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In this article "Does Putin really need Nobel Peace Prize", it is claimed that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari had the following conversation with Serbian president Miloshevich during the Miloshevich-Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin meeting (my translation from Russian):

Ahtisaari: We met here totally not for any discussions or negotiations.

Miloshevich (after reading the document): What will happen if we will not sign?

Ahtisaari (moves hand over the table surface): Belgrade will be like this table. We at once will start carpet bombing of Belgrade.

Ahtisaari (again moves the hand over the table): This will happen to Belgrade. In less than a week there will be half a million dead.

Was it like that?

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The best evidence I could find in support of this conversation is from Gregory Elich at Counterpunch (and also published by globalresearch.ca, which is operated by the Centre for Research on Globalization).

How the Nobel Peace Prize was Won (globalrearch.ca reprint):

Ahtisaari opened the meeting by declaring, “We are not here to discuss or negotiate,” after which Chernomyrdin read aloud the text of the plan. Ahtisaari says that Milosevic asked about the possibility of modifying the plan, to which he replied, “No. This is the best that Viktor and I have managed to do. You have to agree to it in every part.” Ristic reports that as Milosevic listened to the reading of the text, he realized that the “Russians and the Europeans had put us in the hands of the British and the Americans.” Milosevic took the papers and asked, “What will happen if I do not sign?” In answer, “Ahtisaari made a gesture on the table,” and then moved aside the flower centerpiece. Then Ahtisaari said, “Belgrade will be like this table. We will immediately begin carpet-bombing Belgrade.” Repeating the gesture of sweeping the table, Ahtisaari threatened, “This is what we will do to Belgrade.” A moment of silence passed, and then he added, “There will be half a million dead within a week.”

This does not prove that the conversation happened, but simply shifts the question to whether or not you trust this source and its references.

It refers to two sources behind this construction of the conversation, which I don't have access to:

  • Interview with Ljubisa Ristic by Renato Farina, “Why We Serbs Have Given In,” Il Giornale (Milan), June 7, 1999.
  • Interview with Martti Ahtisaari by Riccardo Chiaberge, “Ahtisaari: This is How I Bent Milosevic,” Corriere della Sera (Milan), July 21, 1999.
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    Ljubisa Ristic was a politician, apparently a friend of Milosevic, and a leader of the same party that Milsovic wife at some point was a leader for. I can find no indication he was actually in the room. I don't think he is a reliable source. – Lennart Regebro Oct 12 '13 at 21:21
  • @LennartRegebro Okay. The article also points to an interview by Riccardo Chiaberge as a reference. – user5582 Oct 12 '13 at 21:35
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    The interview by Riccardo Chiaberge is here. In it, Ahtisaari said that Milosevic was told that the text (of the agreement) could no longer be retouched: but the interview has no mention of any threats, let alone carpet-bombing. – ChrisW Oct 12 '13 at 22:12
  • Okay, then it must be the other reference, if any. – user5582 Oct 13 '13 at 5:12
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I would claim that it is highly unlikely that the description of the events are truthful.

According to an description of the meeting from the website of the President of Finland (which was Ahtisaari in 1999, when this meeting happened), there is at least one part of that description that was true: This was not a negotiation. The meeting was to present the NATO/Russian proposition. The negotiations were between NATO and Russia, and Ahtisaari was brought in as a third part in those negotiation as he had proven to be a good mediator earlier.

NATO explicitly did not want to negotiate with Milosevic.

But that's not of course what the quote really is about. That Milosevic obviously didn't have a chance once NATO decided to stop the war was pretty obvious. He of course had no chance to win a war against NATO. This was probably obvious to him as well.

The question then is if Ahtisaari really threatened to kill half a million Serbs if Milosevic didn't agree to the proposition?

Of course, only the people in that room really knows, and at least two of them are already dead. But what is clear is that after that meeting, Milosevic needs to convince everyone else that agreeing to the proposition is the right thing to do, and since the proposition includes Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo, that will be a very hard pill to swallow.

Would that pill be easier to swallow if they had no option? Is it easier to accept if the alternative is half a million dead? Well, of course.

But would NATO really carpet bomb and flatten Belgrade? Of course not. They already knew from long before that bombing civilians isn't seen with kind eyes, and was in the bombing of Yugoslavia aiming at military and strategic targets, although of course there were civilian casualties. But a mass destruction of Belgrade would have not have been accepted by people, media or politicians in the west.

And I don't think Milosevic was stupid enough to believe it would be accepted. So I don't think Ahtisaari made any such threats, because it would have made him seem like a fool. It's most likely that this is Milosevic excuse for agreeing to a proposal he knew he didn't have much choice than to agree to.

The quotes about Ahtisaari making a sweeping gesture over a table comes from Ljubisa Ristic. Then a politician, now it seems like he is a movie director. I think we can ascribe the creative license to him. :-)

It's also notable that the quotes have Ahtisaari saying "we will bomb". Who exactly? The Finnish airforce? The reference is to NATO of course, of which Ahtisaari was not a part. He would not and could not have said "we" about NATO. So at best the quote is a distortion.

  • "The purpose of the text is to claim that Ahtisaari (and therefore NATO) threatened to kill half a million Serbs if Milosevic didn't agree to the proposition." - Please provide a reference for that. – user5582 Oct 12 '13 at 21:43
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    @Articuno: "Ahtisaari (again moves the hand over the table): This will happen to Belgrade. In less than a week there will be half a million dead." – Lennart Regebro Oct 13 '13 at 3:10
  • That doesn't prove purpose. Why not just say "the text claims that..." Instead of "the purpose of the text..." – user5582 Oct 13 '13 at 4:31
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    @Articuno: So you are saying that the intention of the quote is to say something else than it says? I would claim that you need a reference for that. – Lennart Regebro Oct 13 '13 at 7:24
  • @Articuno But I removed the word "purpose", as you didn't like it and it wasn't really needed. – Lennart Regebro Oct 13 '13 at 7:41

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