Not unexpectedly, the Russian government yesterday was one of the few, of those most involved diplomatically in the Kosovo conflict, to welcome a ceasefire pledge made by Belgrade earlier in the day. In hailing the move, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called the ceasefire pledge a way to solve “the problems in Kosovo through political means.” A spokesman for Russian President Boris Yeltsin, meanwhile, said that the Yugoslav ceasefire announcement–which Yeltsin “generally welcomed”–was in line with the Kremlin’s approach toward the crisis. If the Yugoslav initiative provides the opportunity for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, the spokesman quoted Yeltsin as saying, then the chance “must be taken” (Reuters, Russian agencies, April 6). Belgrade’s ceasefire was to begin last evening, and was scheduled to coincide with the Orthodox Christian Easter holiday.
Western powers, however, quickly rejected the Yugoslav initiative and launched yet another round of bombing. NATO leaders–particularly those from the United States, Britain and France–said that the announced ceasefire failed to meet the West’s key demands: first, that Serb forces withdraw from Kosovo; second, that that Belgrade accept an international force to protect returning refugees; and, third, that Belgrade begin negotiations toward making a political determination of Kosovo’s status. Western officials also suggested that Belgrade’s announcement had not come as a surprise, saying that they had expected that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic might propose half-measures which would leave his forces in control of Kosovo while seeking to undermine the unity of the Western alliance (International agencies, April 6).
The reactions to yesterday’s ceasefire announcement came after another busy day of Balkan-related activities. In Moscow, Boris Yeltsin met with top government officials for another round of discussions about Kosovo. Prior to the meeting, Yeltsin once again called the NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia “barbaric,” and demanded a political resolution of the conflict. He made clear, however, that Russia’s efforts with regard to Kosovo would be diplomatic and would not involve military support for Belgrade. “The situation [in Yugoslavia],” Yeltsin reportedly told the media, “is favorable for our energetic political, but not military, steps.”
This message was repeated by both Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov. Ivanov described talk which involved Russia militarily in the Kosovo crisis as “absolutely senseless.” He also underscored that Russian policy in this area was determined by the Russian president and the Russian president alone (Russian agencies, April 6). For his part, Maslyukov, a communist, ridiculed the notion that Russia might choose to supply Belgrade with arms. “Maybe there are some crazy people in Russia who want to supply arms to Yugoslavia.” But, he said, “doing so is impossible” (Itar-Tass, April 6). Numerous Russian political figures have called for Moscow, if not to supply arms to Belgrade, to at least get involved militarily on Yugoslavia’s behalf. Russian military leaders have simultaneously spoken of stepping up readiness among the troops and of the country’s preparedness to move armaments to Yugoslavia in the event that such a decision was made.
AID FOR BELGRADE DEPARTS RUSSIA; NAVAL VESSELS DO NOT.