Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 34

Russian President Boris Yeltsin said today that he warned President Bill Clinton not to launch airstrikes against Yugoslavia even if it doesn’t meet a deadline on a truce with rebels in Kosovo. “We will not allow you to touch Kosovo,” Yeltsin said he told Clinton during a phone conversation last night. Speaking to journalists before the opening of the Russian-EU summit, Yeltsin said he conveyed the message to Clinton after Secretary of Defense William Cohen announced that the U.S. would send an additional fifty-one planes to Europe (Western and Russian agencies, February 18).

Yeltsin’s remarks came on the heels of a rhetorical onslaught in Moscow yesterday against possible NATO military action in Yugoslavia. The Russian lower house of parliament unanimously approved a statement declaring impermissible any use of force against Yugoslavia. The Duma resolution referred also to proposals for the deployment of a NATO peacekeeping force in Yugoslavia to monitor any peace agreement which might be reached during the talks now taking place in Rambouillet, France. The nonbinding Duma resolution also warned that Russia might consider offering assistance to Yugoslavia in the event of any NATO military action in or against that country (Russian agencies, February 17).

The Duma action came as General Leonid Ivashov, chief of the Russian Defense Ministry which oversees military cooperation with foreign countries, launched a few shots of his own at NATO military planners. Ivashov charged that NATO proposals for possible action in Yugoslavia are part of a broader plan by the alliance’s leaders to make NATO the main European security organization. The Russian general, who frequently issues broadsides against the West on behalf of the Defense Ministry, also suggested that the proposed NATO military actions are intended to promote the disintegration of Yugoslavia (Russian agencies, February 17). Moscow has frequently accused the West of encouraging Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian rebels in their efforts to win independence from Belgrade.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, meanwhile, said that Russia would send its own peacekeepers to Yugoslavia–as part of a possible NATO force–only if Belgrade authorities requested the deployment. Ivanov also said, moreover, that the deployment of peacekeepers depends on a corresponding authorization by the United Nations Security Council. Deployment absent those two conditions, Ivanov suggested, would violate Yugoslavia’s sovereignty (Russian agencies, February 17).

Ivanov’s remarks yesterday came as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic rejected NATO plans for the deployment of peacekeeping troops to enforce a Kosovo peace settlement. By that action, Milosevic increased the chances that NATO will resort to punitive military strikes against Yugoslavia. Current NATO planning calls for some 30,000 troops, including approximately 4,000 Americans, to be sent to Yugoslavia to police any peace agreement (AP, February 17).