Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 63

While attention focused yesterday on Primakov’s diplomatic mission to Belgrade, Russian defense officials continued to send signals that they are contemplating military measures to counter NATO’s operations in the Balkans. Russian General Staff chief Anatoly Kvashnin, for example, pointedly told reporters that Russia was not considering the dispatch of military advisors to Yugoslavia–“at the moment” (Itar-Tass, March 30). A number of Russian officials have urged the government to send military advisors to Yugoslavia.

An unnamed Russian military source, meanwhile, was quoted yesterday as saying that the country’s armed forces have been practicing–with considerable success–maneuvers involving the rapid transport and deployment of advanced Russian S-300 air defense complexes (Russian agencies, March 30). While providing no context, the report clearly hinted that Moscow was prepared, if necessary, to move the highly capable air defense systems to Yugoslavia for possible deployment against NATO aircraft. In another case, a Russian news agency published a report yesterday suggesting that Moscow may be preparing to move a group of seven warships out of the Black Sea through the Turkish Straits. Again, no destination or details were provided, but the suggestion was clear. Russian Defense Ministry officials reportedly refused to comment on the report (Itar-Tass, March 31).

Yesterday’s reports come as Russian Defense and Foreign Ministry officials continue to conduct something of a disinformation campaign regarding developments in Kosovo. Kvashnin, for example, repeated the Russian charge that some 1,000 civilians have been killed by NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia. He also said that NATO air forces have lost seven warplanes and that thirty of NATO’s cruise missiles have been shot down by Yugoslav air defense forces (Itar-Tass, March 30). There has been no independent confirmation of the figure regarding civilian casualties. NATO, meanwhile, says that it has lost one aircraft over Yugoslavia.

Meanwhile, on March 29, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov repeated the Russian charge that NATO is massing troops around Yugoslavia in order to begin operations by ground forces against Belgrade. In addition, Ivanov said on the same day that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has launched a large-scale “terrorist” offensive against the Serbs across the entirety of Kosovo. He suggested both that KLA leaders have coordinated their operations with NATO’s air attacks, and that this joint military operation was planned prior to the collapse of peace talks in France. Indeed, Ivanov described the willingness of the Kosovo Albanian leadership to sign the Western-brokered peace settlement in France as part of a “farce designed to shift the blame for the failure of the talks to Belgrade and to begin a military aggression against Yugoslavia” (Itar-Tass, March 29). In recent days Ivanov has also accused the West of committing “genocide” against the Serbs through its air attacks.