MINSK, 14 April (BelTA) – On 14 April 1999 Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko visited the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (the country, which included the territory of present-day Serbia and Montenegro back then) that had been bombed by NATO forces. A unique archive video has been published on the president's official website on the occasion of the anniversary of those historic events, BelTA has learned.
NATO began bombing Yugoslavia on 24 March 1999 and cynically called it Operation Angel of Mercy. The formal reason was Belgrade's failure to comply with NATO's demand to withdraw Yugoslav troops from the autonomous region of Kosovo and Metohija where a conflict between the Serbian and Albanian populations had escalated. The NATO airstrikes lasted for 78 days and hit not only military but also civilian infrastructure. The operation took place without the UN Security Council's authorization, which was a gross violation of international law and actually an act of aggression against a sovereign country. Those events claimed lives of hundreds of innocent people, marked the beginning of the end of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and caused enormous ecological damage to the territory of modern Serbia. More detailed information about the reasons, course and consequences of that conflict and about the role of the present U.S. President Joe Biden in it, who personally suggested to bomb Belgrade, can be found in a partner article written by BelTA and TASS. Now let's recall details of Aleksandr Lukashenko's visit to Belgrade.
What was the purpose of the visit to Belgrade?
If we follow the chronicle of official reports, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic approached the presidents Boris Yeltsin and Aleksandr Lukashenko with a request to let Yugoslavia join the Union of Belarus and Russia. As the head of the Supreme Council of the Union of Belarus and Russia Aleksandr Lukashenko flew to Belgrade to present the coordinated position of the two states. However, before leaving Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko talked to reporters and spoke primarily about the need to achieve peace as soon as possible.
“My visit to Yugoslavia at this difficult time may bring the problem that has evolved there and the difficult events that are unfolding there a little closer to some kind of conclusion, at least by several millimeters. The goal is an obligatory peaceful settlement of this problem. I did not want to talk about it now, but I will say the following: there is still a lot of politicking in this problem: who will be the peacemaker, who will make what contribution to this... If a peacemaker, on whom the West frowns, suggested the most ideal way out of the existing situation, I do not think that the West would accept it immediately and with joy. Unfortunately, here I once again saw (at the international level now) how dirty this politics and the people who make it are,” the head of state told reporters before leaving for Belgrade.
“I have a good relationship with Milosevic, and I expect he will hear me better than anyone else,” the president said. He reaffirmed the stance upon arrival in the capital of Yugoslavia: “I am glad I came here at a difficult time. If we get closer to peace even by a millimeter, we will be very satisfied.”
Under what conditions did the visit take place?
NATO had never guaranteed the safety of Aleksandr Lukashenko's flight to Yugoslavia. Moreover, it absolutely disregarded the fact that the leader of another country was in Belgrade and continued carrying out air raids. During talks with President Slobodan Milosevic sirens sounded twice, informing residents of the city that NATO aerial units had crossed the border.
“The fact that NATO did not provide security guarantees... I think any act on the part of this or that person, a group of states characterizes, you must agree, both alliances and people. This is why it is up to you to decide. I take all warnings calmly. I know how much NATO ‘loves' me,” Aleksandr Lukashenko told reporters nonchalantly as he boarded the plane.
What was discussed at the talks?
From the airport Aleksandr Lukashenko went to the residence of Slobodan Milosevic where the two heads of state met face-to-face. The first part of the negotiations lasted for about 2.5 hours. After that the Belarusian delegation led by the president examined some sites that had been bombed by NATO. Aleksandr Lukashenko and members of the Belarusian delegation had to see firsthand one of the bombings that hit the center of the capital just an hour after their arrival in Belgrade.
Then the talks between the two presidents continued. After the face-to-face talks the presidents of Belarus and Yugoslavia called a press conference. Slobodan Milosevic evaluated the visit of the Belarusian leader as a token of great solidarity of the Belarusian leadership.
“The negotiations were held in two stages. It was a very long, very serious conversation with an analysis of all the problems in the bilateral relations. We came here with one goal in mind - to bring peace at least a few millimeters closer to this Slavic land. To the land where not only Slavs live. The objective - to contribute to a peaceful resolution of this conflict - coincided with the objectives of President Milosevic and aspirations of the Yugoslav people. I am absolutely convinced that President Milosevic wants to resolve these and other problems only by peaceful means,” the Belarus president said.
According to the Belarusian leader, the main result of the meeting was that President Slobodan Milosevic and the people of Yugoslavia determined the line beyond which they would never retreat in the course of working out a compromise to resolve the crisis. In order to resolve the situation, they declared their readiness to agree on the deployment of UN civilian observers or representatives of other states not involved in the aggression against the country. The Yugoslav leader declared his desire to return refugees to their homes regardless of their nationality and religion.
