After the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin, he is often compared to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Russian portal Agentstvo reports.
In 1999, they recall, the court for the former Yugoslavia requested the extradition of Milosevic, and two years later the politician ended up in The Hague, although he initially branded the court illegitimate.
The Russian media go on to detail how the Balkan politician who ruled Serbia and Yugoslavia for 13 years ended up in a Hague prison and died.
The International Criminal Court has charged Putin and the children’s rights ombudsman, Maria Lvova-Belova, with deporting Ukrainian children.
Similar was the first charge brought by the Hague Tribunal against the Yugoslav leader in 1999 – participation in a criminal group, the purpose of which was to deport around 800,000 Kosovo Albanians.
During this forced displacement of civilians, Yugoslav and Serbian forces allegedly “systematically shelled towns and villages, burned houses and estates, damaged and destroyed cultural and religious institutions of Kosovo Albanians, killed civilians and sexually abused Kosovo Albanian women”, the Agentstvo recalls.
Milosevic is accused of a total of 21 war crimes committed on the territory of Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main counts of the indictment are genocide, deportation, murder, political, racial or religious persecution, imprisonment, torture, attacks on civilians and civilian objects.
By the summer of 1999, Milosevic had lost his fourth war – in Kosovo (the first three lost armed conflicts – in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia), lawyer and journalist Ilija Vukelic said in a statement to a Russian portal.
The war in Kosovo ended when Milosevic signed the Kumanovo Agreement with the NATO peacekeeping forces in Kosovo in June 1999, after NATO bombardment. He had to agree to a practical capitulation – to the withdrawal of military, police and paramilitary formations from Kosovo and the entry of peacekeeping forces,” recalls Vukelic.
After the arrest warrant for Milošević was issued and the indictment was brought against him, the Yugoslav government called the Hague Tribunal an illegitimate body and tool of NATO and the West, Vukelic told the Agency.
He recalls that in 1995, Milošević recognised the legitimacy of the Hague Tribunal and committed to cooperate with it by signing the Dayton Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
One of the points of these agreements was cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, including the detention of the accused.
During the time of Milošević, Belgrade began to extradite the accused to The Hague. One of the first to be sent and convicted for the genocide in Srebrenica was a soldier of the Republika Srpska, Dražen Erdemović.
Following the accusations of the Hague Tribunal, the Yugoslav authorities did not limit themselves to verbal rhetoric Yugoslavia held a trial against the leaders and armies of NATO countries.
A month before Milosevic was removed from power, the Belgrade District Court sentenced Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder, Javier Solana and a number of other Western politicians to 20 years in prison.
All were found guilty of incitement to war of aggression, war crimes against civilians, use of prohibited means of warfare, attempted assassination of Milosevic and violation of Yugoslav sovereignty. During the hearings, nameplates were placed in the courtroom.
After Milosevic’s departure, the verdict was overturned at second instance, and the prosecution itself subsequently withdrew the case, Vukelić said.
First of all, he lost the presidential elections in September 2000, says Vukelić.
The only thing Milošević disagrees with was the victory of his opponent Vojislav Koštunica in the first round, he said.
The president, who is wanted by The Hague, tried to insist on a second round, but gave in under pressure from protests: rallies of several thousand people were held across the country in support of Koštunica.
In the 2000 elections, the question of extraditing Milosevic to The Hague was far from the most urgent – it was important for the opposition to oust him from power, says Vukelić.
“The issue of extradition began to come to the fore as the new government consolidated by the spring of 2001,” he said. At the same time, the West demanded that Belgrade fulfil the ICTY’s order. Sanctions imposed on Belgrade in the early 1990s were lifted as soon as Vojislav Kostunica became president. At the same time, financial assistance to Yugoslavia was provided by Western countries, without conditioning the extradition of the former president.
By the spring of 2001, there were growing demands in Yugoslavia to prosecute Milosevic not only for war crimes but also for corruption,” Vukelić said.
In March 2001, the Serbian authorities issued an arrest warrant for the former leader over allegations that he had bought an expensive villa for free, which he got for only $1 000.
Milosevic’s supporters set up barricades in front of the mansion to protect him, but they were outnumbered.
