Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 84

On April 29, Russia separated itself from its Western partners on the Contact Group by refusing to endorse fresh sanctions imposed by the Group on Yugoslavia. The sanctions, agreed upon after a long and arduous negotiating session in Rome, included an immediate freeze of Yugoslavia’s assets abroad. The Group also resolved to place a ban on foreign investments in Yugoslavia within ten days if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic fails to both withdraw his special police forces from Kosovo and open unconditional talks on the province’s future. Despite its dissent on the sanctions issue, Moscow did back those broader goals of the Rome talks. (Reuter, April 29; The Washington Post, April 30)

The action by the Contact Group–which includes the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy–follows a worsening of the situation in Kosovo. Serbian forces are reported to have killed more than 150 people in the province over the last two months. Amid allegations of atrocities, international human rights groups have pressed Contact Group members to act against Belgrade. Since the violence started in Kosovo in February, the United States has led the call for more forceful measures. Washington recently warned that it would exit the Group and seek other methods of exerting pressure on Belgrade if the other members failed to endorse a tougher approach. (The Washington Post, April 24)

Russia portrays itself as a traditional ally of the Serbs and has generally defended Belgrade during the recent troubles. Moscow’s decision on April 29 was the second time it has dissociated itself from a Contact Group move to level sanctions against Belgrade. During a meeting in London on March 9, Russia was a partial dissenter when the Group agreed to impose an arms embargo and other sanctions on Yugoslavia. Moscow continued to work against the imposition of new sanctions on Belgrade throughout the remainder of March, when a series of diplomatic initiatives culminated with a March 25 meeting of the Contact Group in Bonn. Chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, those talks resulted in only minor action to maintain pressure on the Serb authorities in Belgrade. On March 31, however, Moscow did back a UN resolution imposing an arms embargo on Yugoslavia. But Russian sources noted that Moscow had worked to weaken the language of the document. (See Monitor, March 10, 20, 26, April 1)

Immediately following the March 31 UN vote, Moscow dispatched an envoy to Belgrade to explain to Yugoslav leaders Russia’s decision to support the embargo. (See Monitor, April 3) That pattern is apparently to be repeated. According to sources at the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will soon visit Belgrade to confer with Yugoslav leaders on the results of the April 29 meeting. Ivanov represented Russia in Rome. (Itar-Tass, April 30) In the Russian capital, meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin reemphasized Moscow’s opposition to sanctions and said that the Contact Group “should … concentrate first of all on rendering effective assistance in launching a dialogue” between Belgrade authorities and Kosovar Albanians. (Itar-Tass, April 30)