Russia, which knows something about ethnic cleansing, knows what it doesn’t like about Yugoslavia, and what it doesn’t like is NATO. Russian rhetoric has escalated with NATO bombing. The foreign minister accused NATO of genocide, the prime minister of barbarism. President Boris Yeltsin, whose remarks had been restrained, said NATO wants to “seize” Yugoslavia and could precipitate a world war. And in the Duma, the lower house of parliament where a communist-nationalist alliance holds sway, the talk is all of volunteer forces, arms deliveries and even political “union” with Yugoslavia.
At the same time the Russian government continues to maneuver to play a role in any eventual settlement of the conflict. Although Russia severed its links to NATO, withdrawing its representative in Brussels and canceling all military cooperation, President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov have called for an immediate meeting with the Group of Seven rich industrial countries to discuss the crisis. Primakov reportedly spent forty-five minutes on the phone with Vice President Al Gore, who told him that “U.S. concerns with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic should not be allowed to cause any long-term damage to U.S.-Russian relationships.”
It is naive or disingenuous to suggest that Russia’s exclusion from NATO’s deliberations will not cause “long-term damage” to relations with the West. The United States and other NATO countries went to extraordinary lengths to sell the idea that Russia would “have a voice” though not a veto in NATO councils. The pompously named NATO-Russia Founding Act embodied this idea, and even if Russians only half believed it, it was a shock how casually NATO tossed Russian concerns about Yugoslavia aside. American policymakers and military leaders have said that nothing that happens in Yugoslavia “remotely threatens” Russia’s security, but that is a judgment for Russians to make. Obviously many Russians see NATO action outside NATO’s borders as very threatening indeed.
Not that Russia can do anything about it. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said with delicate understatement that the country lacks the resources to support large-scale military action. The government’s total defense budget this year is around $800 million, about 3.5 percent of gross domestic product. (By contrast, the United States budgeted only 3.0 percent of GDP for defense in fiscal 1999–but that comes to $267 billion. Russia’s GDP, expressed in dollars at current exchange rates, has fallen below 3 percent of the GDP of the United States.) The military does not have the money to feed and clothe its soldiers properly and consistently. There is essentially no money at all for weapons procurement and scarcely any for training. All of Prime Minister Primakov’s skill at making global reach look like global grasp cannot change these facts on the ground. Russia was broke, is still broke and will be broke for some time to come.