Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 82

Although a U.S. State Department spokesman said yesterday that the issue of a proposed NATO oil embargo on Yugoslavia had not figured prominently in Talbott’s talks with Chernomyrdin and Ivanov, reports indicated that the U.S. diplomat had not secured what Washington had hoped would be Moscow’s acquiescence to the embargo. But the Russian side apparently restated its position that the NATO embargo–as well as an oil embargo imposed by the European Union–was not binding on Russia and would not be observed by Moscow. Addressing the embargo issue, Ivanov warned that “decisions should not be taken which might complicate what are already difficult talks” aimed at reaching a Balkans settlement (Russian agencies, April 27).

In a related development yesterday, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was reported to have sent a message to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic congratulating him on the occasion of Yugoslavia’s Constitution Day holiday. The message made mention of Russia’s “persistent support for the state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia.” It also described Russia as “sympathizing deeply with the fraternal people of Yugoslavia, subjected to NATO bombardments” (Itar-Tass, April 27).

Talbott’s visit to Moscow yesterday was but the opening salvo in a new Western effort–launched during this past weekend’s NATO summit–to get Russia to play a constructive mediating role in the Balkan crisis. A host of other Western officials are due in Moscow this week for additional talks with Russian leaders.

Moscow, meanwhile, took its battle against NATO’s Balkans policy back to the UN earlier this week. In a letter circulated among UN Security Council members on April 26, Russia’s state committee on environmental protection accused NATO of carrying out “large-scale environmental warfare in Yugoslavia.” The charge mirrored one made by Yugoslav authorities only days earlier. The letter said that NATO’s shift from bombing military targets to attacking chemical plants, oil depots and oil refineries is causing environmental contamination. The “dispersal of toxins,” the letter said, could even reach the Middle East and North Africa” (AP, April 26).