Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 61

If Moscow took no serious, concrete steps over the weekend to express its displeasure over NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia, the Russian government did manage nonetheless to raise to an even higher level the invective which it directed at the West. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov emerged as the point man in Moscow’s continuing verbal onslaught on NATO. The Russian diplomat on March 26 accused the West of committing “undisguised genocide” against Yugoslavia. “A sovereign state and its people are being finished off in cold blood in the heart of Europe because someone does not like the president of that country. Russia is not going to tolerate that,” he said. Ivanov demanded that those responsible for the NATO strikes on Yugoslavia be investigated on criminal charges by the international tribunal in the Hague (Russian TV, March 26; Washington Post, March 27).

Ivanov’s strongly worded denunciation of NATO came despite mounting evidence that Serb forces were carrying out a massive and bloody campaign of repression in the predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo. His remarks suggested that Moscow remains unshaken in its nearly uncritical support for hardline forces in Belgrade. Indeed, Russian military sources over the weekend disseminated unconfirmed reports of significant civilian casualties in Serbia as a result of the NATO strikes. They were also responsible for inaccurate reports of Western military losses in the conflict. Ivanov’s depiction of the NATO strikes on Yugoslavia as “genocide,” finally, came only two days before Western leaders hung that description on the Serb campaign in Kosovo.

There were, nevertheless, suggestions over the weekend that at least some in the West sought to enlist Moscow’s aid in the effort to get Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to halt the military onslaught on Kosovo’s Albanian majority. Yesterday French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine was quoted as saying that Russia could play a key role in the Balkans conflict if it could obtain a signal that Belgrade would accept a political settlement in Kosovo. Highly placed government sources, meanwhile, reportedly said that French President Jacques Chirac had urged Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to travel to Belgrade with that goal in mind (Reuters March 28).

Several leading Russian democrats, meanwhile, launched their own, unofficial diplomatic mission yesterday, reportedly with the support of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and former Deputy Premiers Boris Nemtsov and Boris Fedorov departed Moscow on a trip which they hoped would take them to Belgrade, and possibly to some Western capitals as well. The three met with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke in Budapest yesterday, but the two sides appeared to find only a limited amount of common ground. Afterward, Holbrooke said that the U.S. side had “reviewed the American position… There is no change in that position in the sense that there is a clear disagreement between the Russian government and NATO, but that does not mean we cannot still continue close contacts.” Holbrooke also emphasized that the Russian officials would be carrying no message from the United States to Milosevic and that they were not authorized in any way to negotiate on Washington’s behalf (Reuters, March 28).