Comment by the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation on the Anniversary of NATO 1999 aggression against Yugoslavia
On March 24, 1999, the North Atlantic Alliance unleashed a war on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with the barbaric bombardment of a sovereign state. That act of aggression plainly defied the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, generally accepted international norms, and UN Security Council resolutions on Kosovo.
The bombing of Yugoslavia, which lasted 78 days, was a demonstration of NATO’s unilateral policy of force and its typical disregard for the foundational principle of peaceful resolution of international disputes, and brought grief and suffering to the country’s people.
According to the most conservative estimates, NATO forces fired a total of 2,300 missiles and dropped 14,000 bombs (including cluster and depleted uranium munitions). Those airstrikes killed nearly 2,000 civilians, including children, and injured many thousands more – victims that NATO members cynically referred to as “collateral damage”. More than 200,000 Serbs fled their homes in Kosovo following the military operation, fearing reprisals.
The airstrikes destroyed or significantly damaged hundreds of economic and infrastructural facilities, medical and educational institutions, buildings of historical and architectural value, and tens of thousands of residential buildings. Estimates of the total economic damage to Yugoslavia range from $30 to $100 billion, not to mention the serious environmental consequences.
The motive NATO cited for its actions was protecting Kosovar Albanians from oppression by the Serbian authorities and preventing a humanitarian disaster. In fact, the goal of the operation was to undermine Yugoslavia’s political and economic capacity and its ability to continue pursuing an independent policy in the region, leading to the disintegration of the country. The airstrikes were planned in advance, regardless of the outcome of the international negotiations on Kosovo. It is telling that the bulk of refugees fled Kosovo after the bombing commenced.
At the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council that Russia initiated on March 25, 1999, our country warned that the illegitimate use of force by NATO was destabilising the Balkan region and undermining the modern system of international relations, but to no avail.
The bombing of Yugoslavia was followed by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the United States and its NATO allies under patently false pretexts and without UN sanction, and by the cynical abuse of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 in Libya in 2011, where the alliance supported one of the parties to the conflict.
This policy of unceremonious interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states continued in Ukraine, where an unconstitutional change of government took place in February 2014, under the influence and with the direct support of the US and EU, resulting in the many tragic events that have accompanied the civil conflict in southeast Ukraine. Sadly, the numerous crimes that the armed groups controlled by the Ukrainian government have committed against civilians, the massive casualties and the resulting humanitarian disaster in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions are of no interest to those who once lamented the human rights situation in Kosovo.
In this time of global turbulence, it is extremely important that the countries that joined or supported the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 learn the right lessons from the past and abandon the use of double standards, or unilateral and selective interpretations of international law.
We urge our partners to make the right choice between short-term political gain and the strategic interests of building a reliable European security system based on the principles of indivisibility, equality and mutual benefit. The very logic of global development and the common challenges and threats facing all mankind demand like never before collective decision-making within the framework of international formats.