As peace negotiations in Rambouillet, France intensified in hopes of reaching a settlement before a new deadline set for tomorrow, Russian officials of all stripes continued to speak out loudly over the weekend about the ongoing crisis in the Balkans. The Russian presidential press service, for one, attempted yet again to clarify the claim by Boris Yeltsin on February 18 that he had warned U.S. President Bill Clinton not to launch attacks against Belgrade. In the wake of U.S. statements saying that the two presidents had not spoken about the issue directly for weeks, the Kremlin said that Yeltsin had in fact sent a message to Clinton a day earlier–on February 17–setting out once again the Russian position against the use of force in Yugoslavia (Reuters, Russian agencies, February 19).
The Kremlin apparently chose not to use airmail. On February 19 the Clinton administration said that Washington was still awaiting the message from Yeltsin. On February 20, however, there were reports that Clinton had received the Russian message and had rebuffed the Russian president. Clinton’s return message reportedly reaffirmed that the NATO alliance stands ready to use force if necessary in Yugoslavia (UPI, February 19; Reuters, February 20).
Russia’s diplomats, meanwhile, also continued to react to events in the Balkans. On February 19 Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov denied charges voiced in the West that Russia’s categorical refusal to support the use of force in Yugoslavia was in fact undermining the unity and authority of the UN. Ivanov repeated Moscow’s now-standard claim that Russia is doing “everything possible to preserve and strengthen the UN” (Russian agencies, February 19). A day later, moreover, Ivanov denied a Western press report which had suggested that Moscow might be willing to back NATO military actions in Yugoslavia so as to increase pressure on the two sides negotiating in France. Ivanov reiterated that Russia would support the introduction of foreign forces in Yugoslavia only with a direct UN sanction.
Roughly that same message was repeated by Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev on February 21. More specifically, Avdeev told reporters that Russia has “distanced itself from those Contact Group members” who are trying to link a political settlement of the Kosovo conflict with the introduction of peacekeeping troops into Yugoslavia to police the settlement. He also said that Russia opposes Western efforts to pressure Belgrade by diplomatic and military means into agreeing to the introduction of a peacekeeping contingent (Itar-Tass, February 21).
LAWMAKERS, MILITARY SPEAK OUT.