Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 165

After a brief period during which its support for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic appeared to waver, Moscow this week seemed to realign itself once again more solidly with the Yugoslav strongman. Proof of the shift appears to lie not only in stepped-up criticism by Russian diplomats of NATO’s peacekeeping performance in Kosovo, but also in statements made by Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev during a visit to Belgrade earlier this week.

Although he also held talks with Yugoslav opposition leaders, the high points of Avdeev’s visit were clearly meetings held on consecutive days with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic and, on September 7, with Milosevic himself. On both occasions Avdeev went out of his way to underscore that Moscow and Belgrade hold common views on recent developments in the Balkans, and that both are deeply dissatisfied with the results of NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. There were apparently no recriminations over an incident earlier this week in which Russian troops in Kosovo shot dead three Serbs who had attacked a carload of Albanians (AP, September 7; Reuters, September 8; Russian agencies, September 6-8; see the Monitor, September 8).

Despite Moscow’s offering Belgrade virtually uncritical support before, during, and immediately after NATO’s air war on Yugoslavia, the bond of cooperation appeared to weaken earlier this summer. The most important reason for this was, perhaps, the Kremlin’s seeming determination to repair relations with the West after the long conflict over Kosovo. With that goal in mind, then Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin jetted off to the United States for meetings with U.S. leaders which, if short on substance, seemed at least to reflect a new effort by the two countries to ease tensions between them.

Stepashin, moreover, seemed on several occasions to pointedly display his own personal ambivalence toward Milosevic, and to blame the Yugoslav president for much of what has happened in Yugoslavia. Stepashin’s comments, together with the positive spin put by Moscow and Washington on his talks with U.S. leaders, led some in Russia to speculate that the Kremlin had been persuaded to distance itself from Milosevic. Commentators suggested that Stepashin had given up Moscow’s support for Milosevic in exchange for Western financial aid and for promises from Washington that Russia would be included in the vast and potentially lucrative rebuilding effort which the West was about to launch in the Balkans.