Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 59

Russian government officials reacted with predictable fury yesterday as NATO launched air strikes aimed at weakening Serbian military forces and forcing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to the negotiating table. In Moscow, an angry President Boris Yeltsin denounced the NATO action, calling it a “strike against the whole international community” and an act of “naked aggression.” Yeltsin also urged the world community to “stop Clinton on this path and help him not to take this tragic step.” Without elaborating, Yeltsin said that Russia retains the right “to take adequate measures, including military ones, to defend itself and the overall security of Europe.” He suggested that the NATO attack was particularly unconscionable insofar as it was taken without the authorization of the UN Security Council.

Yeltsin, whose visit to the Kremlin yesterday was his first in nearly a month, also took several practical steps to underscore Moscow’s indignation. The Russian president recalled Russia’s top military representative to NATO, General Viktor Zavarzin, and ordered that Russia’s offices at NATO headquarters in Brussels be closed. Yeltsin also indicated that Moscow would halt its cooperation with NATO under the Partnership for Peace Program and suspend talks on the opening of a NATO military mission in Moscow (Russian and Western agencies, March 24). Another top Russian official in Brussels, however, told reporters that Russia would maintain its permanent mission to NATO. He suggested that Russian officers would also continue to work with NATO’s European staff (Itar-Tass, March 25).

In addition to limiting Russia’s ties with NATO, Yeltsin called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. When that meeting convened last night, Russia’s UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, demanded an immediate end to NATO’s “illegal military action” against Yugoslavia. Lavrov rejected Western arguments justifying the NATO strikes on the grounds that, in Moscow’s view, the UN charter must take precedence over those of all regional groupings. He also quoted Yeltsin as saying that the world is faced with the prospect of a “NATO attempt to enter the 21st century in the uniform of a world gendarme.” Russia, he said, would never agree to this (Reuters, Russian agencies, March 24). While Moscow received support from China and several other Security Council members, the Russian proposals were reportedly rejected by the majority of council members, including the United States, Canada, Britain, France and the Netherlands. Those countries argued that the world community had given diplomacy a fair chance in Kosovo.