Dragana Trifković is the general director of the Center for Geostrategic Studies in Belgrade, Serbia.
On September 8, a session was held in the UN Security Council on the topic of arms delivery to Ukraine by the West.
In the introductory part of the session, Trifković spoke about the weapons that were delivered to the battlefield during the war in Yugoslavia, comparing it to the current situation in Ukraine.
In the following interview, Trifković elaborates on that point for Asia Times.
Adriel Kasonta: We’re being told by our politicians, pundits and mainstream press that pumping more weapons into Ukraine is money worth spending, as it will likely bring peace. Yet the same people don’t seem to be rushing to offer any non-military diplomatic solution to this conflict – something that could save European economies and their people and stop unnecessary bloodshed in the brotherly conflict between Ukraine and Russia. What is the reason for this warmongering masquerading as a sincere desire to secure peace?
Draganа Trifković: The arming of Ukraine by the West, more precisely by NATO, led to the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine.
For years, Russia has warned the West that it sees the expansion of NATO toward its borders as a threat to national security. Although the détente of relations after the Cold War should have led to the pacification of passions, NATO used this situation to launch an invasion in the east. In a short time, it expanded and integrated even the former republics of the Soviet Union.
Now the West is accusing Russia of aggressive behavior, but it is hard to blame the side that voluntarily retreated 2,000 kilometers to the east without firing a shot.
In my opinion, Russia has made enormous diplomatic efforts to cooperate with the West in recent decades. But it did not [see] any results because the West did not want to talk but ignored Russia and belittled the right of that country to have its own interests. That’s how we got to today’s situation.
The arming of Ukraine leads to further aggravation of relations and poses a danger of a direct conflict between NATO and Russia. The European Union is suffering huge losses due to the conflict with Russia, and the sanctions have a counter-effect. I think it will be especially pronounced during the winter.
Unfortunately, European political elites behave irresponsibly towards their own citizens, and such behavior leads to conflict between political elites and citizens whose interests they are supposed to represent. I think the reason is the lack of sovereignty of the EU and European countries.
AK: During your testimony at the United Nations Security Council session on September 8, you drew a parallel between the current conflict in Ukraine and the one that took place on the territory of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Would you be so kind as to expand on that?
DT: At the session of the UN Security Council, I spoke about the similarities between the war in Yugoslavia and the one happening now in Ukraine. Although almost 30 years have passed since the war in Yugoslavia, similar effects of external influence can be seen in Ukraine and should not be ignored.
Even before the beginning of the conflict on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, the West began to arm Croatia and then the Bosnian Muslims. Both sides were in conflict with the Serbs, but there was also mutual conflict. So everyone fought against everyone.
The West supplied Croats and Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina with vast quantities of weapons, even during an embargo, which was a direct violation of international law. However, that was not all. Western private military companies trained the Croatian and Muslim armies but also commanded operations, for example, the operations of ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Croatia called “Flash” and “Storm.”
Advisers from Croatia instructed Ukraine several times on how to cleanse the Russian population using the same recipe. Many volunteers from terrorist organizations in the Middle East also came to Bosnia and Herzegovina through the West.
For example, the El Mujahedin unit was formed, which fought as part of the army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and was made up of warriors from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Syria and others. Some of those warriors later went to Iraq and Syria to fight in the Islamic State units.
It is also worth noteing here that Yugoslavia was under severe sanctions from the West, which affected the population the most. The concluded peace agreements led to the de-escalation of the conflict, but neither side was satisfied with them. Permanent solutions have not been achieved to date.
It is also necessary to mention Kosovo and Metohija, the southern Serbian province that seceded after the bombing of Serbia in 1999. NATO launched aggression against Serbia, without the approval of the UN Security Council, under the pretext of preventing violations of the human rights of Kosovo Albanians. However, the Kosovar Albanians had autonomy guaranteed by the constitution, the right to use their language and culture, schools with the Albanian language and guaranteed participation in the republic’s authorities.
Unfortunately, a similar arrangement was taken off the table for the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine. Still, NATO did not decide to bomb Kiev because of it but instead encouraged them in the violation of all human rights and violence against their own population.
The double standards applied by the West are visible here. The parallels are that the West was a critical actor in the Yugoslav conflict and the Ukrainian conflict, where it directly participated in the battle with the help of a hybrid way of warfare.
AK: What could be the consequences of a large influx of weapons to the conflict-affected territory of Ukraine, and how this possibly affects its neighbors?
DT: The large influx of weapons into Ukraine prolongs the conflict in that country but also threatens the danger of the conflict spreading to other areas. According to the Center for Geostrategic Studies, at least 20-30% of weapons sent to Ukraine end up in third countries. There are reports that some of the weapons from Ukraine ended up in the Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Metohija. In addition, some of the weapons ended up in other EU countries, most likely in the hands of terrorists.
As I have already mentioned, a fragile peace has been established in the Balkans, and there is a constant danger of a re-escalation of unresolved conflicts. This situation puts [all of] Europe in danger, especially if we consider the growing dissatisfaction of citizens, social unrest, the large number of migrants who have come to the EU in recent years, and the unpredictable economic and energy stability.
These facts can quickly escalate the conflict in other European countries, not only in the Balkans. For now, I do not see an initiative by the European Union to move from the issue of armaments to the problem of solving the numerous causes of possible conflicts.
AK: It is a well-known fact that under humanitarian law, combatants should not direct attacks against civilians or civilian infrastructure and take all necessary steps to avoid, or at least minimize, the loss of civilian life. Yet, according to a report published by Amnesty International last month, “Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians.”
