Vladimir Putin's creeping assault on Ukraine continues. With a quick strike invasion, Russian conventional and special operations forces bit off Crimea, annexed it, and then waited. This week, ethnic Russian agitators in eastern Ukraine marched on camera, building barricades and demanding political unification with Mother Russia. One group in Donetsk demanded the Kremlin send "temporary" peacekeeping troops.
We've seen this script before, in another Slav-versus-Slav war featuring calculated, creeping aggression in pursuit of coveted territory. Serbia's loathsome dictator, Slobodan Milosevic -- who at the time still called himself the leader of Yugoslavia -- used the same "creeping" operational technique in 1991 when Serbia attacked Croatia in the opening rounds of Yugoslavia's war of dissolution.
Landlocked, Serbia's offensive thrust, focusing on the Croat seaport of Dubrovnik, combined attacks by conventional military forces and special operations troops with on-camera political provocations by ethnic Serb agitators.
The Russians seized Sevastopol with ease. The Serb offensive, however, met stiff resistance on Dubrovnik's outskirts. The Serbs began shelling the historic seaport with heavy artillery, which led to an international outcry. Though the Cold War was waning, and the Soviet Union would officially dissolve in December 1991, Serb-Croat combat was Slav-versus-Slav. In 1991 Ukraine and Russia both had nuclear weapons. A Ukrainian-Russian Slavic clash could have radioactive consequences.
In an essay written for the Dallas Morning News (Nov. 21, 1991) I argued that Milosevic had to be stopped. His goal as an old but dangerous European if not panhuman evil: the creation of a "Greater (fill in the blank) state." In Milosevic's case it was Greater Serbia. Creating Greater Serbia would secure Milosevic's on power and cement his move from "red to brown," from Communist red fascist to ultra-nationalist ethnic fascist. I didn't mention Adolf Hitler's Greater Germany, Gross Deutschland, just implied it.
The essay contended that "Yugoslavia's breakdown has become a political laboratory for Europe and the UN, each bloody day asking The Question: 'How do we deal with the historical fragmentation resulting from the end of the Cold War?'" Permitting aggressive war by vicious thugs such as Milosevic was not the answer, for "unchecked Serbian warmaking encourages pocket fascists in Eastern Europe and the USSR who would use civil war as a means of gaining power." Well, Russian ethno-nationalists were already banging their drums.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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