosovo, clearly listed the demilitarization of the Kosovo Liberation Army as one of its conditions. And so, for a long time, it had this security force that would intervene.

And, I don't mean to offend anyone, but in humanitarian events didn't do very much. But that was fine. For the symbolics of having someone parade around on Independence Day, they had an army or a security force. It was not allowed to be called an army.

And that's set up in Kosovo's constitution in order to not inflame relations with Serbia because Kosovo still exists internationally through Resolution 1244, which was the UN resolution that was passed in 1999 after the end of the bombing, which, again, saw a strong Russian hand in its setting up. Why it's, since then, made it so difficult for this Kosovo situation to be solved is because Russia made sure that the political status of Kosovo would go through the Security Council. And it knew that once it went to the Security Council it could exercise its veto. And China has not been favorable towards the Kosovo independence issue, either.

So in UN Resolution 1244, the longer from the resolution says that should the political status change, it would be subject to Security Council approval. So Kosovo was not set up as an independent country fully. The president, Hashim Thaci, he's been in power-- he was prime minister first and became president, as they do. And he's been getting a lot of resentment from the population because he hasn't managed to deliver. His government has not delivered on EU integration, on any form of integration of Kosovo into the regional situation in the Balkans.

It isn't part of Interpol. It isn't part of any international body that would make it easier for its citizens to travel around the world or be part of the global society. And, as such, he chooses a nationalist measure, an entirely insignificant one. Even if the Kosovo army were to be set up tomorrow morning, it would never be more efficient than the NATO peacekeepers who were there. But it's a move to sort of quell the dissident voices in the country. So that's what happened. And, of course, it's seen as a major provocation by Serbia, and a direct violation of UN SC Resolution 1244.

ELIZABETH WOOD: I can't resist one more question.


ELIZABETH WOOD: What about Montenegro? So Montenegro is now part of NATO. Is that--

UNA HAJDARI: You should ask Manafort.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Ah, yes. Tell us, what do you think about the American connection on that one? But, also, how is that viewed in the rest of the Balkans? I mean, you're creating this patchwork of NATO, not NATO. How do people view that?

UNA HAJDARI: So Montenegro is tricky because when all these other Yugoslav republics left, the only republic that remained loyal to Serbia was Montenegro. They share the same faith, more or less a lot of a similar history. But Montenegro chooses, because of the political constellations of the time, and because, like all these other Balkan republics, it felt it had somewhat more of a distinct ethnic and national identity. This is where the term balkanization comes from. These countries separating into smaller units so that every little village can be independent.

So Montenegro, through a referendum, declares independence-- or after referendum declares independence in 2006. And it is staunchly pro-European very early on. They decide to get on their NATO path, at some point because Montenegro is seen to be a country that could be susceptible to Russian influence.

Now, this is seen for different ways. Montenegro has a very active tourist industry. It's a coastal country, so that's pretty and nice. But, also, a lot of its industries right after the fall of Yugoslavia were bought up by Russian oligarchs. And has a big Russian immigrant community, one of the biggest in the region, ranging from oligarchs to political émigrés who live and work there. So it was always seen as a country that was very susceptible to Russian influences either directly or through Serbia, which is why NATO pushed so hard for its inclusion into NATO, unlike with other states in the region.

Right now it is seen as a relatively stable example compared to Macedonia, who has yet to become a NATO member. Macedonia was one of the countries in the region that did so well in its reform processes that it was thought to be able to join the European Union together with Croatia in 2013, but ended up not doing this because it got an authoritarian leader who, for different reasons, decided to play up its national history. He built a lot of monuments all over Macedonia with Alexander the Great and Philip of Macedon, which got Greece really angry. And so they backtracked a lot on the progress that was made initially.

And now with the name referendum, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia did put up a statement the other day condemning the fact that Macedonia was forced-- because the Macedonian parliament approved the resolution that would change its name. We should now refer to it as North Macedonia. I'm trying to get the hang of it. But North Macedonia becoming an official thing a couple of days ago probed the Russian Foreign Ministry commenting on it in a way that NATO forced Macedonian to change its name so that it could be a part of it.

