U.S. officials late last week accused Russia directly of trying to block an agreement among Contact Group members for tough sanctions against Belgrade. The charge that Russia’s opposition to sanctions came despite the fact that Yugoslav authorities had failed to withdraw special police forces from Kosovo — as the Contact Group had demanded on March 9 — and that Belgrade had in general done little to meet the requirements set out by the major powers. (Reuter, March 20) But, while Russia has been the strongest backer of Belgrade, Italy, France and Germany have also favored a softer line in dealing with Yugoslav authorities. That was evident last week when the foreign ministers of Germany and France said, after meeting with Belgrade leaders, that Yugoslavia had met most of the conditions set by the West. Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini spoke in similar terms. (Reuter, March 19) Like Moscow, some in Europe have charged that Washington is blaming Milosevic entirely for the problems in Kosovo, while ignoring what they suggest is a destabilizing role played by Kosovo separatists. (The New York Times, March 23)
Moscow may nevertheless be going considerably further than its European Contact Group partners in searching for ways to accommodate Serbian leaders in Belgrade. Last week, the official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug reported that Russian President Boris Yeltsin had sent an invitation to Milosevic inviting him to visit Russia. (Reuter, March 20) More disturbing is a report in yesterday’s New York Times in which unnamed U.S. officials say that Russia has reached an agreement in principle to sell to Yugoslavia tanks, attack helicopters, ground-to-air missiles, MiG-29’s and spare parts. The allegation is not a new one. U.S. officials were quoted earlier this month making similar charges, and London’s Financial Times estimated the deal to be worth $1.5 billion. (Reuter, March 10) The Clinton administration is said to be keeping news of the weapons agreement secret in order to deal privately with Moscow on the matter. Such a deal, however, could put Belgrade in violation of the Dayton agreements that ended the fighting in Bosnia. U.S. officials are said to also fear that Belgrade might transfer excess weaponry to the Bosnian Serbs or to a country like Libya. (The New York Times, March 25)
Norway and Russia Move Past Spy Scandal.