Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov arrived in Belgrade yesterday for two days of talks with Yugoslav leaders. Primakov’s arrival comes as Western governments increase their pressure on authorities in Belgrade to open talks with Kosovo Albanians. On March 9, the five Western members of the so-called "contact group" — the United States, France, Germany, Britain and Italy — imposed mild sanctions on Belgrade. They also gave Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ten days to begin the talks with Kosovo Albanians or face a new round of sanctions. As that period ends, the United States would charge that Milosevic has shown no sign of complying with Western demands. (Reuter, March 17) Russia, the sixth member of the contact group and a longtime backer of Milosevic and the Serbs, offered only limited support for the sanctions and threats issued on March 9. (See Monitor, March 10)
During a meeting yesterday with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic, Primakov reiterated what has been Moscow’s standard line on the Kosovo crisis. First, that Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity must be respected and, second, that Belgrade should move toward granting Kosovo Albanians wide-ranging political rights. (Russian agencies, March 17) Moscow has tended, however, to emphasize the first of those two conditions, just as Russian sources have tended to focus on "terrorist" activities by Kosovo Albanians rather than on the bloody reprisals launched by Serb police forces. In speaking of Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity, Moscow has also described the Kosovo problem as one to be solved internally. That approach is intended to discourage international mediation of the Kosovo issue and, more specifically, to deflect calls for new sanctions on Yugoslavia, which Moscow opposes.
In what is at least in part an effort by Moscow to keep the West out of the Kosovo crisis, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said Moscow is itself not interested in playing a mediating role in Yugoslavia. (See Monitor, March 13) That policy comes despite pressure for Russian involvement from the pro-Belgrade lobby in Russia’s parliament and from Serb authorities in Belgrade. Indeed, Russian sources have pointed out that Primakov’s visit to Belgrade was scheduled long before the current crisis emerged, and that it is thus not linked specifically to the Kosovo issue. They have also said that the trip — which is to last until March 21 and is to bring Primakov to Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia as well — is to focus on a host of broader regional issues. (Itar-Tass, March 17)
Yeltsin on the Mend.