We Didn’t Start the Fire: Military Interventions from Kosovo to Kiev

By Katarina Ristić

Destroyed building of Generalstab (General Staff) downtown Belgrade. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Only a few days before the attack on Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin responded to those scandalized by the prospect of a war in Europe, reminding Europeans that such a war had already taken place. In 1999, he said, it was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – not Russia – that had started a “large-scale military operation that included air strikes against a European capital, Belgrade”.[1] And while Western leaders fiercely reject any similarities between the intervention in Yugoslavia and the one in Ukraine, emphasizing that Ukraine has not committed any wide spread violations of human rights, Russia refers to the Kosovo intervention as a justification for its current “special military operation”. The strategy is not new, and Russia had already referenced the precedent of Kosovo independence as justification for the secession of Crimea. In both cases, Russia was mimicking arguments about humanitarian intervention surrounding NATO intervention in Kosovo.

This blog contribution looks back at NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, focusing on the memory of this intervention in the region and its political legacy within two alternative globalization projects: liberal internationalism and illiberal nationalism. By globalization project I mean that both viewpoints are underpinned by certain international norms or universal claims and have to varying degrees interventionist tendencies beyond state borders. The development of the liberal internationalist project included a whole set of principles and institutions – like humanitarian interventions, the responsibility to protect (R2P), and legal institutions to prosecute atrocity crimes. These include international tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, hybrid courts for Sierra Leone and Cambodia, and the International Criminal Court. Among those promoting the project, one could include the network of human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and their support for combatting wars and impunity[2] as well as the whole field of transitional justice research and publications of the global justice project.[3] Illiberal nationalism refers to the continuous attempts of some states to solve ongoing conflicts or political tensions by the use of indiscriminate violence, ignoring international laws and norms, and invoking its own self-defense and sovereignty as its primary justification. NATO intervention in Kosovo marked a watershed when what was previously imagined as a joint post-Cold War liberal order turned into two alternative globalization projects.

NATO’s Military Intervention in Kosovo

Seen through the lenses of liberal internationalism, the relatively quick and unanimous support among NATO countries for military intervention in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (the so-called Kosovo Intervention) in March 1999, is explained by the steady increase of atrocities on the ground from 1998 onwards. The media and scholars criticized the lack of intervention during the genocide in Rwanda in 1993 and Bosnia in 1995, raising the question of the international community’s responsibility and even complicity in these crimes. Samantha Power, a former a war correspondent who later became US ambassador to the United Nations (UN) and currently leads the US Agency for International Development (USAID), famously argued that sovereignty should not permit slaughter, and that the international community must stop mass atrocities.[4] Three years after the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the same political regime redirected its army and police to the Serbian southern province of Kosovo. The main enemy was the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) – a small armed group that rejected the non-violent strategy of Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo and began undertaking terrorist attacks in Kosovo. The Serbian state’s response was brutal and showed little concern for civilian casualties. Rather than seeing a liberation army, Serbian officials saw terrorists (or separatists) and in turn responded with full force. During 1998, 2046 citizens were killed in Kosovo, among them 1705 Albanians.[5]

One of the atrocities that marked this period was an attack on the KLA leader Adem Jashari and his family in Prekaz in March 1998, when he, his brother, and 60 members of his extended family were murdered. During the first half of 1998, the international community was hesitant to respond to the crises. The KLA was still considered a terrorist organization in the reports from the International Crisis Group. In October, following the deal brokered by the US envoy Richard Holbrooke and the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1199, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission was deployed to Kosovo with a mandate to verify compliance with the agreement.[6] Nevertheless, the crisis escalated as attacks on civilians rose. During another anti-terrorist operation in January 1999, Serbian forces attacked the village Račak, killing more than 40 people. The incident was a continuation of similar operations in Drenica and Gornje Obrinje, revealing a pattern of systematic violence and it served as a final argument for the intervention. Some scholars take the Račak massacre and the Kosovo intervention as an exemplary case of what is called the “CNN effect” where the media outcry after the massacre of civilians led to military intervention.[7] Parallel to the crises on the ground, political negotiations reached a dead end – the last attempt to find a diplomatic solution in Rambouillet ended without an agreement in March 1999. With all political means exhausted and evidence of mass atrocities ongoing, NATO began its military intervention.

