Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 165

The notion that Moscow was distancing itself from Milosevic gained further credence during an August 2 visit to the Russian capital by one of Milosevic’s strongest and most effective critics–Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. Djukanovic made clear during his stay that he was seeking Moscow’s support for Montenegrin efforts to win greater autonomy within the Yugoslav federation. A bit more indirectly, he appeared also to be pushing Russian leaders to recognize that democratization in Yugoslavia was impossible as long as Milosevic remained in power, and that the Yugoslav president was doomed to be ousted–it was only a question of when. It did not take much reading between the lines to see that Djukanovic was offering Moscow a choice of standing with Yugoslavia’s bloody and authoritarian past, or siding with what would with some luck be a more democratic and prosperous future (see the Monitor, August 4).

With Stepashin’s ouster, Moscow appeared to harden its stance anew toward the West more generally–witness the apparent failure of arms control talks between Washington and Moscow last month–and to return to a more confrontational stance vis-a-vis the West with regard to the Balkans. That renewal of tensions over Kosovo is likely to be manifested in the coming weeks in Moscow’s opposition to a NATO- and UN-brokered plan calling for the transformation of the Kosovo Liberation Army into a security force called the “Kosovo Corps.” Details of the plan are apparently still under negotiation, but the new corps–which would number about 3,000 men, who would be allowed to carry weapons–would reportedly include a helicopter unit, an honor guard, a security force and a small rapid reaction unit (AP, September 7).

During his visit to Belgrade this week, however, Avdeev joined with Yugoslav leaders in denouncing the NATO plan and in criticizing what both Moscow and Belgrade charge is the West’s failure to rein in the KLA. A statement was issued by Milosevic’s office on September 7–following the Milosevic-Avdeev talks–in which Belgrade demanded NATO peacekeepers to combat “terrorism, lawlessness and crime.” It also called for an end to the “ethnic cleansing” of Serbs in Kosovo. The statement proclaimed Russia’s support for Yugoslavia “in its principled efforts and condemns violations of the UN Security Council resolution on Kosovo” (Reuters, September 8).

That last statement probably refers to Russian and Yugoslav charges that NATO policy toward the KLA in Kosovo violates the UN resolution authorizing the operation of the peacekeeping force there. Reports suggest, finally, that Moscow could obstruct or veto the plan for the “Kosovo Corps” when it comes up for approval by the UN Security Council. That would further complicate the already delicate task before NATO of dissolving the KLA as a military force while pacifying its leadership and enlisting its support in the administration of the province.

Another threat from Moscow, issued by the Defense Ministry yesterday, could stir up still more tensions in Kosovo. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the hardline head of the ministry’s department for contacts with foreign armies, told reporters that Russia could reconsider the form of its participation in the Kosovo peacekeeping force if NATO fails to introduce more stability into the province. Ivashov provided no details as to what Moscow might have in mind. But he underscored yet again Russian dissatisfaction with the disarmament of the KLA and its anger over protests that have kept Russian troops out of the town of Orahovac. He also suggested that there is no real interaction between Russia’s military contingent in Kosovo and the NATO peacekeepers there (Russian agencies, September 7). That would appear to contradict the reports of NATO commanders, who in recent days have gone out of their way to praise the performance of the Russian troops.