Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 62

Amid continuing denunciations in Moscow of NATO military actions in Yugoslavia, Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced yesterday that he would send Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and a bevy of top Russian defense and intelligence officials to Baghdad to meet today with top Yugoslav officials. The ostensible purpose of the visit is to convince Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to agree to a peace deal which would bring autonomy to the Serbian province of Kosovo and stop the NATO air strikes. The make-up of the Russian delegation, however–coupled with recent Russian threats to provide military and other types of aid to Belgrade–raises some questions as to what the Russian side is actually seeking during the visit to Belgrade. Primakov will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Foreign Intelligence Service Director Vyacheslav Trubnikov and the chief of the Russian General Staff’s Intelligence Directorate, General Valentin Korabelnikov (AP, Reuters, Russian agencies, March 29).

Several European countries–and France in particular–have in recent days pushed for Russia to apply diplomatic pressure on Belgrade to cease its military operations against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian population and to return to the peace table. Although officials from these countries welcomed Moscow’s decision yesterday to dispatch the diplomatic delegation, success is anything but assured. Moscow has exercised little real influence in Belgrade since the conflict over Kosovo began, and, in fact, appears often to have been manipulated by hardline Yugoslav and Serb leaders. Given the outcome of past Russian “mediation” efforts in both Belgrade and Baghdad, moreover, a likely outcome of today’s talks is one in which Belgrade makes some minor concessions but pointedly refuses to meet the West’s demands in their entirety. The aim of that strategy would be to undermine NATO’s unity while providing Moscow and Belgrade with justification for demanding an end to the NATO air strikes.

Meanwhile, Moscow continued yesterday its policy of protesting NATO military actions in the Balkans by curtailing Russia’s military contacts with the West. General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defense Ministry’s department for cooperation with foreign countries, announced that Russia has withdrawn its peacekeeping contingent in Bosnia from under NATO command. He did not explain how the Russian force would operate independently. Ivashov also said that Russia would discontinue all contacts between NATO and Russia under the aegis of the Permanent Joint Council and between Russia and NATO in general. At the same time, Russia will recall all Russian servicemen undergoing training in NATO countries and will sever military-to-military contacts with NATO member countries. Ivashov intimated that Moscow would seek to increase defense ties within the CIS and between Russia and China as a means of countering NATO’s moves in the Balkans (Itar-Tass, AP, March 29).