Which, technically, is true. One of the reasons that Macedonia could not join NATO is because Greece opposed its joining of NATO with the name Macedonia. So it was constantly referred to as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and had difficulties in joining many other organizations because of that.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Wow. So we see quite a patchwork here. I think we're going to open it up for questions. I have many more questions if we somehow-- but let me see. I'll take the first hand I see. Come down to the mic, and be sure to ask questions. You may have a small comment, but let's keep the dialogue going.

AUDIENCE: Is Russia still holding three Ukrainian Navy vessels? And, if so, what's going to be the outcome of that?

UNA HAJDARI: That's a question for Elizabeth, actually.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Yes, they are. And I'm not sure what's going to happen. So, yeah.

AUDIENCE: I recall during the bombings the Chinese embassy was hit. And NATO and the American forces said it was an accident, and China said it was intentional. And I knew several American Chinese people who sided with China and thought it was intentional. Do you have any thoughts on-- obviously, the intention, it seemed like the message was trying to say to China, don't be involved with this. Were they secretly behind the scenes creating chaos to escalate the problem? So your thoughts on that.

UNA HAJDARI: China was very supportive of Milosevic throughout the '90s, as was Russia. But actually, China was even more vocal in its support than Russia because Russia was trying to democratize, was getting all this Western aid, and didn't want to send out this image of being-- and I mentioned this briefly, but Milosevic played between wanting to-- with the ideas of forming a big Serbian state and keeping communism alive.

And that's the thread that China got. China got involved in the keeping communism alive rhetoric. And so they were very big on wanting to see Milosevic stay in power. Official accounts, to this day, are that it was an accident. But yeah.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Can we take one from this side.

AUDIENCE: So I have a question after all. So I've worked at the war crimes tribunal in the Hague. And I'm curious. Many of my colleagues went on to the new tribunal having to do with Kosovo questions.

UNA HAJDARI: Excellent question.

AUDIENCE: And I was wondering, because that's coming from an international body-- in fact, I'm not quite sure who was behind it, but I think it's European Union-- If you could untangle a little bit of the relationships between the pending Kosovo trials and the attitude towards them in the Kosovo political ranks and also in the Mitrovica community and also the NATO relationships to those things. I mean, in a sentence--

UNA HAJDARI: That's an excellent question. Do I answer that, or are we taking--

ELIZABETH WOOD: No, take it. Take it. Go ahead. It's a good question.

UNA HAJDARI: So that's a great question because-- and I didn't mention it in my presentation, but one of the reasons why, by the time other things had come around to the '99 bombing, Milosevic had such a bad reputation in the West was because, in the meantime, the ICTY was set up. And a lot of the involvement of the Yugoslav army with or without direct involvement and/or bolstering from Milosevic in Bosnia was starting to surface. So--

ELIZABETH WOOD: Explain ICTY real quick.

UNA HAJDARI: The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was, sort of, a landmark tribunal much like the one in Rwanda. The namesake of the fellowship that I'm here with, Elizabeth Neuffer, covered the ICTY and the Rwanda tribunals extensively. It was seen as this big-- it was an international court organized for the first time since the Nuremberg trials, where war crimes were going to be put on trial by an unbiased international body of legal experts and prosecutors and judges and so on and so forth. Ellen, having worked there, might have a better explanation for it. But that's basically it.

And so they ICTY did cover the Kosovo war, but a lot less. This was the end of its mandate. It's mandate ends, and a lot of people are going to write back to me if I'm not right about this, but with the end of the bombing. So the end of the bombing is the end of the mandate. It's stuff that happened afterwards, a lot of the attacks by Albanians on the Serbs who were leaving Kosovo after the bombing. All that kind of stuff at the time was not included.