In contrast to the previous decisions of the international community attempting to stop or regulate Yugoslav wars (like the establishment ICTY in 1993 or the military intervention in Bosnia in 1995) this time the UN Security Council did not reach an agreement. The UN Charter provided only two possibilities to engage militarily in the sovereign state – either as an act of self-defense, or with the authorization of the UNSC. Ignoring the public outcry and moral outrage over the crimes in Kosovo that dominated the Western public, Russia and China signaled that they would not support the intervention. Fearing a Russian veto, NATO decided to proceed with an intervention without the authorization, in a clear violation of international law. The scale of atrocities and the protection of victims constituted the basis for what was perceived as a new kind of “humanitarian intervention”.[8] Nevertheless, for those who perceived the state as fighting terrorism, the intervention was simply a violation of international law and aggression, not least because crimes were silenced in the media, barely ever reaching and affecting the public.[9]

Once the NATO attacks started, the Serbian army commenced its military operation on the ground, expelling the population and burning villages. In the first week of the intervention, more than 300,000 Albanians fled, with the number increasing to more than 700,000 people in the following weeks. Villages were burned, one by one, and the local population was often forced to leave their passports and other identification documents in order to secure they couldn’t return. Many did not have a chance to escape, like the Berisha family in Suva Reka. Only two days after the start of the intervention, Serbian military forces killed 45 men, women, and children. Their bodies were then transferred to Serbia and buried in the police camp in Batajnica, near Belgrade.[10] For these and similar atrocities, 4 Serbian army and police generals, as well as the deputy prime minister, were convicted in the ICTY for war crimes and crimes against humanity, sentenced to prison with sentences ranging between 15 and 22 years. The man in charge – Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević – died during the trial in 2006.

The NATO intervention and the Kosovo war ended with the Kumanovo Agreement on 9 June 1999. The Serbian side agreed to withdraw its military force from Kosovo, while NATO entered as the Kosovo Force (KFOR), the NATO lead peacekeeping mission. Serbs and other minorities were now leaving Kosovo under threat of violence and revenge, with the OSCE reporting more than 185,000 people evacuating after June 1999. Sporadic or organized forms of violence with property destruction and individual killings, like the one in March 2004, continued to devastate communities in Kosovo, while the intervention was turned into a fundament of national memory politics in both Kosovo and Serbia.

Official Remembrance of the Intervention in Serbia and Kosovo

Memory of the Kosovo intervention – rather than memory of the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, or any atrocities committed by Serbian forces – slowly emerged as the central narrative from the wars in the 1990s in Serbia. In the first years after Milošević was ousted following elections and mass protests in October 2000, the democratic government tried to downplay the NATO bombing narrative. Nevertheless, right-wing politicians like President Vojislav Koštunica, members of the church, and a number of local initiatives ensured that commemorations took place without interruption. Each 24 March, the day the NATO intervention commenced, annual commemorations are held in St. Mark’s church in Belgrade, followed by a whole set of other activities.

A gradual shift from fragmented and dispersed commemorations into central, politically organized national commemorations gained momentum with the regime change in 2012 and the return of the far right to power which solidified after 2014.[11] A number of monuments to the victims of NATO bombings were erected: a monument to children who were killed, to employers of the television station RTS, and to civilians hit in the Grdelica train, marking elements of a narrative of Serbian victimhood. At the same time, public commemorations avoided any engagement with the atrocities committed by Serbian forces in Kosovo, as well as any recognition of aggressive Serbian nationalism during the wars in former Yugoslavia. In other words, the only justification for the intervention – the humanitarian crises caused by Serbian forces and the mass crimes they committed – was completely silenced in the public sphere.

The few initiatives among human rights NGOs that opened up the topic of mass atrocities committed by Serbian forces in Kosovo were met with hostility in public. Similarly, the trial reports from the ICTY hardly influenced the dominant narrative.[12] Instead war criminals were turned into national heroes and celebrities.[13] Even the discovery of mass graves in Batajnica was quickly forgotten. Instead, the public focused on a complete amnesty for NATO crimes compared to the limited penalties and very few trials for the KLA crimes during the war. This only further confirmed the lack of justice for Serbian victims of the war, an anti-Serbian conspiracy, and the disproportional punishment of Serbs.

