Staunton, August 6 – The analogies people employ, even if they are far from exact, often say more about how people see a situation than do more immediate descriptions. Consequently, it may prove extremely telling that a Ukrainian commentator says the way in which Serbska kraina ceased to exist is how the DNR and LNR will pass into history as well.
In a commentary today in Kyiv’s “Segodnya,” Igor Lyashenko suggests that events almost exactly 20 years ago in Croatia are suggestive of the ways in which Moscow’s efforts to destroy Ukraine by setting up the two pro-Russia “peoples republics” may eventually end (segodnya.ua/opinion/liashenkocolumn/konec-serbskoy-krainy-kak-primer-konca-dnr-lnr-638195.html).
Serbska Kraina is “the part of Croatia in which Serbs lived.” When the Croatians declared their independence from Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia, the Croatian Serbs created their own state. “The Croatian army was weak and could not do anything” especially as “behind the Serbs stood the powerful Yugoslav cadres peoples army,” Lyashenko says.
The parallels with Ukraine’s situation today are obvious, he suggests.
The columnist continues: “Serbska Kraina lasted four years, from 1991 until 1995.” Twenty years ago this month, “the Croatian army in the course of a few days restored the integrity of its country having destroyed the armed forces of the separatists.” As a result, “practically all 400,000 Serbs of the Kraina became refugees.”
“On the eve of the attack by the Croatian army,” the Kyiv columnist says, “no one believed this would be possible.” The Serbska Kraina army was well-equipped, it was backed by Serbia’s military, and it had the advantage of topography and of being on defense. But nonetheless, the Croatians attacked and they won.
The reasons are instructive, he suggests. The Serbska Kraina army had decayed “after four years of inactivity. The militants didn’t think about service but focused instead on their own gardens. [And] many even left their posts and went abroad seeking work. “In general,” the Kyiv writer says, “the Serbska Kraina army turned out to be not militarily effective.”
Moreover, by 1995, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic was less interested in building “Greater Serbia” than it had been; and despite its declarations and its basing of forces on the border with Serbska Kraina, it wasn’t willing to do much. It might have been able to stop the Croatians with artillery fire, but in the event the Serb military did not fire one shot.
Instead, Lyashenko says, “Serbian forces looked on at the gigantic flows of refugees,” largely because Serbs by that time had begun to ask themselves whether it was worthwhile “sacrificing a rich European future on the altar of Greater Serbia? After several years of sanctions, they were increasingly answering that in the negative.
“Why should we know as much as possible about this event,” Lyashenko asks rhetorically. The answer should be obvious: “this is the most realistic variant for the restoration of Ukrainian control over the separatist DNR and LNR.”
The “Segodnya” writer does not draw out the conclusions for Ukraine Serbska Kraina suggests, but there are at least three that are worth stressing. First, sanctions and time will work to Ukraine’s advantage. Second, eliminating the DNR and LNR is going to require military force. And third, when Ukraine retakes the Donbas, most pro-Moscow Russians there will flee.