Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 84

An air of mystery has surrounded the unannounced visit to Belgrade this week by Russia’s and China’s UN ambassadors. Reports out of the Yugoslav capital said that Sergei Lavrov and Shen Guofeng had arrived in Belgrade on Wednesday (April 26) without having earlier informed the UN Security Council about their mission. The two diplomats were to be joined by an eight-member fact-finding delegation from the Security Council, which was reportedly due to arrive in Belgrade by today. The surprise visit by Lavrov and Shen was seen by some observers as an indication of the deep divisions over Kosovo which continue to separate Security Council members.

Russia and China, each a permanent member of the Council, have been the most vociferous supporters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Not surprisingly, they have also been the strongest critics of both NATO’s earlier air campaign against Yugoslavia, and of the current NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Chinese opposition to the air war was galvanized by NATO’s accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Moscow’s opposition to the air war, and its current condemnations of the peacekeeping mission, are based on its friendly relations with the Milosevic regime, its perception of Yugoslavia as an outpost of Russian influence in the Balkans, and what Moscow portrays as a close cultural affinity between the Russian and Serbian peoples. Moscow has denounced Western actions in Yugoslavia as a threat to Yugoslav sovereignty and an effort to extend NATO’s domination into the Balkans.

There were few details available as to Lavrov’s and Shen’s activities in Belgrade, but reports said that they had been received by Milosevic on Wednesday. According to the newspaper Politika, Milosevic charged during the meeting that the UN administration–which has also been repeatedly denounced by Moscow–and the international peacekeeping force were primarily to blame for the “unbearable situation” in Kosovo and for “ethnic cleansing” against Serbs and other non-Albanians. Milosevic apparently also denounced UN plans for elections in Kosovo, charging that the vote would only be a “transparent attempt to legalize crimes committed by NATO and Albanian terrorist gangs,” There was no evidence that the Russian and Chinese ambassadors, who had earlier underscored the importance of protecting Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity, chose to contradict Milosevic on any of these points. According to the official Tanjug news agency, Lavrov and Shen also met during their stay with Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic and Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic.

The UN delegation of which Lavrov and Shen are to be a part has reportedly included on its itinerary a visit to Mitrovica, the bitterly divided city in Kosovo’s north. The team’s observations on the situation in that city and elsewhere in Kosovo will go into a series of recommendations on ways to improve the UN mission in Kosovo (AP, March 26; Reuters, UPI, AFP, March 27).

The mystery related to the trip by the two ambassadors to Belgrade was deepened by a report that Yugoslav Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic had himself traveled to Moscow early this week in what was also said to have been an unannounced visit. AFP, which reported the unofficial visit, provided few details, saying only that Marjanovic had arrived in Moscow on Monday and was participating in a number of conferences. Russian diplomatic sources, meanwhile, said on April 26 that Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic will visit Moscow on May 15-16. He will reportedly meet with his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and could also hold talks with President-elect Vladimir Putin. Jovanovic traveled to Beijing for talks in December (AFP, April 26).

The apparent machinations in Belgrade and Moscow came amid news this week that the body of a Russian paratrooper had been found in a village twenty miles southwest of Pristina. The Russian soldier had reportedly been fatally shot in the head. The death comes some two months after another Russian soldier was shot by a 15-year-old Kosovo Albanian at a market in the town of Skenderaj. The murders appear to reflect the intense hostility that many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo feel toward Russia’s 3,600-hundred strong KFOR contingent. That hostility is the product of Russia’s strong support for the authorities in Belgrade, and the widespread belief that Russian volunteers took part in the abuses inflicted by Serbian troops upon the ethnic population.