On April 3, Russian officials stepped up their criticism of NATO following air strikes launched against targets in Belgrade itself. The Russian Foreign Ministry called the strikes “barbarous” and warned of “grave consequences” if Russian citizens were wounded in future air attacks. A ministry statement also accused NATO of conducting a “war of extermination against the peoples of Yugoslavia.” That rhetoric was matched by General Leonid Ivashov, the Russian Defense Ministry’s chief of relations with foreign countries and the military leadership’s main mouthpiece in its denunciations of NATO. He called NATO a “criminal organization” which “doesn’t have a right to exist.”
Also on April 3, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Ivanov held telephone consultations with their German counterparts–Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer–while Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov spoke with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The Russian side was reportedly trying to advance its call for a G-7 meeting on the Kosovo crisis (International and Russian agencies, April 3).
Yesterday, finally, members of the Russian president’s administration met with top officials from the Defense and Foreign Ministries to discuss the Kosovo crisis. Yeltsin’s foreign policy aide, Sergei Prikhodko, later told reporters that Russia still would not involve itself militarily in the conflict, despite its strong opposition to the NATO air strikes. He also said that the Russian political leadership opposes the dispatch of weapons or volunteers to Yugoslavia–moves called for by many in the Kremlin’s political opposition.
According to Foreign Minister Ivanov, yesterday’s Kremlin meeting did produce a decision that the country’s armed forces need to be given greater financial support. He was quoted as saying that “it isn’t a question of starting an arms race or militarizing the economy, but of supporting our armed forces on a high, professional combat level.” Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said that funding for the army has now become a top priority for the Russian government. According to Zadornov, one-fourth of the government’s spending in March went to the Defense Ministry. He provided no specific spending figures (AP, Russian agencies, April 4). Russia’s military has long been decaying; the country’s conventional forces at least no longer pose a significant threat to NATO. Russian military leaders have repeatedly called for increases in defense spending to finance military reform and improve the troops’ combat readiness.
U.S. SANCTIONS RUSSIAN FIRMS FOR SYRIAN ARMS SALES.