Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 104

Russian political leaders reacted with predictable fury yesterday to the war crimes indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic issued earlier in the day by the UN War Tribunal in The Hague. The Russian Foreign Ministry characterized the indictment as a “purely political” action aimed at blocking the ongoing negotiations over a settlement of the Balkans crisis. “We hardly consider it incidental that this step was undertaken at the moment when the talks to solve the Kosovo problem entered the most important stage,” the ministry said in a statement issued to the press. The ministry also warned that the indictment decision would undermine the “authority” of the UN tribunal within the UN Security Council. And it asked why the UN tribunal had not investigated NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia, which Russian officials have consistently described as a crime against Yugoslavia.

Russia’s special Balkans envoy, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, responded in a similar fashion, as did the Russian president’s office. “Today, we reached the finish line in the [Kosovo] negotiating process,” Chernomyrdin said. “But somebody needed to put obstacles on the road to a peaceful dialogue.” Dmitri Yakushkin, a spokesman for President Boris Yeltsin, suggested that indicting Milosevic would make it more difficult to broker a peaceful solution of the Balkans crisis. “If you’re dealing with Yugoslavia, you have to deal with one person–the president of Yugoslavia,” he said (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, May 27).

Despite their frustration over the war crimes indictment–not to mention intensifying NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia–Russian officials indicated yesterday that they would nevertheless follow through with diplomatic efforts to end the Kosovo conflict. Chernomyrdin had been scheduled to visit Belgrade yesterday, but the trip was postponed for a day when a negotiating session in Moscow which was to have ended on May 26 ran well into the next day. Chernomyrdin arrived in Belgrade today for talks with Milosevic (AP, May 28).