A day after Russian President Boris Yeltsin indicated that Moscow would forego any military response to NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia, the Russian Defense Ministry yesterday said that it was sending at least one–and possibly as many as seven–navy vessels to the Mediterranean to monitor the situation in Kosovo. The announcement came as Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov returned from a failed diplomatic mission to Belgrade and a wide range of Russian political and military figures continued their furious rhetorical onslaught on NATO. Meanwhile, Russia’s upper house of parliament–the Federation Council–issued a statement condemning the NATO actions in Yugoslavia, while a group of lawmakers from the lower house–the State Duma–departed for Belgrade and possible talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Russia’s intention to dispatch, initially, one naval reconnaissance ship to the Mediterranean was announced by Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, who also said that the “possibility of moving other Russian navy ships to the conflict zone is being considered, but as of today no decision has been taken.” The first ship to be dispatched from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet will reportedly leave tomorrow. The others are, Sergeev said, in readiness to depart “to ensure Russia’s security when the Defense Ministry considers it necessary.” Reports from Turkey yesterday said that Ankara had approved passage through the Turkish Straits of one Russian cruiser, two destroyers, two patrol ships and three support vessels (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, March 31).
Sergeev said yesterday that military leaders are also examining other “more decisive means which could be recommended to the Russian leadership” if the situation in the Balkans changes. He did not elaborate, however. His remarks come as Krasnoyarsk governor and presumed presidential candidate Aleksandr Lebed has stepped up his calls for Russia to play a more active military role in the Balkans. On March 30 the retired general accused the Russian government of trading Russia’s geopolitical interests for aid from the International Monetary Fund. He also demanded that Russia declare its willingness to “render military and technical aid to Yugoslavia with the aim of supporting the civilian population”-a demand which he repeated yesterday. Russia should also, he said, declare Yugoslavia to be a zone of its geopolitical interests. Support for Yugoslavia, Lebed concluded, “will promote consolidation of the [Russian] nation and allow Russia to feel its dignity” (Wall Street Journal, Itar-Tass, March 31). Acting on Lebed’s advice, the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, today approved a nonbinding resolution calling on the government to send military aid to Yugoslavia (CNN, April 1).
ANTI-NATO RHETORIC CONTINUES IN MOSCOW.