Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 187

As marathon talks between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke proceeded without apparent success over the weekend, Russian leaders intensified their already frenetic efforts to stop proposed NATO air strikes on targets in Serbia and Kosovo. The bluntest warning came from the head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s main directorate for International Military Cooperation. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov said in a Russian television interview that NATO strikes on Yugoslavia could compel Russia to abandon observance of an international arms embargo on Belgrade. “In this case, I think that Russia would have the right to full-scale military cooperation with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.” Moscow could not, the general said, “abandon a brotherly nation in such a crisis.” The correspondent interviewing Ivashov suggested that Moscow might respond to NATO strikes by immediately dispatching advanced Russian S-300 air defense complexes to Yugoslavia (NTV, October 10).

The remarks by Ivashov, who has been harshly critical of NATO in the past, appeared to be yet another example of efforts by top Russian defense officials to present the consequences of NATO strikes on Serb forces in near-to-apocalyptic terms. On October 5 Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev warned that NATO military intervention over Kosovo would mean a return to the Cold War. Three days later, he amplified on those remarks, arguing that NATO strikes would mark the beginning of a period in which international problems would be resolved by “diktat” and the employment of military force (Reuters, October 5; Russian TV, October 8). On October 6 the chief of the Russian General Staff’s main directorate for organization and mobilization did a bit of saber rattling of his own. Colonel General Vladislav Putilin suggested that Russia had troops ready in the event that Moscow chose to aid Belgrade following NATO air strikes (RIA, October 6).

Remarks by Russian government officials were only slightly more diplomatic. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov yesterday appeared to downplay Sergeev’s talk of a looming Cold War, but did echo the defense minister in arguing that NATO strikes would usher in a period of “international chaos” in which “states solve differences on their borders with… the use of force.” Ivanov also denied that Russia was considering any military counter-response to NATO strikes on Serb forces, and refused to divulge exactly what Moscow would do in the event of military action by the Western alliance (Itar-Tass, October 11). Russian Prime Minister (and until recently Foreign Minister) Yevgeny Primakov was more precise. He restated warnings that NATO strikes on Yugoslavia could lead Russia to reconsider its commitment to the May 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act–the agreement which formally established cooperative relations between Moscow and the Western alliance (Itar-Tass, October 11).