And so Ellen mentions a court that is being set up now, which will focus exclusively on the Kosovo Liberation Army. Why it relates to our debate about NATO is because the US was very strongly opposed to the court. And it decided to play a big role in setting up the court, just so it could help define its parameters. Why this was important is because the Kosovo Liberation Army were the eyes and the ears of NATO on the ground. They were not accepted as a legitimate military force or a legitimate army in the conflict until NATO got involved and, sort of, gave them the legitimacy that they had lacked so far.

And the Kosovo Liberation Army had people who defended their communities from the assault of the Yugoslav army and so on and so forth, but also committed war crimes for which they were not prosecuted. And it's different when the war crimes are committed by the army of one of the Balkan countries. And it's different when they're committed by an army that has such strong US support. And so the court was set up after a report by a Swiss prosecutor, which found out that there had been organ trafficking-- apparently, organ trafficking-- this isn't [INAUDIBLE] so we have to be careful-- conducted by some members of the KLA, kidnappings and torture and ethnic cleansing and so on and so forth.

And the court will deal specifically with these things once it's set up, in order to deal with the unresolved issues from the war in 1999 that haven't been dealt with, mainly because-- I mean, this is, again, we have to be careful with these classifications, but a lot of the people who were in the KLA ended up being in power afterwards in governments that were supported strongly by the EU, by NATO, and by the US. So these people were in government, including the current president. And they might be indicted by the court. And that's the background into why it ties into NATO.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Uh huh. That answers your question?


ELIZABETH WOOD: Great. Fascinating. Let's take one one more. Fabulous.

AUDIENCE: Good afternoon. My name is Seth Johnston. I'm from the Center for European Studies at Harvard. Thanks for your remarks today. I want to ask you a question about the tension that is sometimes drawn in NATO between security interests on the one hand and democratic values on the other hand. And allow me to put the question this way in terms of what the NATO treaty text actually says. The most frequently cited passage from the NATO treaty is the mutual defense clause, a so-called Article 5 that everyone's familiar with. Less frequently cited is the specific articulation in the treaty that NATO stands for democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.

And even in the passage of the treaty that talks about the openness of the alliance to bringing in new members, there's a phrase in there about new members have to be able to further the principles of the alliance, these democratic values.

UNA HAJDARI: So why aren't they involved in Ukraine?


UNA HAJDARI: So why aren't they involved in Ukraine?

AUDIENCE: Yeah, so, I suppose my question to you is, what do you think is the record of NATO in this regard, in Ukraine, but also specifically to those countries that have joined the alliance in the Balkans? Do you see NATO's impact on domestic politics having been constructive to its stated aims?

UNA HAJDARI: So Article 5 is cited a lot, again, which plays into our big debate about Eastern European security and issues with stuff like that is the fact that the first big intervention that NATO had was in a non-member country and in a foreign conflict. And so you think, how can this not make non-NATO members scared about the prospect of them being involved. They know they can't attack Poland now. Or they know they can't attack Germany without having everyone else become involved. But these were countries that were not part of it.

Again, so that ties in with you, I guess, the fact-- the official stance of NATO when it chose to launch airstrikes in Yugoslavia without getting the Security Council approval was, we are becoming involved in a humanitarian issue. And, I mean, this is such a difficult debate to have because it's not easy for anyone to say they shouldn't have gotten involved because, obviously, more people would've died.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Well, let me try to tackle it. I've thought about this question for a long time. And I, obviously, don't have an answer, but it seems to me an interesting question to ask whether more people-- so let me relate a conversation I had with Bill Hill who was here in the fall as a speaker. William Hill is a former diplomat who has had postings in Moscow, in Transnistria--

UNA HAJDARI: Yugoslavia.

ELIZABETH WOOD: --in former Yugoslavia. And he was very, very involved in the offense of the OSCE, the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe. And what he said, and he says it in his book No Place for Russia, that OSCE had its largest concentration of monitors that they had ever put anywhere in Kosovo in June of 1999. Or, not June, in March of 1999 before the bombing started.

