Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 171

Russia’s Foreign Ministry yesterday restated Moscow’s position that any attempt by the West to settle the Kosovo crisis militarily would be unacceptable to Russia. Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin also suggested that a military intervention by the West to halt the violence in Kosovo would be a “hopeless” endeavor. Rakhmanin urged instead an immediate resumption of talks between authorities in Belgrade and Kosovo Albanians. He also said that Moscow believed the Contact Group countries–Russia, the United States, Germany, France, Britain and Italy–should focus their attention not on possible military solutions to the crisis but on the prevention of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Kosovo. Rakhmanin said that newly named Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had expressed precisely these views to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a telephone conversation on September 16 (Russian agencies, September 16).

Rakhmanin’s comments yesterday follow new warnings from the West that NATO is prepared to intervene militarily to stop continuing bloodshed in Kosovo. The Western threats, which are aimed at pressuring Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, come amid growing fears that the continuing military crackdown by Serb and Yugoslav forces in Kosovo could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe in the region. Seven months of violence in Kosovo have left hundreds dead and nearly 300,000 homeless. International concern for the fate of the refugees is growing as winter approaches.

Against this background–and what the United States and other Western countries believe has been a massive and disproportionate use of military force by the Yugoslav troops in Kosovo–French and British officials have reportedly launched discussions in the UN Security Council on a new resolution demanding that Milosevic halt the violence in Kosovo. NATO officials are said to hope that the resolution will invoke a chapter in the UN charter that authorizes the use of outside military force in humanitarian emergencies. On September 15, moreover, French President Jacques Chirac told Russian President Boris Yeltsin in a telephone conversation that he wanted the Contact Group to meet on Kosovo next week with the new UN resolution in hand. NATO’s previous threats to intervene militarily in Kosovo have foundered on Russia’s opposition and on the unwillingness of some NATO allies to back the use of force without authorization by the UN Security Council (Reuters, September 16; Washington Post, September 17).

Rakhmanin’s remarks yesterday indicate that Moscow is likely to continue to block such efforts by the West. Russia has consistently been Belgrade’s most vigorous defender within the Contact Group, and has opposed calls–particularly from the United States–for the adoption of firm measures by the international community that might pressure Milosevic. In addition to opposing military intervention in Kosovo, Moscow has also refused to back economic sanctions against Belgrade. Russia’s Foreign Ministry restated that position following a September 7 decision by European countries to ban flights by Yugoslav airlines to European Union countries (Itar-Tass, September 10).