Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 176

Russia and the West appeared to be moving in opposite directions on the issue of Kosovo yesterday, as NATO leaders advanced the alliance closer to military actions in Yugoslavia while Moscow continued to insist that a foreign military intervention could destabilize a large part of the Balkans. Moscow’s message was conveyed by both the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, and by newly named Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who was in the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting.

Speaking to Russian reporters in New York, Ivanov described Moscow’s position as unequivocally against the use of force to resolve the crisis in Kosovo. “The use of force, whether by NATO or any other side, will generate more serious consequences,” Ivanov said. “This will disrupt the ongoing negotiating process, may undermine stability in nearby states–Macedonia, Albania and other countries–and could affect all the Balkans nations in accordance with the ‘domino principle'” (Itar-Tass, September 24). Ivanov reportedly repeated much the same message to U.S. President Bill Clinton during a meeting yesterday in Washington (UPI, September 24).

Ivanov’s remarks were anything but unexpected. Moscow has long been Belgrade’s most reliable supporter and Russian leaders have repeatedly sought to stymie Western proposals that might bring NATO’s military might to bear against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Russia went along with Wednesday’s UN resolution warning Belgrade to end its military crackdown in Kosovo, but Russian diplomats made clear that their support for the resolution was offered in large part because it did not directly authorize NATO military action in Yugoslavia (see the Monitor, September 24). Ivanov warned NATO again yesterday against launching military actions against Belgrade without approval by the UN Security Council (Itar-Tass, September 24). As a permanent Council member, Moscow would be in a position to block any proposed NATO strikes against Yugoslavia.

Ivanov’s remarks came as NATO defense chiefs, convening yesterday in the Portuguese city of Vilamoura, moved the alliance closer to military actions in Yugoslavia. The alliance issued a near ultimatum to Milosevic either to stop his crackdown in Kosovo or to face air strikes. More concretely, defense ministers from the sixteen-nation alliance approved the issuing of an “activation warning” for “both a limited air option and a phased air campaign in Kosovo” (AP, Reuters, September 24).

That action, which brought the alliance to a higher level of military preparedness, entailed an order for NATO member countries to ready their air forces for possible military action in Yugoslavia. U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Walter B. Slocombe said that the alliance envisions a phased air campaign against Yugoslav military targets which could be gradually increased in intensity. Slocombe said that NATO had a “wide range of options” available to it that would eventually compel Milosevic to “comply with the demands made of him by NATO” (AP, September 24).

For all the tough talk, however, NATO officials also conceded that the alliance remains divided on whether Wednesday’s resolution constitutes an international mandate to use force in Yugoslavia. That ambivalence, combined with the ongoing opposition by Moscow (and China) to any application of NATO military force, will likely continue to thwart a strong Western response to the ongoing violence and social upheaval in Kosovo.