Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 150

Russian government officials found themselves in the awkward position this week of courting a Yugoslav leader–Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic–who has emerged as one of the key opponents of the man on whose friendship Moscow had until now based its policy in the Balkans–Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Although Russian officials have of late begun, for the first time, to express some real dissatisfaction with Milosevic, Moscow is finding it difficult to distance itself from a leader whose cause the Russian political elite so passionately championed during Belgrade’s long confrontation with NATO.

The first intimations that Moscow might be changing course with regard to Milosevic came during Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin’s visit to Washington last month. According to some Russian sources, Stepashin gave up Moscow’s support for Milosevic in exchange for Western financial aid and a promise from Washington that Russia would be included in the vast rebuilding effort which the West is now planning for the Balkans. During and since his Washington visit the Russian prime minister has on several occasions suggested that he “does not like Milosevic very much” anyway. He has also said that the Yugoslav strongman is also to blame for much of what happened in Yugoslavia (see the Monitor, August 2). That last point of view is one rarely expressed in Moscow, where government officials across the political spectrum continue to excoriate NATO for its air campaign in Yugoslavia and to blame the West for most of the death and destruction which occurred there.

During Djukanovic’s talks in the Russian capital on August 2, however, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov–a presumptive candidate in next year’s presidential election–started to sound a little bit like Stepashin himself. Following his own meeting with the Montenegrin leader, Luzhkov told reporters that “Milosevic’s arbitrariness in Montenegro mustn’t be allowed because it may lead to a new conflict in the Balkans.” This point–that Milosevic’s efforts to cow the much smaller Montenegro could further destabilize the region–had been among the foremost of the messages carried by Djukanovic to Moscow. Not surprisingly perhaps, the Montenegrin president said after his talks with Luzhkov that the mayor “showed understanding for the idea of greater democracy and openness not only in Montenegro, but the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in general (AP, Russian agencies, August 2).