And he and I have had interesting conversations about, what is the role of monitors on the ground versus military responses to human rights abuses? And I think it's still an open question whether, in fact, if you just-- at least we can put a thought experiment. We're in a major university. We can use our minds to think about this. What if the monitors had been allowed to increase their footprint so that any atrocities that happened could have been caught at the moment?

What he says one of the reasons NATO was called in was that the American who was in charge of that region who was working somewhat with OSCE but also somewhat with the US command, was a guy, and I'm sorry I've forgotten his name.

UNA HAJDARI: Richard Holbrooke.


UNA HAJDARI: Holbrooke?

ELIZABETH WOOD: No, wasn't Holbrooke who had been in El Salvador in 1980 when, for those of us who are older, we remember this. 1980 had seen horrific violence against four Maryknoll sisters and some church members, Maryknoll sisters being Americans. And the US did not respond. And this guy who was-- I don't think it was Holbrooke.

UNA HAJDARI: OK, yes, you're right.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Although Holbrooke was, of course, there. And Holbrooke was a major player. Thought this was a minor player. But he said, wait, we didn't respond when atrocities were committed. We have to respond now. And of course, we also have to remember one thing you haven't mentioned is-- I mean, that you have mentioned, but that Rwanda had happened. Srebrenica had happened. Everybody was totally paranoid about more human rights violations happening. So the climate was do something, do something, do something.

But I still find myself wondering, what about the long term effects, something that our questioner asked. This was such a great question, but Seth didn't bring up is what about the long term effects of the munitions that fell, the mines that were planted. You know, they were using cluster bombs, which were actually illegal. Where is our discussion about that? I think that's also an important piece of the-- and also the long term.

What I'm really worried about and why this topic is so important and I'm so glad you agreed to speak on it, is the continued fragmentation of the Balkans. I was just in Sarajevo where in Bosnia you have three different sets of education. The Bosniaks, the Croats in Herzegovina, and the Serbians literally have different education systems for their children.

They talk about the massacres in the siege of Sarajevo, which was one of the world's longest sieges ever. It was four years. It was longer, even, than the siege of Leningrad, which is hard to believe. And people are still not even able to talk to each other about these things. Has NATO solved anything by creating the protectorate of Kosovo? I think it's an interesting question.

UNA HAJDARI: Wow. I was going to circle back to an answer to that question, and, I guess, answers yours as well. Well, the interesting thing, and this comes from covering North Kosovo on the ground. So within Kosovo the northern part is Serb majority, which is found on the Serbian border. And that's where a lot of the incidents happen nowadays because of the clashes with the Albanian majority population in all of Kosovo in the Serb majority region.

And this was, for me, so surprising. And this of course isn't everyone, but a lot of them are so open to having NATO there because they see them as a neutral arbiter. They don't trust the EU-- no, NATO and the EU, sorry. They like NATO as it's referred to in its Kosovo version as KFOR, the Kosovo Forces and the EU who are there. And they don't trust other political options, stuff like that, when there's an escalation. Because they know NATO is going to come in, isolate whatever's going on, the people, the groups that are involved, and not do anything else.

This strategy is a little difficult because-- so NATO's not allowed to directly be involved in conflicts in Kosovo. It's only peacekeeping. It's not allowed to shoot at civilians unless shot at directly, and so on and so forth. And in 2004 there was a massive escalation of unrest in Kosovo whereby a big part of the Albanian population went into Serbian communities, burned down churches, houses. A lot of people-- in certain parts of Kosovo, the last pockets of Serbs who were still living there left the country and all that kind of stuff. And NATO was not able to stop any of this.

You'd think with the biggest military alliance there, this stuff wouldn't happened, but it was because it could only stand in front of them to some extent. And then when it escalated-- because they were also fearful that if they shot at the local population they would turn against them at some point. So very limited in terms of democratization. It is only-- and this was actually part of the whole debate about this because I also don't really agree with people who talk about NATO as this big force that is involved in every pore of society. It had the CIA, FBI, and everyone else that's involved in making sure that NATO expands to the last little corner of Europe.

