Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 88

Moscow has steadfastly backed the Serbian authorities in Belgrade–dissenting from several moves by its Contact Group partners to pressure Milosevic over Kosovo. To a degree greater than the other Group countries, Russia has also embraced Belgrade’s interpretation of the crisis in Kosovo. Russian leaders have flatly rejected calls for Kosovo’s independence–a stance shared by other Western countries–but have also opposed proposals to grant Kosovo autonomous status within the Yugoslav federation. Authorities in Moscow, finally, have joined Yugoslav leaders in blaming the current crisis not on Belgrade’s brutal crackdown, but on what they describe as the terrorist activities of Kosovo separatists.

Such views were underscored by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov this week during a meeting in Strasbourg of foreign ministers from Council of Europe countries. Russia “unambiguously opposes the discussion of home rule for Kosovo outside of Serbia,” Primakov told journalists on May 5. “Even making Kosovo an entity within Yugoslavia … would lead to war, but we will never agree to this,” he said. Primakov also criticized “certain” Western countries for what he described as an effort to differentiate between “good” and “bad” terrorists among Albanians in Kosovo. “Terrorist methods, the training of terrorist groups outside Yugoslavia, their links to extremist Islamic organizations and arms trafficking can only be denounced,” he said. (Russian agencies, May 5) Amid moves–led principally by the United States–to impose an arms embargo on Belgrade, Moscow has pointed instead to what it says is a flow of weapons from outside Yugoslavia to Kosovo separatists.

The movement in Belgrade’s position on international mediation of settlement talks can probably be attributed in part to both Ivanov’s presence and Russian influence in general. During an earlier stage of the current crisis, Primakov traveled to Belgrade and consulted intensively with Yugoslav leaders there. Those talks appeared to lead to a package of concessions announced by Belgrade (but never fulfilled) that offered just enough to satisfy European leaders and to stave off calls for sanctions against Belgrade urged by Washington. In this regard, Moscow’s policy on Belgrade appears to parallel that which it has pursued with another renegade regime with whom it has friendly ties–Iraq. In both cases, Russian diplomats have persuaded the political leaderships in question to offer just enough to avoid harsh penalties threatened by the international community under prodding from the United States.