The Kremlin’s support for Serbian authorities in Belgrade — and its parallel defiance of Washington’s call for stronger measures against those same authorities — has been enormously popular in Russia. Last night’s vote came despite domestic pressure to veto the resolution. Indeed, the deputy speaker of Russia’s Duma, Artur Chilingarov, said yesterday that lawmakers would advise the Russian government to do exactly that. Chilingarov spoke to reporters in Belgrade, where he and a delegation of nine deputies are holding several days of talks with Yugoslav parliamentary leaders. Chilingarov said that his group and its Yugoslav counterparts had agreed that the situation in Kosovo is an internal matter for Belgrade authorities to resolve. He suggested that recent developments in Kosovo are part of an attempt "to weaken not only Serbia, but Yugoslavia, a friendly state, as a whole." (Itar-Tass, March 31)
Russian parliamentary leaders have called at various times for Moscow to assume a role mediating the Kosovo crisis, but the Russian Foreign Ministry has ruled out any such action. That stance appears to be based on the idea that mediation by Russia could also open the door to a role for the West in settling the Kosovo crisis — a development opposed by both Moscow and Belgrade. In the aftermath of the bloody crackdown in Kosovo by Serb police in early March, Kosovar Albanians called for the West to participate in talks over the region’s future political status.
During a visit of his own to Belgrade on March 17-18, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov held intense consultations on Kosovo with Yugoslav authorities. Primakov is believed to have had much input on a series of proposals made on March 19 by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Serbian President Milan Milutinovic. Conveyed to visiting German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, those proposals omitted mention of any outside mediation of the dispute but did contain just enough concessions to satisfy the European ministers. Sanctions against Belgrade, which were being considered at the time by the Contact Group, were postponed. (See Monitor, March 20)
Last night’s vote will hardly end the jousting between Moscow and those members of the Contact Group — Washington and London in particular — who have argued for more forceful measures against the Belgrade authorities over Kosovo. Russian Foreign Ministry officials in Moscow yesterday said that Russia had gone along with last night’s vote primarily because the use of its veto — which had been requested by Belgrade — would have entailed too many political costs. The officials also suggested that Moscow had been willing to give some on the embargo vote in order to ensure that more serious measures are not taken by the international community against Yugoslavia. (Russian agencies, March 31)
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