It is limited in its scope in many ways. But on the other hand it's this very powerful military alliance. So we should also just place it where it should be, and not make a boogey man out of NATO on one hand, and on the other hand have open conversations about what it should do in eastern Europe.

ELIZABETH WOOD: That's good. Other questions?

AUDIENCE: About a month ago NATO approved a membership action plan for Bosnia. And at the same time you see the Serbian nationalists in Bosnia, the strongest [INAUDIBLE] action of Russia in Bosnia, [? Izetbegovic ?] declaring, how do you call it, the Bosnian Serb [INAUDIBLE] independent. They don't clearly want to join that. How do you see the future of that?

UNA HAJDARI: So this is one of the big problems because, again, it circles back to the democracy element. So the president in Montenegro who delivered the NATO membership, made Montenegro part of NATO, is someone who's been in power for 25 years. He has not encouraged democracy in Montenegro. Is part of a wide group of-- and this has been documented. I'm not making it up. Supports certain criminal groups in the country who might not make profit for him, but at least he oversees the way the economic activity is done in the country.

He oversees the foreign investment. He's involved in all of these ports of society, so he's not a very democratic president, even though he delivered all these big accession agreements into Montenegro. On the other hand, the Montenegrin opposition, as mentioned by the gentleman, is extremely pro-Russian and extremely nationalist. And an average Montenegrin citizen is caught between the decision of having a very pro-Russian and nationalist opposition come to power. Not all of them are pro-Russian, but the biggest factors in the opposition, the ones who could actually win elections are. --or keeping this guy who's been in power for 25 years.

And so it's very tricky. And on the other hand, you have in Bosnia, but in the Serbian entity of Bosnia that Elizabeth mentioned earlier, you have Dodik who is the president of-- one of the three presidents of Bosnia. Bosnia has three presidents, on president for each ethnic group. Bosnia is the really complicated country in the Balkans. And so he has officially been elected as president. And he says, well, Bosnia is just my place of work. I really am a Serb. And I feel I belong to Serbia, and Serbia's my real country.

And he insists on forging strong ties with Russia and making this a big part of his foreign policy, the ironic thing being that Russia hasn't delivered. It is involved in Bosnia, but it hasn't always delivered on Dodik's nationalist rhetoric. So when Lavrov was recently in Banjaluka he said, I support the Bosnian constitution. And I support the existence of Bosnia as a state, which goes directly against what Dodik says in other ways. And so it's more complex. And it's definitely too complex for a region that's so small and has such a high concentration of different ethnic groups, countries, and so on and so forth. Which is why doesn't get covered by the foreign press as much as, let's say, Ukraine does. But in the context of these debates it's definitely interesting.

ELIZABETH WOOD: But Bosnia does have a member action plan to join NATO.

UNA HAJDARI: Yes. It doesn't have EU--

ELIZABETH WOOD: Do you have any sense of whether that's likely to happen?

UNA HAJDARI: It's tricky because the reason why it has three presidents is because the agreement that was overseen by the United States in 1995, '96, the Dayton agreement signed in Dayton, Ohio, set up a country that was so-- they wanted to make sure that ethnic violence would never happen again. So there is an ethnic quota for every single official institutional position from the village council to the presidency, which makes it extremely hard to run that country.

And it's stalled reform. It's stalled progress. It's stalled all these kinds of things that would make it a country that would be in a successful EU member state. So it's not happening any time soon.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Do you think Serbia would ever join a Russian alliance? Would it ever be asked? I haven't heard anything of it doing, but Russia has tried to set up its parallel with the Eurasian economic union as a, kind of, counterweight to the European Union.