After a short confrontation in front of his residence in March 2001, the former president voluntarily agreed to go to the Belgrade prison.
In Serbia, preparations began for Milosevic’s trial in a corruption case.
But then Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić felt that war criminals should be extradited and cooperate with the West, which in the early 2000s restored the diplomatic missions interrupted during the 1999 bombing and started to help the war-torn country.
President Kostunica did not refuse to cooperate, but said that it was against the constitution to extradite Serbian citizens without their consent, recalls Vukelić.
Despite the President’s objections and even a ban by the Constitutional Court, the Đinđić government decided to extradite Milošević to The Hague. This happened on 28 June 2001.
Đinđić decided to extradite Milošević under pressure from the West, but also because the former president’s stay in the country posed risks to the new government, which was beginning to rebuild relations with the West, according to Maxim Samorukov, a Carnegie Endowment fellow.
“The West has informally linked the extradition of the ousted president to the renewal of relations: if you want to show your intention to be part of the European world, then you have to confirm it with something. This was understood by the security apparatus, which remained the same after the overthrow of Milosevic, but did not oppose his extradition”, explains Samorukov.
The Serbs had several major claims on their leader. Far-right and nationalist groups have accused him of losing four wars in the Balkans.
On the other hand, there were many opponents of the wars.
The mobilisation announced in 1991 led to mass desertions and protests. Women even occupied Parliament, shouting “Give back our sons”.
“After that, it became clear that the mobilization failed, and then Milosevic created paramilitary detachments, in fact, they were his prisoners, which proved to be good for special atrocities,” Vukelic recalls.
By the end of the 1990s, he says, people were very tired of wars and international isolation, which had destroyed the economy.
Prime Minister Đinđić, who handed over Milosevic, was assassinated in 2003. An investigation found that the killers were trying to prevent the extradition of Serbian war criminals to The Hague.
Vukelic says that graffiti can now be seen in Serbia of one of the leaders of the Bosnian Serb army, Ratko Mladic, and of the wartime president of the BiH entity of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadzic, who were sentenced to life imprisonment in The Hague.
“It shows how they are treated like Serbian heroes. But you won’t see Milosevic’s graffiti. There is a perception that this is an anti-Serb trial, but it is not because of Milosevic, but because more Serbs have been convicted,” Vukelic says.
During Milosevic’s rule, independent media were punished for criticising the government, and there was a strong opposition, for example winning local elections in major cities in 1996.
“Milosevic tried to ‘steal’ the elections, but the opposition stopped it. “When the authorities refused to recognise the opposition’s victory in local elections in 1996, up to 150,000 people took to the streets in three months, and Milošević had to accept the results”, Vukelic points out.
During the 2000 presidential elections that led to his resignation, the Yugoslav leader could not prevent the formation of a strong opposition coalition.
“Not because he didn’t want to, but because he didn’t dare. If he had tried, he would have been overthrown much sooner. “Serbia has a strong democratic tradition of disobedience to those in power”, Vukelić believes.
For a Russian leader to share Milosevic’s fate, Russia must consistently go through all the stages that Yugoslavia went through in the 1990s and 2000s.
First, there are the lost wars, the emergence of a strong opposition and its victory in the presidential elections, but also the mass protests, says Maxim Samorukov, a research fellow at the Carnegie Endowment.
“We are now at the initial stage, when Russia began to quarrel with its neighbors. However, to repeat the fate of Milosevic, we also need military defeats, an influential opposition, a mass protest movement and an understanding of part of the power apparatus that it will not be possible to continue with this leader,” Samorukov said.
The extradition of Milosevic to The Hague, he says, was also made possible by an informal agreement between the security forces and the opposition: “There was a belief that Milosevic had long since exhausted himself and was just a distraction.”
The other major difference between Yugoslavia in the late 1990s and modern Russia was in the economy.
At the time when the arrest warrant was issued for Milosevic, the economy of that Balkan country was virtually devastated.
“The average salary in 1990-1991 was around 91,000 Deutschmarks, and in December 1993 my salary was five Deutschmarks,” recalls Vukelic.
In Russia, in the first year of the war, according to official statistics, inflation did not exceed 12 per cent and GDP fell by only 2.1 per cent./Danas/