Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 64

Yesterday’s developments appeared to belie the spirit, if not the letter, of Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s state of the nation speech a day earlier. While criticizing the NATO strikes on Yugoslavia, Yeltsin nevertheless went out of his way to indicate that Moscow would neither get involved militarily in the Balkans nor let the Kosovo conflict destroy its relations with the West (see the Monitor, March 31).

That message appeared to be repeated yesterday by one top Russian diplomat. In remarks before the Federation Council, First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev criticized NATO’s “aggression.” But he also said that blame for the current crisis falls on Belgrade as well. Avdeev complained that Yugoslav authorities had, over the past three years, failed to heed Russia’s warnings that a failure to deal properly with the question of Yugoslavia’s national minorities–a reference to Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority–would bring the most unfavorable consequences. And, while Moscow continues to oppose the NATO air strikes, he said, it is of cardinal importance that Russia avoid being drawn into the conflict (Russian agencies, March 31).

If Avdeev expressed his criticism of NATO in muted tones, the same was not true of his boss, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Speaking to reporters yesterday, Ivanov repeated the worst of what Russia’s ultranationalists and communists have long said of NATO policy in the Balkans and elsewhere. In the Russian foreign minister’s words, “the real goal of those who masterminded, imposed and are now expanding the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia is to establish NATO’s unquestionable diktat in the Balkans.” Ivanov accused Washington of working to establish Kosovo’s separation from Yugoslavia or “the dismemberment of the province in practical terms.” He also suggested that the Clinton administration is actively at work supporting political, social and media groups in Russia which are sympathetic to the U.S. view on developments in the Balkans. He said that this policy is aimed at undermining Russian unity on issues related to Kosovo (Itar-Tass, March 31).

Ivanov’s accusation that the United States is seeking to establish an independent Kosovo comes amid warnings from the Clinton administration that worsening Serbian atrocities in Kosovo are weakening international support for what has been Belgrade’s primary demand in the current conflict: that Kosovo remain a part of Serbia.

But the Russian minister’s talk of American efforts to partition Kosovo or dismember Yugoslavia are disingenuous at best. Western observers, like their Russian counterparts, have speculated with increasing conviction of late that it is the Serbs who may be seeking some sort of partition of Kosovo (Washington Post, March 31). One Russian daily, for example, wrote on March 30 that the military operations by Serbian forces in Kosovo were clearly planned, and are aimed at driving ethnic Albanians from the northern portions of Kosovo. Belgrade, the newspaper concludes, obviously intends to partition the province and to retain for itself those areas which contain both the most abundant natural resources and the bulk of Serbia’s “national holy places” (Izvestia, March 30).