Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 74

Yesterday, Russian political leaders, who for months have whitewashed Serb atrocities in Kosovo, leapt to excoriate NATO for its accidental bombing on Wednesday (April 14) of a convoy bringing ethnic Albanian refugees back to the war-torn province. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement expressed Moscow’s “utmost indignation” over the incident, calling it “yet another crime evidencing the alliance’s gross violations of international humanitarian norms.” The statement also called for an “immediate and unbiased investigation” into the bombing.

The Kremlin’s recently named special envoy for the Kosovo conflict, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, spoke in only slightly more moderate tones. He described the accidental attack as “a tragedy and a crime.” Vladimir Lukin, the head of the Russian State Duma’s International Affairs Committee and a so-called moderate, spoke yesterday of NATO operations in Yugoslavia as “international gangsterism.” He described Western statements placing blame for the civilian bombing incident on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as “Goebbels-like propaganda” (AP, Russian agencies, April 15).

Russia’s diplomats were similarly active at the UN. During a Security Council meeting yesterday, Russian UN ambassador Sergei Lavrov condemned NATO for the bombing incident and demanded more information about it from the UN secretariat. Although Lavrov apparently did not ask for a formal investigation, he did criticize the twelve council members who had earlier voted against a Russian resolution which would have condemned NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia. If that resolution had passed, Lavrov said, “this particular, terrible incident would not have happened.” Lavrov has reportedly complained at every recent Security Council meeting of the impact which the NATO strikes have had on civilians (AP, UPI, April 15).

In a related development, diplomats at the UN said on April 14 that Russia had frustrated an attempt by Security Council members to win the release of two Australian humanitarian workers imprisoned on espionage charges by Serb authorities. The council did say yesterday that it shared UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s concern for the well-being of the two Australians. But Russia opposed a general call to urge their immediate release (AP, April 14). Lavrov’s action appeared to contradict an earlier Russian pledge–made on April 13–to intervene on Australia’s behalf in an effort to have them freed. A senior Russian official said that Moscow would take up the case with Belgrade (UPI, April 13).