Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 58

The latest developments in the Balkans are sure to further stoke the already considerable intensity of anti-NATO and anti-U.S. rhetoric in Moscow. As evidenced by Primakov’s decision yesterday to abort his talks in Washington, Russian government officials can also be expected to excoriate NATO actions in the Balkans and to maintain their support for Belgrade.

But, such actions notwithstanding, there has also been evidence in Moscow recently of both a growing frustration over Belgrade’s actions, and a realization that, in defying the West, Yugoslav leaders may have something other than Russia’s best interests in mind. Moscow’s exasperation with Serb negotiating tactics in France were evident in remarks which Boris Mayorsky, the Russian mediator in those talks, made on March 19. Mayorsky continued to criticize NATO’s military threats and the actions of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian rebels. But he also slammed the Serb negotiating team for trying to introduce a series of last minute amendments to the political agreement brokered by the international Contact Group–of which Russia is a member. He also complained that Belgrade had failed to heed Moscow’s entreaties that Serb leaders conduct their negotiations in a more constructive fashion (Itar-Tass, March 19; see the Monitor, March 22).

At least one major Russian daily, meanwhile, suggested late last week that the “suicidal obstinacy” of the Yugoslav government could lead to a confrontation with NATO and a major diplomatic defeat for Moscow. The newspaper said, among other things, that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic may be intentionally provoking a conflict with NATO to maintain his own political authority. It also noted that a breakdown in negotiations, if provoked by the Serbs, would undermine Russia’s international prestige and could have an adverse impact on Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s upcoming talks in Washington. The newspaper lamented that, despite Russia’s unwavering support for the Serbs, Belgrade appeared to place little value on heeding Moscow’s wishes (Segodnya, March 19).

A U.S. newspaper made the same point yesterday. It suggested that the Serbs, in fact, may even “have timed their attacks against Kosovo Albanians to coincide with Primakov’s mission to Washington, calculating that NATO would be reluctant to strike when Primakov was in the United States.” The newspaper suggested, furthermore, that even as Russian influence in Belgrade has dwindled, Moscow’s relations with NATO have reached a low point (New York Times, March 23).

What remains to be seen is whether the Russian government will let itself be swept along by nationalist fervor and try to use hostilities between Belgrade and NATO to further ingratiate itself with Belgrade–and to split NATO. The alternative, seemingly a less likely choice, is for Moscow to pressure Yugoslav authorities to give up their military campaign in Kosovo and join Russia in mending fences with the West.