Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 201

Despite the brouhaha raised by leading political figures in Moscow over threatened NATO air strikes against targets in Yugoslavia, a recent public opinion poll suggests that most Russians care little about developments in this area. According to a survey of some 1,600 Russians taken by the Public Opinion Fund on October 23-26, only 15 percent of respondents supported the Serbs in Yugoslavia and an overwhelming 63 percent opposed the provision of Russian military assistance to Belgrade in the event of NATO strikes (Russian agencies, October 28).

The Russian government, which has been a steadfast supporter of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and of Serb hardliners in Belgrade, has based that policy in part on what it says are traditional ties between the Serb and Russian peoples. Russia’s political elite has mounted a virtual crusade aimed at defending the Serbs and at blocking efforts by NATO to pressure Milosevic into halting his crackdown on Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian population. A host of Russian political figures, including a senior Defense Ministry official, have also warned that Moscow would reconsider its observance of a UN arms embargo on Yugoslavia in the event that NATO launches air strikes against Belgrade.

This same sort of Russian jingoism in defense of the Serbs was in evidence yet again on October 28, as a nationalist Russian political organization claimed that some 10,000 patriotic volunteers are prepared “to help the Slavs in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.” According to Viktor Ilyukhin, chairman of the Duma’s security committee and the head of the Movement in Support of the Army, “a large-scale offensive against the Slav world” is underway. Strikes against Yugoslavia, he said, are “strikes against Russia” (Russian agencies, October 28). The Movement in Support of the Army, Defense Industry and Military Science was founded by General Lev Rokhlin, a nationalist-minded military commander-turned-politician who chaired the Duma’s Defense Committee. Rokhlin was shot dead on July 3, and Ilyukhin, a radical communist, assumed control of the movement less than a week later.