Monument to the child victims of NATO bombing of FRY in Belgrade. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Whereas the European Union (EU) and NATO representatives avoided commemorations of the NATO Intervention on 24 March, Russia’s representatives were increasingly present. In 2011, Russian president Vladimir Putin (then prime minister) visited Belgrade only a day before the 12th anniversary of the intervention. Although officially economic topics were on the agenda, the public noticed the symbolic message of the visit. In 2020, Sergej Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia, attended the 21st anniversary of NATO’s intervention, expressing his solidarity with the Serbian people. Condemning the intervention as well as the ICTY and its unjust judgments against Serbian heroes, Russia clearly sided with Serbian nationalism and against the global justice project that was unfolding after 1999. Supporting Serbian memory politics of wars in 90s was just one part of what memory studies scholars Jade McGlynn and Jelena Đureinović call “Russo-Serbian memory diplomacy”, which includes a whole set of World War II memory exports like the St George’s Ribbon and the Immortal Regiment procession.[14]

Monument to Adem Jashari in Tirana, Albania. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The official memory of NATO’s intervention in Kosovo followed the opposite pattern from remembrance in Serbia, but it was also shaped by the emergence of the nationalist narratives about the conflict. The official memory focuses on celebrations of a victorious war of independence, built around the heroization of KLA fighters like Adem Jashari.[15] The NATO intervention is seen as military support for a just war, while Western leaders figure as new national heroes. A year after Kosovo declared independence, in 2009, a 3.5-meter-high monument to American president Bill Clinton was erected in Pristina, with the date on which NATO started its operation engraved on the stone. That the former American president personally attended the ceremony was no small honor for the new state.

Statute of Bill Clinton in Pristina. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The set of grievances towards NATO that emerged in Serbia has no counterpart in Kosovo’s memory politics. Moreover, the heroic and victorious memory leaves little space for the victims of other ethnic groups or non-combatants. Civil society’s attempts to shake the exclusivist heroic memory account, for example requesting the inclusion of victims of sexual violence, are only recently more visible in the public debates.[16]

In the rest of Europe, the Kosovo intervention and Yugoslav wars seem to have been quickly forgotten, as the numerous accounts of the first war in Europe after WWII in reference to war in Ukraine today show. Still, both a liberal and national globalization projects continue to invoke the legacy of the Kosovo intervention. These uses and abuses are addressed in the next section.

The Legacy of the Kosovo Intervention in Two Alternative Globalization Projects (2000–2008)

Within the liberal globalization project, the Kosovo intervention figures as a victory of human rights and humanitarianism in protecting victims of atrocity crimes. Decoupled from any political or economic interests, intervention is imagined as a special case of solidarity and empathy with the victims on a global scale.[17] The lack of UN Security Council authorization, which rendered the Kosovo Intervention illegal, exposed the tension between the existing UN system and international law. The old power structures were no longer suitable for the new global conscience demanding to intervene in cases of what lawyer and US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes David Scheffer called “atrocity crimes”, used to refer to war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and genocide.[18] The tension between legitimacy of intervention and its illegality was addressed in September 2000 when the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) was formed. Initiated by Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, it was tasked to answer the question of when military intervention against a sovereign state is allowed. The commission consisted of 12 scholars and politicians – some of them vocal supporters of intervention in Yugoslavia (and today in Ukraine) – including Michael Ignatieff, a scholar; Gareth Evans, former Australian foreign minister and president of the International Crisis Group; Mohamed Sahnoun, Algerian special advisor to the UNSC; and Klaus Naumann, former chair of NATO’s Military Committee and staff of the German armed forces. After one year of work, in 2001, the commission published the report Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which turned the former understanding of humanitarian intervention on its head.