In this regard Aleksandr Lukashenko said that the Belarusian side had been favorably impressed by this position because “this is the policy that we pursue in Belarus since we recognize that all people of all nationalities and religions are equal”.
The integrity of the country without any fragmentation or division was part of the principled position of the Yugoslav leadership, as was the assertion that Kosovars and Serbs had to solve problems exclusively on their own. At the same time, Yugoslavia was ready to make compromises. For example, Yugoslavia was ready to invite civilian observers to the country and guarantee the security of the civilian observers. Yugoslavia was also ready to reduce its armed forces as far as “NATO troops withdraw from the country's borders, in particular from Albania and Macedonia”.
Part of the talks was also devoted to the matter of Yugoslavia's accession to the Union of Belarus and Russia. The topic had been discussed before, but it was these talks that had laid the foundation for the possibility of such a dialogue officially. Slobodan Milosevic handed over special messages for the presidents of Belarus and Russia to Aleksandr Lukashenko, Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Union of the two countries.
Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out that while trying to join the Union, Milosevic was not trying to drag Belarus and Russia into an armed conflict and understood that this difficult process required some time. At the same time, Aleksandr Lukashenko assured that he would do his best not to drag it out.
The negotiations in Belgrade also touched upon economic problems, which could be solved by humanitarian aid. According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, it concerned primarily the support of agriculture and the country's population.
What sites did Aleksandr Lukashenko visit in Belgrade?
The president and his entourage visited two places that had been bombed by NATO - a completely destroyed laboratory and training complex at the Yugoslav Internal Affairs Ministry and the Military Medical Academy, which had been partially destroyed. What threat could these buildings pose to NATO forces? None. The president called the destruction of one of the most beautiful cities in Europe barbaric and the destruction of the medical institution completely incomprehensible.
The head of state visited the hospital wards where not only Serbs but also Albanians were being treated. An explosion, which occurred not far from the academy, broke windows of the building and tore off its roof. Some of the patients suffered a second heart attack. And the children who had had several surgeries and were face to face with death again had a terrible experience, too.
Why are Aleksandr Lukashenko's conclusions relevant today?
On his return to Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko shared his impressions of the visit with reporters and summarized results of the visit.
“I want to thank (it will be the right thing to do from the humane point of view) the entire delegation that has just returned from Yugoslavia. It was, trust me, difficult 12 hours. Somebody got old during that time. I guess we all got a little older. But we came back,” the head of state said.
The general conclusions despite the historical distance of a quarter of a century are still relevant. “First: the war is not only theirs [Serbs']. We are absolutely convinced that today they are fighting a war not only for themselves, not only for their land. If we talk about historical parallels and lessons of history, it is a test of strength. And unfortunately it is starting again in the Balkans. The second conclusion: they [NATO forces] will not break them. This is not the first time I have been to Yugoslavia and not the first time I have met with the president of Yugoslavia. In 20 days of the war they killed hundreds of civilians. But only a handful of the military personnel NATO is supposed to fight have been killed. The third conclusion: NATO needs to end this dubious operation. I am definitely convinced of this. And the sooner the better. They just need to find an opportunity today to somehow save their face if it is still possible and get out of this terrible cauldron.”
As we can see, what the head of state said sounds relevant now if we only replace the dates and names of the countries. Back then and now, Belarus calls exclusively for dialogue and peaceful resolution of problems. Unfortunately, the prophecy of the Belarusian leader about the “test of strength” on the part of opponents in the West has been tragically confirmed in modern history.
For those who doubt the sincerity of the Union-related aspirations of the Belarusian leader in matters of Belarusian-Russian cooperation, we suggest paying attention to another quote by Aleksandr Lukashenko. “I think these Yugoslav events are a terrible disaster. But they spurred both Russia and Belarus. And gave an opportunity to realize once again what kind of a world we live in. And they showed that we must stop petty bickering and intensify the processes in the Union of Belarus and Russia. Including with regard to the formation of the Union State,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said upon coming back from Belgrade.
What did Lukashenko recall about his visit to Belgrade?
While talking to reporters in August 2022 the Belarus president recalled his visit to Belgrade and shared fascinating details. “If you go there while risking your life... It was truly dangerous. I still vividly remember when NATO (they bombed everything there) let us fly at an altitude that I fly in a helicopter - 500 meters. They thought I would come back. No, I ordered the pilots to fly at 500 meters. Of course, they could have shot down the plane, but they didn't dare. That would have been extreme. I flew through the bombings anyway,” Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled details of those events.
The article contains archive photos and screenshots from the video