Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 60

Moscow continued its fierce rhetorical assault on NATO military actions in the Balkans yesterday, but Russian government officials showed no immediate inclination to back up their tough talk with action. Some officials in Moscow had intimated on March 24 that Russia might be prepared to take some, but unspecified, military actions in defense of Belgrade or at least to cease observing the UN arms embargo on Yugoslavia. In remarks which followed a government meeting yesterday, however, President Boris Yeltsin said that Russia has decided for the time being that it will not resort to force to counter NATO’s actions in Yugoslavia. “Russia has a number of extreme measures in store, but we decided not to use them at this time,” Yeltsin was quoted as saying. “Morally,” he said, “we are above America.” A Yeltsin spokesman, furthermore, suggested yesterday that Moscow intends to wage its battle for a halt to NATO air strikes primarily through its diplomatic efforts aimed at various international organizations (AP, Russian agencies, March 25).

While continuing their denunciations of the NATO attacks, other Russian officials yesterday echoed Yeltsin’s more pragmatic line. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov said at the same cabinet meeting that Russia would not permit its outrage over the NATO air strikes to alter its economic policy or to harm its relations with the West. Russia, he said, would not allow itself to be isolated over Balkan developments. Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, who had earlier suggested that Moscow might provide aid to Yugoslavia, also chose yesterday to underscore that Moscow must not let itself be isolated. “We must not find ourselves face to face against all of Europe, which unfortunately happened during the Cold War,” he was quoted as saying. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Moscow was not considering rendering any military aid to Yugoslavia. He added that “there is no talk about using force in response to force” (Russian and Western agencies, March 25).

Russia did try yesterday for the second time in as many days to win approval of a UN Security Council resolution which would demand an immediate end to the NATO strikes. But council members made clear that the document, which is to be voted on today, stood no chance of passage. Some questioned why Moscow had even introduced the resolution given that a similar effort on Monday had been soundly defeated. A Slovenian diplomat, for example, was quoted as calling the Russian resolution “surprising and totally disconnected with the spirit of yesterday’s [March 22] Security Council debate.” He also said that a majority of council members understand why NATO had chosen to resort to military force (Reuters, March 25).

Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, meanwhile, said yesterday that Russia would be willing to mediate talks between NATO and Belgrade–if the air strikes on Yugoslavia are stopped immediately. Primakov also warned both that NATO-Russian relations might be irreversibly damaged if NATO continues its attacks on Yugoslavia and that continued air strikes will endanger the chances for Russian ratification of the START II treaty (Russian agencies, March 25). The West is unlikely to be moved by Primakov’s remarks. Moscow has previously tried to play a mediating role in the Balkan crisis, but has been singularly unsuccessful in getting Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to live up to his commitments. With regard to START II, the Russian parliament has found so many pretexts over such a long period to defer consideration of the treaty that the threat of one more delay is likely to generate little more than indifference in Washington.