Rather than a right to intervene against a sovereign state, the report established the responsibility of the state, and subsequently the international community, to protect its citizens. The human rights activist and politician Bernard Kouchner, often credited as a father of the idea of “humanitarian intervention” in the 1970s, described the R2P principle as a “major paradigm shift for the protection of victims worldwide”.[19] The support of the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan was decisive for the promotion and acceptance of the principle in the UN, while a whole set of organizations – from the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch to Refugees International – founded the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect with a double function: as a research institution and an advocacy body monitoring R2P practices and its implementation. In April 2004, Ghanaian Secretary General Kofi Annan addressed the UN Commission on Human Rights in a moving speech, starting with a minute of silence remembering the collective failure to protect 800,000 victims in Rwanda. He continued: “If there is one legacy I would most wish to leave to my successors, it is an organization both better equipped to prevent genocide and able to act decisively to stop it when prevention fails”. With R2P so high on the agenda of the UN secretary-general, and with hardly any reservations and objections, the new principle was voted for unanimously at the UN world summit in 2005, which brought together more than 170 heads of state and governments.

The publication of the R2P report in 2001 coincided with the terrorist attacks in the USA, which drastically changed the outlook for intervention in the following “war on terror”. Meanwhile, the high hopes for the future of humanitarian interventions at the turn of the 21st century and the enthusiastic narratives of R2P as a “protection once and for all”[20] have been challenged by the disastrous long-term effects of NATO interventions in Middle East, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya and Syria. These invasions showed the limits of military interventions and subsequent occupations in order to bring about democracy, to ensure peace, or to protect the victims of human rights violations.

While intervention in Afghanistan is mainly understood as a self-defense operation, the use of humanitarian justifications in the intervention in Iraq was mainly rejected by scholars and human rights activists alike. Kenneth Roth from Human Rights Watch, for example, noted that intervention does not fulfil any of several thresholds, which include immediate humanitarian emergency, last resort measures, exhausted diplomatic means, and the greatest respect for international human rights and humanitarian law.[21] Intervention in Libya, on the other hand, followed after the unanimous UNSC vote, making it a poster case for the prompt implementation of the Right to Protect principle. Nevertheless, once NATO engaged in directly targeting Gaddafi and started supplying weapons to the rebels, the Resolution 1973 was violated. All BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) countries objected this shift.[22] Secondly, even in the interventions that aim for “surgical precision” like the one in Yugoslavia, bombing civilian infrastructure like hospitals or media facilities seemed unavoidable. The situation got even worse in the following interventions. To mention only media casualties, three journalists were killed on 8 April 2003 in the attacks on Al Jazeera and the Abu Dhabi network in Baghdad (Parks, 2007), while two Reuters journalists were killed in the Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, recorded in the Collateral Murder video, which was released by Wikileaks in 2010.[23] Civilian victims of such attacks only increased in the following interventions. Due to the use of drone warfare and unrestricted operations over areas in Iraq and Pakistan, media scholar Lisa Parks talks about humans becoming a “targeted class”.[24]

Parallel with the development of the liberal international project, the illiberal nationalist globalization project was growing, often responding to the measures and instruments introduced by global justice actors. The core norm of the illiberal nationalist project is the state’s prerogative to intervene in cases of self-perceived security threats, which cannot be challenged by any other concern, including violations of human rights of its citizens. For those supporting such operations, like the one undertaken by Serbia in Kosovo or the set of Russian interventions following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia remains an act of aggression. For example, the two interventions in Chechnya, the first one under Boris Yeltsin (1994–1996) and the other under Vladimir Putin in 1999 (raising his popularity for the presidential elections in the following year), were fought with little concern for human rights and humanitarian law. Despite some dispute, no legal proceedings followed the atrocities committed during the war. According to John Russell not one member of the European Council requested that Russia be referred to European Court of Human Rights “for well documented atrocities in the war”.[25] The delegitimization of Chechnyan causes was based on the principle of Russian sovereignty, but also on reports about terrorist and radical Islamists without much appeal for the broader liberal internationalists. The public silencing of ethnic cleansing and consequences for bombing in Chechnya is addressed by political scientist Julie Wilhelmsen, who analysed in detail securitization discourses in Russia.[26]

