Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 21

The past fortnight was also noteworthy for a brief visit to Moscow which Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica paid on October 27. For the Kremlin the visit was important because it offered a chance to undo some of the damage caused by Putin’s misplay of the peaceful revolution which swept Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic out of power. The Russian government’s ambivalence about embracing the newly elected Kostunica had briefly soured relations between Moscow and Belgrade.

The pragmatic Kostunica, however, had clearly seen that there were advantages in maintaining friendly ties with Russia. Those advantages were reflected in continued Russian support–expressed both before and during Kostunica’s Moscow visit–for control by Yugoslav federal forces over Kosovo and Montenegro. Moscow’s insistence on the primacy of Yugoslav “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity” was augmented by continuing calls for both a full lifting of sanctions against Yugoslavia and for NATO countries to assume the economic burden of rebuilding Yugoslavia. The Putin-Kostunica talks also produced an agreement–with the details still to be worked out–by which Russia is to increase badly needed gas exports to Yugoslavia.

While Kostunica’s visit signified a success for Russian diplomacy, it was mitigated by the Yugoslav leader’s insistence that Belgrade would now look to balance the influence of three major players in the Balkans: the European Union, the United States and Russia. Some in Moscow may see that as a net loss, given that Russia had previously been Belgrade’s most important ally and that Russian leaders had seen in that relationship the key to restored Russian influence in the Balkans.