Would you agree that human rights and humanitarian law have been bastardized and weaponized by the US and its various propaganda groups portraying themselves as independent NGOs and think-tanks? What does it mean for the protection of human rights around the world?
DT: The big problem is that many NGOs do not work independently. These organizations rely on [significant] donations from the nation-states that give them orders. Plenty of precedents relating to the production of “evidence” (reports) were then used to demonize authorities unfriendly to the West.
Similarly, think-tanks also depend on taxpayers’ money. As a matter of fact, many of these are closely linked to the military-industrial complex. The latter is tasking think-tanks with the production of policy papers which are then distributed to lawmakers to orient foreign policy in favor of US intervention.
Think-tanks usually are composed of former senior security officials who practice the “revolving door.”
Notable examples include William Walker (Greater Albania lobbyist), Dick Cheney (Halliburton), Lloyd Austin (Lockheed Martin), Frank Carlucci (Carlyle group), but also former French chief of staff [Pierre] de Villiers, who immediately joined the Boston Group after resigning in July 2017.
Such was the case during the Yugoslav wars when reports against Serbia were fabricated. Let’s say a turn in the international community’s attitude regarding Kosovo and Metohija was caused by a report on the so-called massacre in the village of Račak, where the Serbian security forces fought against terrorists from the Kosovo Liberation Army.
The international forces on the ground, especially the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] mission headed by the American agent William Walker, banned investigation into the case. They ordered that killed terrorists be stripped of their uniforms and dressed in civilian clothes, and then announced that Serbian security forces had killed civilians.
Although no investigation was conducted and no evidence was established, Western media accused Serbia of killing civilians, not mentioning that they were terrorists. Human Rights Watch, the OSCE and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) confirmed such claims without any evidence, although appointed forensic experts claimed William Walker forced them to falsify reports.
AK: The Center for Geostrategic Studies, which you manage, recently sent a letter to the UN Human Rights Committee, the Council of Europe, the Red Cross and other institutions and organizations dealing with humanitarian law, where it has been highlighted that the Ukrainian army is using weapons prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. How did CGS obtain this information, and what are the weapons in question?
DT: Experts from the Center for Geostrategic Studies and I have visited war-torn areas in Ukraine several times. Our rule is not to write about military conflicts from secondary sources but to personally investigate and verify the facts on the ground. This need is also driven by the example of Yugoslavia, where all the mainstream media turned against Serbia.
The media campaign being waged against Russia today is identical to the one we went through. Many journalists who described the events of the war did not witness those events but took the information from other sources.
In Izyum, we had the opportunity to verify the use of various shells that hit civilian objects, including those with cluster munitions. The regional hospital in Izyum received wounded civilians almost every day from April to July, which was confirmed by the hospital’s chief doctor, Aleksandar Božkov. Some of the civilians have been evacuated to Russia for further treatment.
In July, several missile attacks … in the Donetsk region were carried out on the civilian population and infrastructure by the Ukrainian army in Elenovka and Aleksandrovka. The colony where prisoners of war from the Azov Battalion were housed was also attacked.
I had the opportunity to talk to some of those who survived. They confirmed that the attack was carried out at night, and 53 prisoners were killed and 75 wounded. Military experts showed us the remains of parts of the rocket.
Then, at the end of July, the Ukrainian army targeted the center of the densely populated city of Donetsk. On that occasion, the military used NATO-produced Uragan missiles equipped with cluster munitions. Each rocket contained a large quantity of banned PMF-1 Lepestok anti-personnel mines. It completely paralyzed the city and the residents’ supply of food and water for several days.
We concluded that the Ukrainian side perceives civilians, as well as prisoners of war, as legitimate targets and is acting to achieve as many victims as possible among them, which goes against all the rules of war and international humanitarian law.
AK: Was there any response to the mentioned letter?
DT: Unfortunately, we did not receive a single response to our letter, which was sent to more than 10 addresses, including the UN Human Rights Committee, the Council of Europe, and the Red Cross. It is an appeal directly related to humanitarian law, and the question arises as to why international institutions are not reacting. I must admit that this is not the first case.
We had previously addressed international institutions on other issues but were left without an answer. For example, the Center for Geostrategic Studies wrote several times to Ms Dunja Mijatović, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, asking her to investigate the violation of the religious rights of the citizens of Montenegro, as well as the continuous violence against Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija by Kosovo Albanians. Apart from the notification that the letter had arrived, there were no other reactions.
Namely, we have not been informed that the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has undertaken anything to protect vulnerable citizens or at least draw the public’s attention to the fact that this is happening. I think that it is necessary to reform international institutions so that they can perform their function again. Many non-governmental organizations should take responsibility for initiating these reforms.
AK: Is it fair to say that European governments are violating their “Common Position” rules that ban licensing of arms exports in a situation when they violate international humanitarian law? If so, then what is the reason for this violation?
DT: I think the answer lies in a total change of paradigm as it relates to the collective West’s own observance of its vaunted rule of law. The advanced decomposition through the takeover of state bureaucracy and organs by private interests has revealed the true nature of Western states today: corporate fascist techno entities.
Thus when these entities’ citizens become mere variables within the larger purpose of maintaining their positions against an emerging Eurasian bloc, respect for the rule of law (which used to be the West’s trademark self-characterization) is discarded.
The West has simply intensified the practice of exporting state violence on behalf of corporate interests. Therefore, the rule of law and democracy exist in the West today only on paper. Due to the abuse of humanitarian law and democracy by the West, we have reached a position where trust in fundamental human values is lost along with confidence in institutions.