It is today often forgotten that those supporting intervention in Kosovo also supported the intervention in Chechnya. Then Czech president Vaclav Havel, for example, argued in 1999: “One cannot remain silent to there already being 300,000 refugees from Chechnya living in conditions of poverty, that the civilian population is suffering, and that since the very beginning of the conflict Chechnya has suffered over 100,000 dead”.[27] Nevertheless Chechnya disappeared from the liberal agenda, which focused on the Kosovo war, state building, and justice processes. Within the illiberal nationalist globalization project, both the Serbian intervention in Kosovo as well as the Russian intervention in Chechnya represented legitimate uses of military force to fight terrorism and defend state security. Where the self-defense and protection of one’s own citizens ends depends on the perceived threat, and this legitimate right can stretch far beyond national borders, as interventions in Afghanistan and now in Ukraine show. The Serbian wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina followed the same self-defense logic, and they are still widely perceived in Serbia and Russia as justified by the need to protect their own citizens.

The Independence of Kosovo as a Watershed

Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 set a new watershed between the two projects, turning into a specific political battle. The majority of the world’s countries (114) recognize Kosovo as an independent state. Among those that do not, beside the usual suspects – Serbia, Russia, and China – are five states within the EU: Spain, Slovakia, Greece, Cyprus, and Romania. This group includes countries fearing any similar movements on their own territory; thus, it is no surprise that Ukraine is also one of the countries that does not recognize Kosovo.

The political consequences Russia has taken from the precedent set in Kosovo were twofold: First, it never recognized the independent status of Kosovo, and second, it embraced openly a strategy of interventionism within what it considered its own sphere of influence. The intervention in Georgia, officially protecting the country’s Russian minority against Georgian forces, which lasted only five days (8–12 August 2008), was undertaken six months after Kosovo proclaimed its independence. President Dmitri Medvedev explained that after recognition of Kosovo’s independence it is impossible “to tell the Abkhazians and South Ossetians and dozens of groups around the world that what was good for the Kosovo Albanians was not good for them. In international relations, you cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others”.[28] Increasingly, Russia was using the language of human rights to explain its interventions. For example, in August 2008, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Georgian forces in South Ossetia of committing ‘genocide’, in the end comparing Tskhinvali with Srebrenica, and invoked Russia’s moral obligation to intervene.[29]

Russia used the precedent of Kosovo’s independence to justify the secession of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, referring to another argument used by the West in Kosovo, namely supporting the will of the majority population.[30] The increased use of human rights language as a justification – protection of the Russian minority or denazification of Ukraine – is mainly dismissed by scholars as a parody of human rights, although political scientist Erna Burai rightfully addresses this as an important example of a “contestation of norms” in global discourses about interventionism.[31] In the cases of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, and later Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia explained its intervention by invoking the R2P principle, again a rhetorical move dismissed by scholars who instead spoke of aggression.[32] One should not underestimate that there is an inner logic in this position. The scholar Ekaterina Stepanova considers Russia’s intervention in the Donbass war as “the closest Russia has ever come to taking direct action in the spirit, if not strictly the letter, of R2P”.[33] She notes that the state provided support and assistance for around a million refugees, and compares this humanitarian crisis with the similar number of refugees in the case of Kosovo intervention, wondering about the complete lack of compassion in the West.

Conclusion

Two global projects introduced to explain two main positions vis-à-vis post-Cold War interventionism are based on particular imaginations of the world. I contrasted liberal internationalism, with its aim to build a world based on international law and international institutions, with the vision of illiberal states pursuing their own national glory and security irrespective of breaches of humanitarian law. Which actions and strategies belong to which project is still unclear, and different actors zig-zag between them, as states might alter their alliances with regime changes. For example, an almost decade-long participation of Russia in the development of international humanitarian law[34] was formulated under the liberal internationalist Andrei Kozyrev, who led Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Boris Yeltsin from 1990 until 1996.[35] The first major disagreements were actually related to the use of force and intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina during 1994 and 1995, but they culminated during the Kosovo intervention. It is after the Kosovo intervention that Russia withdrew its support for the project, not only by condemning aggression but also by questioning the ICTY, its impartiality, and its legality as well as by withdrawing its signature from the Rome Statute in 2016.

