Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 207

On November 6, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, a presumptive candidate in Russia’s next presidential election, lent his voice to the chorus of Russian political leaders calling for closer relations between Belgrade and Moscow. Luzhkov’s remarks followed a meeting in the Russian capital with Vojislav Seselj, Serbian deputy prime minister and the leader of the Serbian Radical Party. Luzhkov criticized NATO for its threats to launch air strikes against targets in Yugoslavia. He also intimated that NATO was looking at the proposed strikes as some sort of target practice against Yugoslavia, and that the Western Alliance might like to launch similar military actions against Russia. Luzhkov said that he backed membership for Yugoslavia in the Russian-Belarus Union. Part of his reasoning was that Belgrade would be better protected from NATO attacks were it under Moscow’s wing (Russian agencies, November 6).

Seselj was in Moscow at the head of a small Yugoslav parliamentary delegation. In addition to meeting with Luzhkov, the lawmakers held talks during their stay with Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksei II, Russian parliamentary officials and Russian Foreign and Defense Ministry officials. In addition, the group took part in a parliamentary assembly of the Russian-Belarus Union, during which Seselj proposed forming a “military, political and economic union between Russia, Belarus and Serbia” (Kommersant daily, November 4; Itar-Tass, November 7).

According to one Russian daily, Foreign Ministry officials in Moscow are dismissing Seselj’s call for Belgrade to join the Russia-Belarus Union. They are describing it as “an idea for Serbian domestic consumption” (Kommersant daily, November 4). The same might be said about the support shown for the proposal by Luzhkov. The Moscow mayor has never shied away from embracing what he perceives to be popular nationalist causes. His latest remarks are a reminder that a host of key foreign policy issues are likely to become increasingly politicized in Russia as parliamentary and presidential elections get ever closer.