Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 122

Russian lawmakers played their usual constructive role yesterday in deliberations devoted to Moscow’s policy toward the Balkans. The State Duma’s Anti-NATO commission, a grouping which brings together hardline opponents of NATO from a number of parliamentary factions, adopted a statement accusing NATO of deliberately organizing a genocide against Kosovo’s ethnic Serbian population. The commission statement described what it said was a plan–conceived earlier by NATO–by which the Western alliance would facilitate the murder of ethnic Serbs by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. According to the Duma statement, NATO peacekeepers intend to show the bodies of the murdered Serbs to UN observers and journalists. NATO will reportedly claim that the bodies are those of ethnic Albanians killed by Serbs prior to the withdrawal from Kosovo of Serb military and police forces. The evidence will be used as “proof of Serb war crimes,” the statement said (Itar-Tass, June 23).

Virulent denunciations of NATO actions in the Balkans and paranoid accusations involving the alliance’s alleged evil designs there have been a staple of the Anti-NATO parliamentary group. In their malevolence the group’s characterizations of NATO policy in Yugoslavia have only slightly outstripped those offered by top Russian government officials and so-called moderates on the issue. On June 17, for example, a resolution drafted by the Anti-NATO commission was approved unanimously by the State Duma as a whole. The resolution accused NATO of waging a criminal aggression against Yugoslavia. It also demanded that NATO Secretary General Javier Solana be “punished for crimes against humanity” that were committed during NATO’s Balkans air campaign (Russian agencies, June 17).

While Duma actions of this sort are not legally binding, they do carry practical implications. Russian government officials are currently debating the degree to which Moscow will “unfreeze” its relations with NATO in the wake of the Kosovo conflict. In remarks made on June 22–less than a week after the Duma accused Solana of being a war criminal–Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov made it clear that Moscow intends to work through Solana as it revives its ties with the Western alliance. The Foreign Ministry appears to have singled out Solana, moreover, not merely because of his current position with NATO, but also because he will soon assume a newly created post as coordinator of the European Union’s foreign and security policies (Russian agencies, June 22). Moscow has long supported a stronger security role for the EU, and Russian diplomats could only have cringed when lawmakers branded one of its new chief administrators an international criminal.

More broadly, Duma actions of this sort can only prolong the anti-Western hysteria which was whipped up by the media and political elite during the latest conflict in the Balkans. The hysteria may serve the needs of a number of political groupings, especially during this parliamentary election year in Russia. But it could also greatly complicate Russia’s current efforts to mend fences with the West and to get the country back on its feet economically. In that regard, the failure of the Kremlin and of pro-reform groups in Russia to stake out reasonable and balanced positions on Kosovo during the latest Balkans crisis could come back to haunt them. They have, in effect, strengthened the hardline nationalist forces which oppose them.