Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 101

Viktor Chernomyrdin claimed yesterday that Moscow has prevailed upon the West to allow Belgrade to maintain some of its troops in Kosovo. “It has taken two or three weeks to convince our counterparts–the United States and [other] NATO countries–that, while withdrawing [Yugoslav] troops, it is necessary to leave some of them behind” (AP, May 24). He did not elaborate.

The West has in fact demanded a near total pull-out of Serb troops from Kosovo, and appears to have left vague the wording of whether that military withdrawal must be total only in order to keep peace negotiations moving forward. There is little to suggest that Moscow has had a significant influence on Western policy in this area. Chernomyrdin’s remarks on this score yesterday might be intended primarily to rebuff domestic critics, who have complained that Moscow is acting as little more than an errand boy for the West during the Kosovo negotiations. Chernomyrdin’s remarks, it is worth noting, followed talks he had in Moscow yesterday with Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh. Russian sources reiterated anew yesterday that New Delhi and Moscow hold similar views toward the conflict in the Balkans, and that the two countries intend to continue their joint consultations on the issue (Russian agencies, May 24). With regard to Kosovo, Moscow has labored to build an anti-NATO coalition of sorts, composed of Russia, China and India. That effort has not been overly successfully, though all three countries do generally see eye-to-eye on the issue of Kosovo.

Developments in the Balkans, meanwhile, have continued to generate talk in Russia of a possible increase in defense spending. It was Air Force Commander Anatoly Kornukov’s turn yesterday. Kornukov told reporters that the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia has forced Russia to consider increasing the money it devotes to defense, and particularly to the country’s air defense system. He offered no specifics (AP, Itar-Tass, May 24).

Russian parliamentarians have repeatedly called for an increase in defense spending since NATO began its air war against Yugoslavia. It is a suggestion that the Defense Ministry has happily embraced. In remarks made on May 20, newly named Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin added his own voice to the chorus, pledging to push defense expenditures from what he said was the current level–2.8 percent of GDP–to 3.5 percent (see the Monitor, May 19). Even prior to the latest hostilities in the Balkans, senior officers from Russia’s cash-strapped Defense Ministry had called repeatedly for an increase in the defense budget to 3.5 percent of GDP. What remains unclear is where the Russian government will find the funds to increase defense spending.