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Putin condemns NATO’s 1999 illegal bombing of Yugoslavia on 25th anniversary of attacks
By Cassie B. // Mar 28, 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently took advantage of the 25th anniversary of the start of the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization's illegal bombing campaign against Yugoslavia to remind the world of the tragedy.

In an interview for the documentary "Belgrade," Putin told the TV station Russia-1: “What the West did was completely unacceptable. Without any resolution of the [United Nations] Security Council, they directly began a military operation, a war in fact, in the center of Europe, and with the bombing of the capital of [Yugoslavia], Belgrade.”

He was referring to the start of an illegal bombing campaign in March 1999, when NATO's Operation Allied Force bombed the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, made up of Serbia and Montenegro, for 78 days on behalf of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. It marked the first time NATO attacked a sovereign European country.

The airstrikes killed over 2,500 civilians, according to the Serbian government, at least 80 of whom were children, and severely damaged Serbia's infrastructure.

NATO didn't just hit strategic targets. Civilian infrastructure like railway lines and bridges were also hit. The Chinese embassy in Belgrade and a convoy of refugees were also accidentally targeted. The headquarters of Yugoslavia's national TV broadcaster RTS was also hit, resulting in the deaths of multiple journalists and technicians. (Related: Clip of then-Sen. Biden bragging about how he proposed 78-day NATO air bombardment of Belgrade goes viral in China.)

The aerial bombing campaign is viewed very differently by Western nations, who consider it a way to address genocide. The fact that they never received approval from the  UNSC for their actions is largely glossed over by the West, as are the many civilian lives lost. Instead, it is considered a justifiable response to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians.

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However, for Russia, it was a move by the U.S. and its NATO allies to take advantage of Russia's weakness in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and to destroy a key Russian ally, Serbia, and chip away at its influence in the region.

In a speech Putin gave on Feb. 21, 2022, when he announced Russia would be recognizing the Ukrainian breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, he identified the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and its support for Kosovo as part of his justification. He essentially said that just as the West can redefine the borders of Kosovo, he can also redraw the borders for Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

Putin could soon turn his efforts to going after a NATO country

Now that Putin has secured another six years in charge following an election with no credible opposition, many believe he will devote his efforts to confronting the West and NATO. In a victory speech, he reminded Russians that he won’t let the West intimidate them, saying: “No matter who or how much they want to intimidate us, no matter who or how much they want to suppress us, our will, our consciousness – no one has ever succeeded in anything like this in history. It has not worked now and will not work in the future. Never.”

In a post-election press conference, he did not mince words when he was asked whether Russia could get involved in a direct confrontation with the West. He replied: “I think everything is possible in the modern world?… it is clear to everyone that this will be one step away from a full-scale Third World War.”

The West is also preparing for such a possibility, with President Joe Biden stating in December that he believes Putin will attack a NATO country after his work in Ukraine is done. In addition, NATO Military Committee Chair Admiral Rob Bauer said in January that member states should be prepared for an all-out war with Russia in the next two decades.

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