Tensions between Moscow and the West deepened still further yesterday: NATO moved a step closer to launching air strikes on Yugoslavia while leading Russian political figures warned of the likely consequences. Russian military leaders have been more explicit than their government counterparts in describing Moscow’s likely responses to NATO strikes. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, for example, told reporters yesterday that the country’s leadership was preparing a “broad spectrum” of possible countermeasures to NATO strikes, including a “change in Russia’s relations with NATO” and the non-observance of the international arms embargo on Belgrade. The head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s main directorate for international military cooperation, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, also spoke of Russia’s right to reconsider observance of the arms embargo on Yugoslavia. In addition, the Russian general said that NATO strikes would compel Moscow to break off its military cooperation with the Western alliance. The resulting tensions, he suggested, might be worse than those between Moscow and the West during the Cold War (Russian agencies, NTV, October 12).
Russian Foreign Minister Ivan Ivanov, meanwhile, called NATO’s plans for military action in the Balkans a “very dangerous decision which brings us to the red line, after which, from our point of view, some very hard consequences may follow.” Ivanov, who accompanied President Boris Yeltsin on his visit to Central Asia, refused to elaborate, however, on what countermeasures Russia might be considering. He did suggest that they included no military option. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov spoke in terms similar to Ivanov’s. In a telephone conversation yesterday with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Primakov warned that NATO air strikes would be a “tragic mistake” which would also threaten NATO-Russian cooperation (Reuters, Russian agencies, October 12). As foreign minister, Primakov was the architect of the Russian policy which led ultimately to the signing of a major cooperative agreement–last May’s Russian-NATO Founding Act. The accord is one of the few issues on which he has been criticized at home, albeit rarely, by the Kremlin’s political opposition.
The harshest rhetoric heard in Moscow yesterday belonged to Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov. He told reporters that a NATO attack on Yugoslavia would be “equivalent to a declaration of war against Russia.” In that event, Zyuganov said, “we would support Yugoslavia with all of our forces.” Zyuganov reportedly told the Yugoslav ambassador in Moscow that, if NATO launched strikes on Yugoslavia, Russia would annul all cooperation agreements with the Western alliance and withdraw from the weapons embargo on Belgrade (Reuters, October 12).
Yesterday’s developments in Moscow came as NATO allies approved an activation order that authorizes the use of force to stop the seven-month crackdown by Serb forces in Kosovo. That decision came amid reports that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had agreed to withdraw Serb forces and was moving toward accepting a final condition insisted upon by the West–establishing an expanded force of 1,500 or more international observers to monitor the Serb withdrawal. That last news came from both an unnamed U.S. official and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. The Russian defense chief was quoted as saying that “Milosevic has agreed to 1,500 observers in Kosovo. Russia is ready to consider the question of its participation” (Reuters, October 12).
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