Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 150

Indeed, by such phrasing Djukanovic tried during his Moscow visit to provide some diplomatic cover for the Russian government. But he did not try all that hard. Among the principles which Moscow had ceaselessly trumpeted to justify its support for Milosevic during the Kosovo conflict was that of Yugoslavia’s sovereignty and indivisibility. And Russian reports of Djukanovic’s talks in the Russian capital tended to focus on the Montenegrin leader’s assurances that Montenegro does not seek to leave the Yugoslav federation. In that same context, they quoted Djukanovic as saying that the Moscow talks had not touched “directly” on the question of Montenegro’s possible secession from Yugoslavia (Itar-Tass, August 2).

But that was clearly window dressing. Djukanovic made it clear prior to and during his Moscow trip that he was seeking Russian support for greater autonomy for Montenegro within Yugoslavia. In comments to reporters, moreover, he also made it quite clear that Montenegro will indeed consider secession if Serbia fails to meet those autonomy demands and, more generally, to move expeditiously in the direction of broader democratic reform.

In an interview with a Russian daily, Djukanovic directed some considerably more pointed comments at Moscow. He argued that preservation of the Yugoslav federation is possible only if the democratic opposition to Milosevic in Serbia is able to influence the position of Belgrade toward Montenegro. And he said that Milosevic is incapable of presiding over the sort of democratic changes that are essential to building a healthy Yugoslav Federation. For that reason, Djukanovic said, Milosevic will be ousted from power–it is only a question of when. But what was perhaps most significant was Djukanovic’s saying that it was of the utmost importance that Moscow lay the blame for the Yugoslav tragedy squarely on Milosevic. That, the Montenegrin leader argued, would dispel the illusions of many people in Yugoslavia–fed by the Belgrade authorities–that Russia is acting on Milosevic’s behalf and is prepared to defend him (Russian agencies, August 3).

Both the Russian and the Montenegrin sides proclaimed Djukanovic’s visit to have been a great success. And if the Kremlin is now preparing to distance itself from Milosevic, friendly ties with Montenegro are plainly to its advantage. But Russian leaders could nevertheless not have been especially happy with what they heard from Djukanovic. He appears to have suggested to them–directly or indirectly–that Moscow has made a hash out of its policy toward Yugoslavia. In effect, Djukanovic was arguing that Russia not only must abandon its support of a key regional ally, but that the Russian government must also help promote a policy of democratization and economic reform in Yugoslavia intended, ultimately, to promote its integration with the West. For Russian hardliners in particular, who dream of drawing the Balkans into Moscow’s orbit, that would be a bitter pill to swallow. And it is a policy to which they may not acquiesce easily.