Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 121

In general, Russian media treatment of the Kosovo crisis has been sharply biased in favor of Belgrade and overwhelmingly critical of NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia. The Russian media has also been critical of its own government’s efforts to broker a Kosovo peace settlement. That criticism, however, has often centered on alleged concessions made by Moscow to the West or on the Russian government’s inability–or unwillingness–to employ credible threats which might influence the behavior of Western leaders.

Precisely that sort of argument was made in a commentary by “Izvestia” yesterday, in which it accused the government of pursuing policies vis-a-vis the Balkans that are every bit as confused and ineffective as are its economic policies. The newspaper contended, for example, that the Kremlin’s “just” denunciations of U.S. President Bill Clinton and of NATO had been frittered away in negotiations which actually “helped NATO to win the war, save face, and avoid an internal split.” “Izvestia” also suggested that the surprise deployment by Russia of some two hundred paratroopers to Kosovo had in fact been something of a debacle. The act made the Russian government appear incompetent and, according to the newspaper, left the paratroopers both embarrassingly dependent upon NATO for supplies and vulnerable to attacks by Kosovo Albanian guerrillas (Izvestia, June 22).

But perhaps the most trenchant criticism of Russian policy in the Balkans appeared recently in “Obshchaya gazeta.” A commentary written by Dmitri Furman attempted to explode the many myths about the Kosovo conflict perpetuated by the Russian media. In so doing, the commentary warned that Russians would fail to learn the proper lessons from the conflict until they acquired a more factual understanding of what had really happened there. But even more to the point, Furman argued that Russia had played an inglorious role in the Kosovo conflict, one that in the end left virtually all the parties involved–the Serbs, the ethnic Albanians and Russia itself–worse off than if Moscow had stayed out of the fray altogether. He argued that NATO alone had emerged from the conflict stronger, while Russia had lost ground within the CIS and seen its relations with Washington and Europe soured. As Serbia eventually turns against Milosevic and toward Europe, he concluded, Moscow will ultimately face recriminations for its policies in Belgrade, and will see its influence dissipate even there (Obshchaya gazeta, No. 24, June 1999).

Furman’s piece was probably written prior to this past weekend’s G-7 summit in Cologne. It could not, therefore, account for the West’s determined efforts to rebuild ties even with an increasingly decrepit and volatile Russia–or for Yeltsin’s own unexpected reciprocity. Despite that step toward reconciliation, however, there has been little indication in recent days that Russia’s political elite is prepared to alter the conceptual approach toward the Balkans conflict that brought Moscow into a confrontation with the West to begin with. And that suggests anti-Western sentiment will remain a factor in Russia, while relations between Moscow and the West–not least with regard to the Balkans–will remain easily roiled.