UNA HAJDARI: See, this is what's really important about the whole debate because we often-- there's Russian influence in Serbia, but it isn't as intense to lead to that sort of thing because Serbia knows that it has so many more benefits from joining the EU. Just like Ukraine knows it has so many benefits from joining the EU. A much more stable community of nations economically, internationally accepted, and so on and so forth, than going back to anything that would be led by Russia, unfortunately, I guess.

But it knows that it has this wild card, which is anytime it feels like the EU is clamping down too hard or being too difficult with the ongoing accession process with Serbia, it can go and can mention its ties with Russia. It can have Putin fly in for a day. They can go to visit him and do other things that would encourage this.

ELIZABETH WOOD: So are they actually trying to join the EU?

UNA HAJDARI: Yes. Serbia is actively trying to join the EU, but Serbia has a province in the South that it doesn't recognize.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Called Kosovo.

UNA HAJDARI: Called Kosovo. Because one of the EU, one of the basic tenants of any state in the world, but a basic parameter of any country, one of the rules that you have to follow is to have clearly defined borders. Serbia, obviously, does not have clearly defined borders at this point. So it would be something that they have to deal with. And it is part of the EU accession plan as Chapter 3 defines it.

ELIZABETH WOOD: And, actually, that's one of the arguments about why Russia intervened in Ukraine was to make it so that Ukraine couldn't join NATO or the EU because the borders wouldn't be clearly defined. Do you buy that argument?

UNA HAJDARI: I don't know about the argument, but it's for sure made it harder. It definitely made it harder.

ELIZABETH WOOD: It's a factor.

UNA HAJDARI: The ironic thing is, though, that Kosovo-- so visa liberalization is part of the early stages of EU accession because a country-- so when members of the EU and some of the EU's periphery can travel within the EU because of the Schengen agreement, which allows for open borders and easy travel. The EU, of course, members get this, but also countries in the region, most of them, actually, all of them have Schengen--

ELIZABETH WOOD: Oh, they have Schengen.

UNA HAJDARI: --have Schengen except for Kosovo. And Kosovo was supposed to join a couple of years ago. There were political agreements and things that stopped it, but it's very ironic because it's this country that has so much EU presence, but can't travel to any country in Europe or almost any country in Europe without a visa. That's what I have to put up with.

And then Ukraine joined recently, even though the reason why Kosovo couldn't join was because it didn't have its northern border with Montenegro and Serbia defined entirely.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Huh. Makes me wonder.

UNA HAJDARI: That's what makes the EU-- that's what makes it an easy target of the Russian propaganda machine, because it bends and changes its rules. And it's, like, you think this Copenhagen criteria is so strict. It's such a big part of the accession rules, and then you change it. You have fast track countries like Romania and Bulgaria that joined very quickly to make sure to secure the sphere of influence that was on the Western and the Eastern Balkans. You made it easy for all these other countries to join. And then you make it so hard for others. And this is something that people in Serbia [INAUDIBLE]. Sorry.

ELIZABETH WOOD: So we have another question.

UNA HAJDARI: Questions.

AUDIENCE: This sounds so messy and entangled that this might be a naive question. Is there any possibility of NATO looking at the situation, taking another look at the situation, and saying, our involvement in Kosovo is costing too much. Withdraw, and Serbia takes it over again.

UNA HAJDARI: Oh, there are many, many debates going on about NATO being too expensive, the mission there being too expensive. The NATO troops in Kosovo are organized into Mixed Battle Group East, I believe, a wider battalion that's called Mixed Battle Group East, which means that there are different contributing nations that are part of it. The German parliament, for example, has had many, many debates about how costly it is to keep sending all these people there, having them there at all, other countries as well. And there has been a reduction of peacekeepers in Kosovo over the years.

Would that lead to Serbia-- hmm. I think not. But it would definitely-- I think that assuming that having just the NATO peacekeepers there until the final political instability in Kosovo is solved would be great. But a lot of the other missions can-- and they have scaled them down. The EU had a big rule of law mission there because it was supporting the local judiciary so it had this biggest civilian mission in its history, which is called EULEX the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo. And did not manage to put any of the big criminals in jail, but it did manage to put a lot of them. By criminals I mean both war crimes and corruption, everything else.

