VIENNA – The ongoing turmoil in Ukraine has frequently been compared to the Yugoslav crisis of the early 1990s – and, indeed, there are many similarities. But, when it comes to understanding why the conflict between Ukraine's government and Russian-backed separatists has persisted – and why, after a year of increasingly brutal fighting, a resolution seems so remote – the differences are far more important.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's tactics in Ukraine do resemble those of Serbian President Slobodan Milošević during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Putin's misuse of World War II references in propaganda, aimed at fueling intense Russian nationalism, is often said to be a cut-and-paste replica of Milošević's disinformation campaigns in the early 1990s, which stirred up anti-Croat sentiment among Serbs.
Both Putin and Milošević empowered ethnic kin in the countries over which they wanted to assert control, before launching military invasions under the pretense of protecting those kin. Finally, both leaders secured the establishment of self-proclaimed “republics" within another country's borders.
Given these similarities, many argue that Western powers should emulate their approach to ending the crisis in Yugoslavia – and that means providing “lethal defensive military assistance" to Ukraine. After all, it is asserted, the Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian War became possible only after the Americans decided to arm the Croats and Bosnian Muslims.