MOSCOW, Russia – Leonid Grigoryevich Ivashov is a high-ranking Russian military and public official and an expert in geopolitics. He is the President of the Academy for Geopolitical Problems and a retired Colonel-General.
But he is probably best known as one of the key people who organized the march of Russian paratroopers to Pristina in 1999 when 250 paratroopers took control of Pristina Airport, right before the noses of a NATO occupying force, after a 500km forced march from Bosnia, where they were stationed as peacekeepers.
“I know that a number of European states do not want Kosovo to gain an army,” retired Colonel-General and one of Russia’s leading geopolitical experts told in an interview for Serbian “Novosti” daily.
– The fact that Hashim Thaci has constantly been saying that they will soon get a Kosovo Army means nothing because they do not decide about it in Pristina. Will the West allow Kosovo to gain an army depends on whether the more reasonable part of Europe can oppose the Americans. And I know that a number of European states do not want Kosovo to get an army.
Ivashov, who was chief of the Main Administration of International Military Cooperation of the Russian Ministry of Defense, recalls that the stories of alleged Belgrade’s terror and oppression over Albanians were fabricated in an effort to demonize Serbs.
Do Western politicians who have left the geopolitical scene admit a mistake with Kosovo?
– They should have thought about that a long time ago, it’s too late to be right when they did injustice to the Serbs. Let’s hope Western Europe doesn’t repeat the mistake and allow the creation of the Kosovo Army. Kosovo Albanians have been involved in terrorist actions, drug trafficking, as well as forced sex trafficking. If Europe makes the same mistake again, it will bitterly remember the days when they recognized Kosovo’s independence and their army.
Why was it decided that 650 Russian soldiers and officers should leave Kosovo in 2003?
– I considered it then, and I still do, that it was a big mistake. The proposal to withdraw from Kosovo and Metohia could have come only from an ignorant or a traitor. Not only did we not need to withdraw, but in the Balkans, Russia had to not just preserve, but also gradually increase its contingent for strategic goals.
Igor Ivanov (former Russian FM and Lavrov’s predecessor) said that the departure of Russian peacekeepers from Bosnia and Kosovo does not mean “Russia left the Balkans because Moscow will continue to cooperate with the OSCE and other international institutions.”
– We had only damage by trusting the Americans. The gravity and consequences of the mistakes that have been made, we can see today. But this shows that lessons from history have not been learned. Only ignorant people could believe that NATO would keep their promise. Naivety or ignorance and even affection towards Washington were obvious.
You were a witness during Milosevic’s Hague trial?
– The Hague Tribunal is a farce. They branded the Serbs as the main culprits in advance, before the trial even started. I saw how biased they were towards the Albanians. The Serbs were forced to prove their innocence by written documents. And the evidence of the witnesses, among whom were Yevgeny Primakov and I, were immediately questioned. When Primakov testified and gave evidence based on information from the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the court ignored the facts.
But at the same time, some incredible testimonies of Albanians were accepted. I remember that one Albanian with a shirt on which there were three large holes, allegedly caused by a large-caliber machine gun, came as a witness. When Milosevic asked how he managed to survive, he replied that he was saved by Allah.
The situation in Macedonia is difficult. What do you predict?
– I’m not optimistic. The Albanians will try to take the first opportunity to further their plans.
Do you think the successes of the Syrian army are changing the balance of power in the Middle East?
– Russia’s assistance to Asad was completely justified. When the Syrian army seizes all major cities, terrorists will have to withdraw and stop direct fighting. It is already clear that the Islamic State will be limited to terrorist activities.
You knew Hafez Al Asad, the father of the current president, Bashar Al Assad?
– I told his son Bashar Al Asad the complete US operation scenario in Syria. Washington’s stories and threats about chemical weapons are part of the American scenario. I explained to Bashar that the Americans had planned four stages for Syria. But not everything went according to their plans, so they were scared of the ensuing political fiasco. Putin was absolutely right when he said that the pressure put on Asad regarding chemical weapons was a provocation. Asad had no reason to use chemical weapons. But Americans and their allies used every opportunity to try and overthrow him.
American newspapers often point out the alleged weaknesses of the Russian army…
– The Americans are in a great deal of panic because the Russians have shown that they are able to fight in a modern war. Russian high-precision weapons proved to be very effective. Their estimates do not matter to us. They once praised the reforms carried out by (Russian Defense) Minister Serdyukov, who caused great damage to our military. Americans are doing everything they can to stay the only bosses in the world, and stop the emergence of the so-called multipolar world. But the world is changing and American hegemony has to stop.
The Pentagon tells stories that the quality of Russian weapons is bad…
– It turned out very well that Putin changed the military doctrine. It was a wise move to modernize the army and invest more money in high-precision weapons. It is undeniable that Russian nuclear arsenal guarantees us security and no one should attack us because there would be an immediate answer. But, Americans began to arm themselves with high-precision weapons well before us. No matter what the story in the Pentagon is, the war in Syria confirmed the quality of our weapons, for which there is a constantly growing demand.
It is clear now that Ukraine has no chance of joining NATO in the near future. But is there a danger of Ukrainians applying the “Croatian scenario” (NATO-supported ethnic cleansing of Krajina Serbs in 1995) and going for a blitzkrieg in Donbas?
– NATO does not accept countries which are in conflict with their neighbors or have internal conflicts. Russia is not jeopardized by Ukraine, no matter how far former President Poroshenko went in his chest-thumping. It’s pointless for Croatian politicians to give advice to Kiev, their scenario cannot be applied in Donbas. There was a huge risk that Poroshenko would again go to war in Donbas, as he could have lost more territory. If in the near future there is no normalization of the situation in Ukraine, it is very likely that internal conflicts may escalate and then the country’s break-up could occur.
What do you predict will happen with North Korea?
– Nuclear war will certainly not happen and there is no reason for panic. I’m sympathetic to North Korea’s cause because they value their independence. Washington has to stop imposing their standards on smaller nations. It is in this context that North Korea’s desire to have nuclear weapons and missiles that could hit targets in the US should be viewed.