The situation in the Balkans continued to dominate headlines in Moscow yesterday as President Boris Yeltsin convened a meeting of top government officials to discuss the crisis. He also held a long telephone conversation with U.S. President Bill Clinton–their first since the start of the NATO air campaign–during which he reportedly laid out Moscow’s position with regard to Kosovo. At day’s end, however, it remained unclear exactly what that position was, or how Russia intends to proceed in its much-publicized quest to serve as an international “mediator” in the Balkans crisis. The mixed signals coming out of Moscow appeared to reflect the highly politicized atmosphere there, in which discussion of Kosovo is taking place. The Kremlin, in effect, appears to be pursuing relatively moderate policies aimed at keeping Russia from a direct confrontation with the West. Simultaneously, government leaders are talking tough–in part to shield themselves politically from the increasingly strident demands of Russia’s communists and nationalists, who are calling for a Russian military intervention in the Balkans.
Yesterday’s developments reflected that schizophrenia. In remarks which followed the government’s meeting on Kosovo but preceded Yeltsin’s telephone conversation with Clinton, the Russian president voiced his solidarity with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and declared that Russia would oppose what it says are American efforts to dominate the Balkans. “Bill Clinton hopes to win. He hopes that Milosevic will capitulate, give up the whole of Yugoslavia, make it America’s protectorate,” Yeltsin said. “We will not allow this. This is a strategic place, the Balkans.” Yeltsin was also quoted as saying that Russia “cannot simply ditch Milosevic. We want to embrace him as tightly as possible.” In his conversation with Clinton, Yeltsin reportedly called for a quick and immediate halt to the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia as the surest way to end the crisis (Russian and Western agencies, April 19).
But Yeltsin mixed his hardline rhetoric with a series of more moderate remarks. Among other things, he said that Moscow will not send additional warships to the Adriatic to monitor NATO military operations there (see the Monitor, April 19). More important, he indicated anew that Russia does not intend to involve itself militarily in Kosovo and said, more generally, that Moscow will exercise “restraint” in its handling of the Balkans crisis. In addition, Yeltsin leveled some criticism at Milosevic’s “hard stance”–placing some of the burden for settling the Kosovo crisis on him as well. Yeltsin reportedly underscored the need for Milosevic to accept that an international peacekeeping force must be deployed in Kosovo as part of any peace settlement (Russian and Western agencies, April 19).
WHO’S IN CHARGE OF RUSSIA’S BALKANS POLICY?