Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 136-139)

26 OCTOBER 2004


  Q136 Chairman: Mr Glenny, we welcome you back as a young, old friend of the Committee! We have read your many commentaries with great interest and we now look forward to hearing from you with your perspective on the Western Balkans, the subject of our inquiry. Perhaps we can begin, as we began our last session, if you could give some indication of the strategic importance which you think the area has? We will then turn to Mr Maples.

  Mr Glenny: I have always considered it to have considerable strategic importance, firstly for the reason that Nicholas Whyte mentioned—its geography and its position. It is the main overland transit route between Western Europe and the Middle East. I would say that it has another strategic importance, and that is in terms of the European Union's identity and the European Union's capacity to deal with a region that is distressed and traumatised but is, as Dr Anastasakis said, soon to be surrounded by the EU. It is not, in terms of population, a very large region. To my mind it would actually be quite simple to sort things out in the Western Balkans, but it requires an imagination which I have not yet identified on the part, regrettably, of the European Union and some of the local actors.

  Q137 Mr Maples: Inevitably I will cover some of the same ground that we have covered already, but we are interested to know your views on some of these things too. In that context, the role of Russia in the West Balkans; what is your view there? Do you think they are troublesome and irresponsible?

  Mr Glenny: I do not think that Russia has political ambitions in south-eastern Europe. It has considerable economic ambitions in the region. Just as a pointer, Bulgaria's single most important contributor to its revenue earning annually in terms of taxes is Lukoil, and you will find Lukoil and Gascom with a very significant presence all over the region. But in political terms Russia's only interest in the Balkans that I can identify is Kosovo, and that pretty much as a bargaining chip which it uses in a similar but less intense fashion as it does the regime in Transmistria; and it will continue to hold those chips, particularly if it feels aggrieved about the United States' influence in Georgia and places like that, until it feels it has a political incentive to do something about it. I have just spent some time in Russia discussing these issues, amongst others, and there is no popular sentiment of any particular significance in support of Serbia, and inside Serbia itself there is a realism that Russia is not somehow going to come to its rescue under any circumstances; but also the Serbs do understand that in terms of Kosovo Russia will not give it away for nothing, if push comes to shove, on the issue of independence.

  Q138 Mr Maples: You and our previous witnesses mentioned in the context of, is this region of strategic importance to us and the United States—and let us talk about Europe in this context because your view is probably similar on the United States, but it is to a degree removed from them—you all mentioned this question of this line of main road surface transport links from Europe to the Middle East. I can see that is important, but does it really matter to Western Europe if these problems go on? Are they likely to spill over to us in an uncontainable way?

  Mr Glenny: My answer is very clearly yes. What we are looking at at the moment is a problem in Kosovo, which is extremely severe. If the problem in Kosovo were to get out of control it would impact on the stability of Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and possibly the Republic of Albania as well. We have seen in March the capacity for very serious civil unrest in Kosovo. We have also seen in March the incapacity of KFor to deal with very serious civil unrest in Kosovo. If—and as far as I can see that is the trajectory we are heading at the moment, but I may elaborate on that later—there were a social explosion, the like of which we saw in March, again in Kosovo, it would be much harder to contain on this occasion, and at the moment I am not sure if Western Europe and/or the American states has the military capacity to deal with something like this.

  Q139 Chairman: You do not think that the military authorities in Kosovo have learnt the lessons in terms of smaller, more deployable, more flexible units, so that if a March situation were to recur that they would be better prepared?

  Mr Glenny: The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, regrettably, but I accompanied Denis MacShane to Kosovo just after the March events and we both saw the video of the Irish Battalion making a very good job of trying to contain an extremely large and unruly crowd. The Irish battalion, who we spoke to, said very clearly, "We do not have the equipment, we do not have the capacity for crowd control and riot control and this is what we are dealing with. We have effectively been deployed here in order to prevent the army of Serbia and Montenegro from invading; we have not been deployed to deal with these types of social situations." They did a very good job. There were other battalions of KFor who did a lamentable job in March, and who were actually caught on film running away from the mob. As far as I understand, we have not had a major reorganisation of the capacity and the nature of deployment and the equipping of KFor in the meanwhile.

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