Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 142

Despite all the positive rhetoric which came out of the London talks, it was clear yesterday that British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had failed to find common ground on the question of aid to Yugoslavia. Britain, together with a number of the other Western allies, has continued to insist that Yugoslavia (but not Kosovo or Macedonia) be excluded from consideration for an economic aid package now being formulated for the Balkans countries. Beyond some possible humanitarian assistance, the Western countries say that they will not contribute to the rebuilding of Yugoslavia while indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic remains president. Ivanov, however, restated Moscow’s now-standard demand yesterday that Western aid be extended to all of Yugoslavia. He also intimated that the Western position on this issue was anything but “moral,” given that NATO aircraft had caused so much destruction in Yugoslavia.”How can one speak about morality when a big number of people may find themselves in conditions which would develop into a European humanitarian catastrophe with the advent of winter” (Itar-Tass, July 23).

In general, Moscow’s moral condemnations with regard to the Kosovo conflict have been directed at the NATO bombing campaign or at the activities of Kosovo rebels. Russian leaders have skipped rather lightly over Belgrade’s long and brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Russian leaders have also failed to acknowledge that Moscow’s uncritical support for Milosevic was probably a factor in the Yugoslav president’s decision to continue his bloody repressions in Kosovo. That same uncritical support, moreover, undermined earlier diplomatic efforts to pressure Belgrade into signing a peace agreement. And, as Milosevic very well understood, it also stymied efforts to unite UN Security Council members behind a credible policy of threatening Belgrade with military reprisals if the repressions in Kosovo continued. That helped to ensure the standoff that ultimately brought the NATO strikes.

In this context, Moscow’s calls for aid to Yugoslavia look anything but “principled.” In fact, the Russian political and military elite have tied their carts to an indicted war criminal and Europe’s last dictator. Moscow has repeatedly stated its determination to rebuild Russian influence in the Balkans, but Russian policies during the last Yugoslav crisis served only to alienate many of the region’s key players–including Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, not to mention Montenegro, Kosovo’s Albanian majority, and some in the Serb opposition to Milosevic. Moscow’s calls for economic aid to Yugoslavia appear, therefore, to be based not on humanitarian considerations, but on the realization that a successful drive by the West to oust Milosevic could leave Moscow suddenly bereft of friends in Belgrade.