Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 182

Russian President Boris Yeltsin yesterday dispatched a high-level diplomatic team to Belgrade in an eleventh-hour effort to head off threatened NATO military strikes against Yugoslavia. The Russian move–which reflected widening differences between Moscow and its Western partners on the issue of Kosovo–capped a weekend in which Russian leaders pulled out all the stops to halt the NATO strikes.

Moscow’s action yesterday followed a series of new threats by Western leaders aimed at pressuring Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. On October 2 U.S. President Bill Clinton warned Milosevic that NATO was prepared for military action unless Belgrade halted its crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The message was reinforced by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen when he said that NATO strikes could come within the next two weeks. In Britain, meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair criticized the “barbarism” of Serbian forces in Kosovo, adding that the world risked a humanitarian disaster and widening regional conflict if the West failed to act. Britain said it would send four additional strike aircraft from Germany to a NATO base in Italy where they will be ready if NATO decides to take action against Yugoslavia (Western agencies, October 2).

Moscow was equally active, however. The Russians did join with the other Contact Group countries on October 2 in issuing a resolution that again demanded Milosevic comply with a UN resolution calling for an end to Serb military operations in Kosovo. But that demand, which carried no threat of punitive action, was the exception. In every other regard, Russia stepped up its already energetic campaign to avert NATO strikes on Yugoslavia. In Moscow, President Boris Yeltsin, during a telephone conversation with Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari, called for a peaceful solution to the Kosovo crisis. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov worked the phones himself, warning U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and French and Italian Foreign Ministers Hubert Vedrine and Lamberto Dini that NATO military intervention would be fraught with the “most negative consequences” for the Balkans region (Russian and Western agencies, October 2).

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement, meanwhile, held that Moscow categorically rejects the use of force to resolve the Kosovo conflict. Similarly, the Russian State Duma passed a resolution declaring that any NATO military action over Kosovo–taken without authorization by a UN resolution–would be considered “an illegal act of aggression.” The resolution, approved unanimously, also said that NATO military action in Yugoslavia could inflict “irreparable damage on the system of maintaining international security.” The statement warned that the Duma would review all agreements between NATO and Russia if the Western alliance were to intervene military in Kosovo (Russian and Western agencies, October 2).

Russia complained yesterday that any airstrikes launched by NATO on Yugoslavia–absent an authorizing resolution by the Security Council–would a “flagrant breach” of UN rules. More concretely, the Kremlin dispatched Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and the First Deputy Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Aleksei Shcherbakov, to Belgrade for talks with Milosevic and other Yugoslav and Serb leaders. Few details of the talks were available. The Russian Itar-Tass agency did report, however, that the Russian envoys had pressed Milosevic to meet the UN’s demand that all fighting be stopped in Kosovo. The state-run Yugoslav Tanjug news agency, for its part, reported that the two sides had emphasized that “foreign military intervention would represent an act of aggression against Yugoslavia with immeasurable and lasting consequences on international relations” (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, October 4).