Dick Marty visited Moscow and Tbilisi on December 20-21. The visit was significant in the context of Marty's recent report about Hashim Thaci's nefarious dealings.
At first glance, this long-planned visit seems routine and relatively minor. But on January 17, PACE held hearings on the humanitarian and other consequences of the Russian-Georgian war of August 2008. Marty is gathering information in cooperation with the Russian and Georgian parliaments for a document to be presented at the hearing.
Last summer Marty wrote a report on human rights in the North Caucasus, meaning Russia. Surprisingly, for the first time in the 14 years that Russia has been a member of the Council of Europe, the Russian delegation to PACE supported a report on the region, albeit with some amendments and reservations. The real headline, however, is the sensational report Marty produced in December alleging that Hashim Thaci, the current prime minister of the breakaway region of Kosovo, is a gangster with long-standing ties to organ, drug and arms trafficking, as well as prostitution. Moreover, everyone who made decisions on Kosovo during the war in 1999 also knew about Thaci's nefarious dealings.
Russia also knew - The truth about Thaci and NATO's campaign against Serbia in 1999 are even more important for Russia than the reports on Georgia and the Caucasus. It was the events of 2008 - when the United States and Europe told lies to justify Kosovo's independence from Serbia - that poisoned Russia's attitude toward Europe. And these events ultimately trace back to 1999, as does the August 2008 war.
Unlike today, in 1999 Russia still had prominent international correspondents. The inertia of the glasnost era could still be felt, and many seasoned journalists were doing good work around the world. New correspondents were trying to steal the spotlight from their eminent predecessors. Many Russian experts in international affairs worked in or visited the former Yugoslavia. I also went there, and I had no reason to doubt the reporting of our correspondents. Kosovo was front-page news at the time. A large section of the Russian public was aware of what was happening in Belgrade and Pristina. We knew that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was a criminal organization that had been coordinating the seizure of Serbian land in Kosovo by ethnic Albanians for many years, that the attempts by Slobodan Milosevic to counter this creeping expansion were thwarted by the United States and Europe. We knew that Thaci and his colleagues bought weapons for the KLA using money from arms trafficking and other criminal activity. And that's not all we knew.
Now Marty writes in his report that U.S. and EU security agencies knew full well who Thaci was, but even ordinary Russians knew this back in 1999. We knew that apart from a narrow circle of officials, the public in the United States and the EU did not know about the true nature of the KLA and, as a result, they generally supported Kosovars over the Serbs. At that time, this realization came as a shock to Russians because we were still under the illusion that the Western media were the freest in the world, an example to the rest of us.
NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia, which began on March 24, 1999, shattered any remaining illusions about the Western media. And this launched an era of Russia's profound and almost irreversible mistrust of the words and deeds of the West. If one side had simply started a war against the other, there would not have been this massive fallout. But in this case everything began with a massive lie, and people hate lies even more than aggression. It is an innately human reaction.
Laws of war - The era of intractable mutual mistrust between Russia and the West lasted just under a decade, from the aggression against Yugoslavia until the very similar events of August 2008 (similar in the sense that in both cases, the public in the West was misinformed about the true nature of the conflict). In 2008, the public in the United States and the EU simply could not believe that Georgian troops were ordered by President Mikheil Saakashvili to attack Tskhinvali while innocent people slept. Some people do not believe this even now, even though evasive and half-hearted reports on this issue have been written and conclusions made. But nobody can admit on the record that Saakashvili was the aggressor, although a narrow circle of Europeans has known this for a long time. Marty has only just now denounced Thaci as a gangster, and his report has yet to produce any major repercussions.
Let's sum up this era of mistrust. We can do this now because after August 2008, Russia and the West agreed to at least resume dialogue, bringing the era to a close. The damage, however, has already been done. Now we have an entire generation in Russia that instinctively mistrusts "foreigners." Any reasonable Russian politician remembers the lies of 1999 and 2008 and reacts accordingly. Lies are a weapon of war, and these two wars were born of a lie. For that reason, you should always question the other side's information and adhere to the laws of war, whether the information is true or only half true.
Russia-EU political ties, unlike economic ties, have become a masquerade. Both sides harbor ill feelings. Now Western politicians will have to face the anger of their voters, who were told all these years that Tachi (and Saakashvili) are angels and Russia is the devil. Russian politicians with pronounced pro-American or pro-European views - or simply views popular in the West - went to their political deaths in 1999. The internal structure of Russian politics became distorted. There is now an uneasy balance between two poles - enlightened nationalists and die-hard nationalists, without anything in between.
Politicians know more than voters - There have been efforts to turn some major European and American politicians around on this issue since around the winter of 2008 and 2009, but there is one problem with that: Politicians have always known that Tachi is a gangster, that the destruction of Yugoslavia was very dirty business, and that attempts were made to pit some puppet regimes against Russia - in Ukraine and Georgia, for instance - to effect regime change. It is easy for politicians to reach agreements because they know the real facts. It's part of their job. But what to do with a public that is a full era behind?
Marty's report is a step in the right direction because it speaks the truth. Organizations like PACE are not very influential in Europe. It is seen as a supranational parliamentary conference. And the Council of Europe is just that - only a council. But such forums are sometimes the only way to get the truth heard in Europe, be it the truth about Kosovo or the humanitarian situation during the August 2008 war.