To not get into more complex debates, I don't think that Serbia, at this point, has an interest in going back into Kosovo. This is just like, again, with Ukraine. I don't think Russia actually considers having to-- obviously, not the entirety of it because it's an independent country. But it is enough of an issue that it can be used in political debates spreading nationalist rhetoric on a daily basis. But I don't think that there's a real possibility of Serbia coming in. Yeah. And I hope I'm right.

AUDIENCE: Yeah. The question is regarding Kazakhstan and Central Asia, so the longest border between two countries is between Russia and Kazakhstan. And what do you think? Now it's very good relationship between Kazakhstan and Russia, but what do you think? What is the chance and possibilities that Russia would intervene in Kazakhstan?

UNA HAJDARI: If it does, guess what it's going to name as a precedent?


UNA HAJDARI: If it does intervene, guess what it's going to name as a precedent? So when Russia became involved after the Crimea referendum and the absorption of Crimea into Russia-- Is absorption the word? Is that annexation?


UNA HAJDARI: --because I don't want to-- And so the issue the could constantly be mentioned as a precedent was Kosovo. So if self-determination was a valid concept in international political, legal, in the setting up of a country that sought international recognition, why couldn't Crimea do it? If Kosovo could do it, why couldn't Crimea do it? Again, with Donetsk and Luhansk. If Kosovo couldn't do it, why can't Donetsk and Luhansk do it?

And this is the case for all the other regions found on the Russian periphery near or broad or territory of the Russian Federation itself that might be seeking independence. They constantly refer back to the Kosovo example. That's why we had this whole talk. Kosovo, in itself, is completely insignificant as a country. 1.8 million people that don't affect the regional economy of the Balkans and/or anything else. But it's an interesting political example.

And I do not think that NATO won't get involved. NATO has made it. The Balkans is as close as it's going to go at this point, in terms of becoming involved. I mean, it's not going to become involved in the Balkans anymore. It did in the '90s. But it's the closest it's going to get in terms of sending troops and all that kind of stuff, and Poland.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Certainly, I think that's exactly right. That Russia has, on the one hand, at the time was furious about Kosovo, but then uses the Kosovo as the precedent for saying, well, Crimea had a referendum and Kosovo had a referendum.

UNA HAJDARI: It didn't, actually.

ELIZABETH WOOD: It didn't, actually.

UNA HAJDARI: But Kosovo--

ELIZABETH WOOD: It was the myth of the referendum.

UNA HAJDARI: Yes, yes, Kosovo--

ELIZABETH WOOD: Whether Russia will intervene in Kazakhstan may depend a lot on what happens with Nazarbayev when Nazarbayev steps down. My understanding, and then we probably have to stop because it's 1:30, is that Russia tends to intervene when there's already a civil conflict going on. So they intervened in Georgia when Georgia was not that strong. They intervened, but especially in Crimea. The minute Yanukovych leaves power in Kiev, then, oh, we can take Crimea.

They say, we had to, because Yanukovych was out of power. But I argue that they could. They had the opportunity because-- and Syria, too. They don't intervene until the war gets messy enough that it's very weak. Northern Kazakhstan does have a very large Russian population. I think people in Kazakhstan are very worried about the situation. You probably can tell us more. I'm actually wearing a Kazakh scarf.



AUDIENCE: I think one of your sons is Kazach.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Yes, my child is Kazach. Yes. I have very strong ties to Kazakhstan. You have a good memory. But in any event, so we'll see if they decide to use the, oh, we have to protect our neighbors. In the 19th century that was the argument they typically used with what we now call the Balkan region. So what a great discussion. Thank you, everybody, for coming. Thank you for all of your questions. We'll be around for a few more minutes.