Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 148

But if Moscow was intent during the July 30 Balkans summit on publicly posturing once again as the defender of Belgrade, it appeared also to be seeking more quietly to mitigate the effects of such rhetoric on its relations with the West. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, for example, appeared to go out of his way to emphasize that he had explained the Russian position anew to U.S. President Bill Clinton during a meeting which took place on the margins of the Sarajevo summit.

In the same vein, Stepashin played down the importance of a US$150 million dollar assistance package to Yugoslavia which the Russian government had originally announced with some fanfare. Stepashin admitted that Moscow had come under some fire from the West for offering the aid to Yugoslavia at a time when Russia was itself begging for financial assistance. But he claimed that the assistance to Yugoslavia had been misinterpreted by the West. In fact, he said, it is merely a “commodity credit”–one which will permit Yugoslavia to “ensure the delivery of essentials, medical supplies and medicine.” Stepashin claimed that clarifications on this point during his recent trip to the United States had helped overcome the Clinton administration’s objections to the Russian assistance package to Yugoslavia (Reuters, Russian agencies, July 30).

Indeed, other accounts suggest that the Russian aid package to Yugoslavia is a great deal less than meets the eye. They say that the US$150 million credit is nothing more than a commercial agreement actually reached in 1997–well before the latest Balkans crisis–under which Moscow agreed to pay back a portion of the debt to Yugoslavia which it had inherited from the Soviet Union. Belgrade’s ambassador to Russia, moreover, suggested on Friday that Moscow has not, in fact, been very forthcoming about extending any sort of real emergency aid to Yugoslavia, despite requests for help from Belgrade (Russian agencies, July 30).

That Russia is not rushing to aid Yugoslavia was also suggested by a Russian Economics Ministry source on July 29. He told reporters that Moscow had turned down a request from Belgrade for financial assistance which would have helped Yugoslavia purchase several hundred tons of diesel fuel and fuel for power plants and agricultural machinery. “Russia will be able, unfortunately, to provide fuel only on a commercial basis,” he was quoted as saying (Russian agencies, July 30). Russia, it may be worth noting, is itself currently in the midst of a serious gas shortage.

For all that, Moscow does intend–as Stepashin made clear in Sarajevo–to participate in the massive international effort to rebuild the economies of the Balkans countries. And it may be the hope of winning lucrative contracts in this area which is keeping Moscow from extending the sort of aid to Yugoslavia which might be frowned on by the West. That point was suggested by a Russian report filed after Stepashin’s return from the United States and just before he departed for the Sarajevo summit. It intimated that Stepashin had received assurances from Washington that Russian companies would be involved in the rebuilding effort, so long as Moscow toed the West’s more general line on Yugoslavia. It was in that context that Stepashin apparently tried to justify Moscow’s US$150 million credit to Belgrade (Itar-Tass, July 30).