Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 69

Russia continued to talk yesterday of pushing a new diplomatic initiative aimed at ending the fighting in Yugoslavia. But beyond calling yet again for a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G-7) leading industrial nations, Russian officials provided little information as to what proposals might underlie the new initiative. They also appeared to be making little headway in current talks with Western leaders aimed at finding a way out of the deteriorating conflict in the Balkans. The Russian diplomatic efforts came even as denunciations of NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia continued in Moscow.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin yesterday summed up Moscow’s frenetic and still disjointed response to events in the Balkans, insisting that G-7 ministers meet “as soon as possible,” but providing no compelling reason for them to do so. To date, the G-7 countries, six of which are taking part in the air strikes on Yugoslavia, have shown little interest in responding to Moscow. This is, in part, because Russia is attempting to push Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s recent peace proposals, proposals which the West has sharply rejected.

Yeltsin also said yesterday that Moscow is preparing new proposals of its own to end NATO bombing in Yugoslavia. But his failure to elaborate left unclear whether Moscow’s new initiative would be aimed at winning concessions from the West, or would involve using what Russia claims is its influence in Belgrade to force Yugoslav authorities to withdraw police and special forces from Kosovo (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, April 8). NATO leaders have made the withdrawal one of the nonnegotiable conditions for stopping the air strikes.

President Boris Yeltsin took a few new potshots at the NATO operations in the Balkans yesterday, calling them “barbaric” and warning that they were causing an upsurge of anti-American sentiment in Russia. Yeltsin simultaneously made it clear, however, that the Kremlin will not support communist and nationalist calls for Moscow to give Yugoslavia military aid. Following talks with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev in the Kremlin, Yeltsin was quoted as saying that “Russia will not supply military hardware to Yugoslavia and will not get drawn into the conflict in the Balkans” (Russian agencies, April 8).

One reason behind Moscow’s reluctance to get involved militarily in the current Balkans crisis is Russia’s economic weakness and the impact this has had on its armed forces. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov underscored this point yesterday when he said in an interview that Russia does not have the financial resources at this time to support a large-scale military action. According to Zadornov, the Russian government reached that unsettling–but hardly surprising–conclusion by dint of an assessment of the armed forces’ capabilities which was made after the eruption of the Kosovo crisis. Zadornov also appeared to confirm that, as a result, the Kremlin intended to increase defense spending for the foreseeable future. He did not say how the cash-strapped Russian government would manage to fund the increase (AP, Xinhua, April 8).

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov reportedly made little progress during separate talks held yesterday in Moscow with Norwegian Foreign Minister and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe chairman Knut Vollebaek and the secretary general of the French Foreign Ministry, Loic Hennekinne. Reports suggested that the atmosphere at both sets of talks was friendly, but that little–from Moscow’s point of view–was accomplished (Reuters, AP, April 8).

Vollebaek’s visit was the first by a minister from a NATO country since the alliance began its bombing campaign in Yugoslavia several weeks ago. Indeed, the Russian armed forces yesterday continued their policy of severing military contacts with NATO. Sources in Brussels reportedly said that the Russian side had canceled a meeting of the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council (PJC) which had been scheduled for April 15 (Itar-Tass, April 8). The PJC is the consultative body formed under a 1997 Russian-NATO partnership agreement.