Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 75

Over the weekend, in addition to criticizing talk of a possible Russian military intervention in Yugoslavia, Chernomyrdin also downplayed the chances of Belgrade receiving any near-term invitation to join the Russia-Belarus Union. Repeating the Kremlin’s standard line on the matter, he told Russian television viewers on April 17 that much preparation would have to be undertaken before such a decision could be considered. He suggested that consideration of expanding the Union should be delayed until after the Balkans hostilities have ended (Russian Public Television, April 17).

Chernomyrdin’s remarks came in the wake of a Russian Duma vote on April 16 urging President Boris Yeltsin to take immediate steps to bring Yugoslavia into the Russia-Belarus Union. The vote was 293 to 54, with one abstention. The Duma action is non-binding and appeared to be aimed at least as much at making points on Russia’s domestic political scene as at actually bringing Belgrade into the still inactive union. Supporters of the measure disputed the Kremlin’s argument that inclusion of Yugoslavia in the Union would embroil Russia militarily in the Balkans crisis. They said instead that it would force the West to rethink its military assault (AP, International Herald Tribune, April 16).

That view, however, was not shared by a number of other Russian commentators. Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the liberal Yabloko bloc, described a Russia-Belarus-Yugoslav Union as “insanity.” His faction was the only one to vote against the resolution (UPI, April 16). A Russian think-tank, the influential Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, reached a similar conclusion. In an April 16 report, it argued against adding Yugoslavia to the Union. Although condemning NATO’s air campaign against Belgrade, the council also called on Moscow to forego any direct military aid to Yugoslavia (International Herald Tribune, April 16; Itar-Tass, April 16).

In an interview broadcast by Russia’s NTV television, meanwhile, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic charged that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is trying to incite a Russian-NATO head-to-head. “Milosevic wants to pull Russia into this conflict and start World War III,” Djukanovic said. He dismissed the Russian Duma vote on including Yugoslavia in the Russia-Belarus Union, characterizing it as “not serious,” “not honest” and a decision which “cannot be fulfilled.” Djukanovic did, nevertheless, welcome Russian efforts to mediate the Kosovo crisis. Montenegro’s pro-Western government has been critical of Milosevic and of his Kosovo policies (AP, April 18).