Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 183

Russian government ministers who met with President Slobodan Milosevic on Sunday warned the Yugoslav leader that his country faces NATO air strikes–unless he takes “decisive measures” to end the crisis in Kosovo. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told reporters yesterday that the Russian delegation–which was led by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev–told Milosevic that Moscow remains opposed to the use of force by NATO to resolve the crisis. The Russian ministers, however, also reportedly made clear to the Yugoslav leader that, in order to avoid an attack, Belgrade must end hostilities in Kosovo, withdraw its army and security forces from the region, provide for the return of ethnic Albanian refugees to their homes and launch negotiations on the status of Kosovo (Reuters, Itar-Tass, October 5). Ivanov and Sergeev were unexpectedly dispatched to Belgrade by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in a last-minute effort to avert air strikes on Yugoslavia threatened by NATO (see the Monitor, October 5).

Meanwhile, the Kremlin yesterday maintained its frenetic diplomatic efforts in an effort to head off a NATO military intervention in Yugoslavia. News agencies reported that Yeltsin discussed the Kosovo crisis in telephone conversations with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, U.S. President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor-elect Gerhard Schroeder. In Belgrade, Yugoslav and Serbian authorities were reported to have welcomed the Russian mediation efforts. Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic told reporters that the government had accepted a Russian proposal for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to investigate the crisis in Kosovo. Until yesterday Yugoslav authorities had repeatedly refused to allow OSCE missions to visit Kosovo, and NATO officials were quick to dismiss the offer by Bulatovic (Russian and Western agencies, October 5).

The bloody crackdown by Yugoslav and Serb forces against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority began in February, but a series of recent atrocities attributed to the Serb forces have energized the West and brought NATO to the brink of military action against Belgrade. Russia, however, claims a cultural and religious affinity to the Serbs. Russian diplomats have labored vigorously to avert any possible NATO military strikes on Yugoslavia. The cultural claims notwithstanding, Moscow appears to be motivated by two overriding geostrategic and security interests. One is to maintain some influence in the Balkans, where Belgrade is one of Russia’s few remaining allies. The other involves NATO, and is aimed both at resisting NATO’s penetration of the region and at avoiding any precedent whereby the forces of the Western alliance are used to maintain peace outside NATO territory.