This opposition brought anti-liberals in both countries even closer. Elena Guskova, a Russian historian who wrote extensively about Yugoslavia, clearly makes the point of how liberal projects humiliated Serbia. In her article published after the extradition of the wartime president of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadžić, to the ICTY, she ironically asks: “Is Serbia now closer to EU?” Her article describes a peace-loving Radovan Karadžić and General Mladic, both later convicted for genocide in Srebrenica, as persons “perceived by the Serbian and Russian people as heroes who defended their people, managed to defend territories where Serbs have lived for centuries and created a state recognized by the world community, although as part of BiH [Bosnia and Herzegovina]”. At the same time, she is mocking the conditional policy of the EU, where Serbia is forced to surrender its presidents, military generals, and party leaders, and in return, it will get another condition to recognize independent Kosovo.

Within the illiberal nationalist project, the Kosovo intervention and ICTY trials show the ultimate threat that liberal institutions and practices impose on national identities, how they destabilize states, and support separatism while humiliating national heroes and defenders. Those sharing a similar perception of globalization processes under the liberal ideology – and most radical right nationalists worldwide are at least sympathetic to these grievances – recognize the Kosovo intervention as an instance of aggression, showing that liberal warriors will not stop at any cost. The far right worldwide builds on the heroization of Serbian war criminals as defenders of white, Christian Europe, victimized by the real traitors – NATO and the EU – as we could read in Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto. The Kosovo intervention figures here as an ultimate betrayal of the nationalist project in Europe, where liberal globalization organizations literally stole territories from an existing state, showing that there are no legal or moral limits for the new liberal project. Within the same logic, counter interventions (those securing national security and stability) are not seen as a threat or aggression but instead as a security operation – the only one capable of securing peace in the world.


References

[1] Masha Gessen, “How the Kosovo Air War Foreshadowed the Crisis in Ukraine”, The New Yorker, 15 February 2022.

[2] Marlies Glasius, The International Criminal Court: A global civil society achievement, Routledge advances in international relations and politics (London: Routledge, 2006).

[3] Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, Global Justice the Politics of War Crimes Trials (Westport: Praeger Security International, 2006); Aryeh Neier, The International Human Rights Movement: A History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012); Ruti G. Teitel, Transitional Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

[4] Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (Harper Perennial, 2010).

[5] Humanitarian Law Center, Kosovo Memory Book 1998, Belgrade, Accessed 1 April 2022.

[6] Marcin Czaplinski, “The OSCE in the New International Environment in Kosovo”, OSCE Yearbook, 2009.

[7] Babak Bahador, The CNN Effect in Action: How the News Media Pushed the West toward War in Kosovo (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

[8] Michael Ignatieff, Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond (New York: Picador, 2001).

[9] This is true not only for Serbia but also for Russia and China, where media reporting mainly supported the Serbian position in the conflict. See: Zheng Wang, Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012); David Mendeloff, “‘Pernicious History’ as a Cause of National Misperceptions: Russia and the 1999 Kosovo War”, Cooperation and Conflict 43, no. 1 (March 2008): 31–56. Yuguang Zhou, “Shared Victimhood: The Chinese Newspaper People’s Daily Reporting on the 1999 NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia”, Comparative Southeast European Studies 70, no. 2 (forthcoming June 2022).

[10] Humanitarian Law Center, Dossier: “The cover-up of evidence of crimes during the war in Kosovo: THE CONCEALMENT OF BODIES OPERATION”, Belgrade, 2017.

[11] Elisa Satjukow, Die Andere Seite Der Intervention: Eine Serbische Erfahrungsgeschichte Der NATO-Bombardierung 1999 (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2020).

[12] Katarina Ristić, Imaginary Trials: War Crime and Memory in former Yugoslavia (Leipzig: Leipzig University Press, 2013).

[13] Katarina Ristić, “The Media Negotiations of War Criminals and Their Memoirs: The Emergence of the ‘ICTY Celebrity’”, International Criminal Justice Review 28, no. 4 (2018): 391–405.

[14] Jade McGlynn and Jelena Đureinović, “The Alliance of Victory: Russo-Serbian Memory Diplomacy”, Memory Studies, 5 March 2022.

[15] Anna Di Lellio and Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers, “The Legendary Commander: The Construction of an Albanian Master-Narrative in Post-War Kosovo*”, Nations and Nationalism 12, no. 3 (July 2006): 513–29.

