Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 70

Although Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s April 9 remarks caused a stir in the West, they did not deter the NATO countries either from continuing their military buildup in Europe or from an intended intensification of the air campaign against Yugoslavia. Indeed, NATO supreme commander General Wesley Clark is quoted as saying: “We’re going to continue with the mission exactly as planned, regardless of political and diplomatic atmospherics” (Reuters, April 9).

NATO’s resolve was borne out by continuous attacks over the weekend and today. Early today, NATO planes launched a wave of strikes at military and industrial targets throughout Yugoslavia. One of the country’s largest oil refineries was destroyed and the plant which makes Yugo automobiles was bombed anew (AP, CNN, April 12).

Meanwhile, on April 10, Russian leaders continued their efforts toward a diplomatic solution to the Balkans conflict. With an eye toward ending the NATO strikes, Yeltsin spoke with Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov spoke with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov spoke with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. Afterward Ivanov conceded that Russia had made little headway in its efforts and suggested that a political solution was growing ever more elusive (AP, Russian agencies, April 10).

Russia’s anger was reflected in yet another action over the weekend: The Russian Foreign Ministry said on April 9 that Russia would refuse to participate in NATO’s fiftieth anniversary summit, scheduled for April 23 in Washington (Itar-Tass, April 9). Moscow’s decision was not unexpected. Since the launching of NATO air strikes, Moscow has pointedly cut virtually all military-to-military contacts with the alliance.

Russian political leaders had already expressed ambivalence about participating. They particularly wanted to avoid any suggestion of Russian support either for NATO’s enlargement plans, or for proposals–linked to a review of NATO’s strategic concept–which could ultimately widen the alliance’s mission in Europe and beyond. Moscow has now redoubled its criticism of any NATO move which would formalize its willingness to launch operations outside the territory of its member-states or without the express authorization of the UN Security Council.

In that vein, Yeltsin’s foreign policy aide repeated the warning that Russia will consider amending its own military doctrine in the event that NATO undertakes a “large-scale action in Yugoslavia.” Sergei Prikhodko refused to provide any information to indicate what changes Moscow might be pondering (Itar-Tass, April 9). But other Russian officials have indicated that the government intends to raise the level of defense spending while possibly also increasing the number of combat units fielded by Russia’s armed forces.

Russian diplomatic activity continued today as Yeltsin met with Primakov in the Kremlin for talks on Yugoslavia, in particular the problem of a Russian humanitarian aid convoy stopped yesterday at the Hungarian border on its way to Yugoslavia. Hungarian officials said the five armor-plated vehicles in the convoy violated the international arms embargo on Yugoslavia. The Hungarians have halted the rest of the convoy, which includes more than sixty trucks, due to a fuel dispute. Yeltsin sent Minister of Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu to Hungary to deal with the problem, and Russia’s Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called in the Hungarian ambassador to protest the decision to halt the convoy. As Russia stewed about this dispute, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived in Brussels to meet with fellow NATO foreign ministers and reinforce alliance unity (AP, CNN April 12).