[16] Kathleen Zeidler, “End of the Silence? Dealing with Sexualized Violence in the Context of the Kosovo Conflict (1998/99 – 2019),” Comparative Southeast European Studies 70, no. 2 (forthcoming June 2022).

[17] Birgitta Höijer, “The Discourse of Global Compassion: The Audience and Media Reporting of Human Suffering”, Media, Culture & Society 26, no. 4 (July 1, 2004): 513–31.

[18] David Scheffer, “Atrocity Crimes Framing the Responsibility to Protect”, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 40, no. 1 (2007/2008): 319-24.

[19] Gareth J. Evans, The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2009).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Kenneth Roth, “War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention”, in Human Rights in the ‘War on Terror’, ed. Richard Ashby Wilson, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 143–56.

[22] Ramesh Thakur, “R2P after Libya and Syria: Engaging Emerging Powers”, The Washington Quarterly 36, no. 2 (April 2013): 61–76.

[23] Christian Christensen, “WikiLeaks| WikiLeaks and the Afterlife of Collateral Murder”, International Journal of Communication 8 (2014): 10.

[24] Lisa Parks, “Drones, Vertical Mediation, and the Targeted Class”, Feminist Studies 42, no. 1 (2016): 227–35, 10.

[25] John Russell, “Mujahedeen, Mafia, Madmen: Russian Perceptions of Chechens During the Wars in Chechnya, 1994–96 and 1999–2001”, Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 18, no. 1 (March 2002): 73–96.

[26] Julie Wilhelmsen, Russia’s Securitization of Chechnya: How War Became Acceptable (London: Routledge, 2018).

[27] Jolyon Naegele, “Czech Republic: Havel Says People of Kosovo, Chechnya Should Determine Own Fate”, Radio Free Europe, 9 November 1999.

[28] Quoted in: Mikulas Fabry, “The Contemporary Practice of State Recognition: Kosovo, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Their Aftermath”, Nationalities Papers 40, no. 5 (September 2012): 661–76.

[29] Christian Axboe Nielsen, “The Kosovo Precedent and the Rhetorical Deployment of Former Yugoslav Analogies in the Cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia”, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 9, no. 1–2 (March 2009): 171–89.

[30] Erna Burai, “Parody as Norm Contestation: Russian Normative Justifications in Georgia and Ukraine and Their Implications for Global Norms”, Global Society 30, no. 1 (January 2, 2016): 67–77.

[31] Ibid., 68.

[32] Elizabeth Cullen Dunn and Michael S. Bobick, “The Empire Strikes Back: War without War and Occupation without Occupation in the Russian Sphere of Influence”, American Ethnologist 41, no. 3 (2014): 405–13.

[33] Ekaterina Stepanova, “Russia”, in The Oxford Handbook of the Responsibility to Protect, eds. Alex J. Bellamy and Timothy Dunne (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[34] Larisa V. Deriglazova and Olga Yu. Smolenchuk, “Prosecution for Violations of International Humanitarian Law: Russia’s Position”, Russia in Global Affairs 19, no. 4 (2021).

[35] Jim Headley, “Sarajevo, February 1994: The First Russia-NATO Crisis of the Post-Cold War Era”, Review of International Studies 29, no. 2 (April 2003): 209–27.


Katarina Ristić is a researcher at the Global and European Studies Institute at Leipzig University. She was a research associate at the Helmut–Schmidt University in Hamburg and at Magdeburg University. She obtained a PhD from Leipzig University, and her monograph Imaginary trials – War Crime Trials and Memory in former Yugoslavia deals with the silencing of victims’ narratives and contested mediatization of trials in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. Together with Elisa Satjukow, she is a guest editor of the forthcoming special issue of Comparative Southeast European Studies on the NATO Intervention in FR Yugoslavia, to be published in June 2022.


Citation: Katarina Ristić, We Didn’t Start the Fire: Military Interventions from Kosovo to Kiev, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 21.04.2022, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/36390


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  1. 9. Mai 2022

    […] effect” where the media outcry after the massacre of civilians led to military intervention.[7] Parallel to the crises on the ground, political negotiations reached a dead end – the last […]

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