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Balkans Special Report

  Moscow Recalls NATO Delegate in Protest

Boris Yeltsin, CNN
Boris Yeltsin in a pre-recorded address, televised Wednesday. (CNN)
By David Hoffman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 25, 1999; Page A31

MOSCOW, March 24 – President Boris Yeltsin suspended Russian cooperation with NATO tonight and recalled his chief military representative to the alliance to protest the airstrikes on Yugoslavia, the Kremlin said.

The decision came after NATO military operations began and after Yeltsin made a televised appeal against the use of force. Yeltsin, described in a statement as "deeply angered" by the bombing, called for a session of the U.N. Security Council to stop it. Such a session was convened last night, but Russian arguments failed to sway the 15-member group.

The Kremlin statement offered few details, but Yeltsin appeared to be ordering a suspension of key aspects of cooperation between Russia and the Western alliance that were put in place at the end of the Cold War and followed NATO's decision to admit former Soviet allies Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Yeltsin said he was suspending Russian participation in the Partnership for Peace, a military cooperation program involving 27 non-NATO countries. He said he was also suspending the Russian-NATO cooperation program that was established in the aftermath of alliance expansion. In both cases, the efforts at cooperation had gotten off to a slow start, diplomats have said.

The president also ordered Viktor Zavarzin, Russia's chief military representative to NATO, to return to Moscow, but he did not say for how long, and Yeltsin said he would postpone talks on opening a NATO military liaison mission in Moscow.

Earlier, Yeltsin implored NATO leaders not to go through with the aerial assault on Yugoslavia, saying in a televised address that "it's about war in Europe and perhaps even more," and declaring: "Let us stop Clinton along this path."

A frail-looking Yeltsin, pausing frequently, delivered the admonition after speaking by phone with Clinton and French President Jacques Chirac. Yeltsin, who has been recovering from a bleeding ulcer, went to his Kremlin office for the first time in a month as Russia mounted a frenzied effort to block the attack.

Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov telephoned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who has rebuffed U.S. negotiating efforts, to appeal for a settlement. A spokesman said Primakov expressed his "tremendous chagrin" that NATO was preparing to use force against Yugoslavia over the predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo.

Primakov, who made a mid-air turnabout en route to Washington and flew back to Moscow Tuesday night after learning the offensive was at hand, drew both praise and criticism here for the maneuver. He was lauded by some for taking a symbolic stand against the planned NATO attack. "I do not think that Primakov could have taken any other decision," said former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev.

But critics questioned whether Primakov's decision would disrupt Russia's bid to win renewed lending from the International Monetary Fund or aggravate deteriorating relations between Moscow and Washington. Primakov himself had raised high expectations for IMF consultations in Washington, and officials here have been warning that Russia lacks the foreign currency reserves to pay off its external debts and support the ruble without a fresh IMF deal. Today, the ruble exchange rate took a dive against Western currencies, hitting lows for the year.

After landing in Moscow, Primakov insisted that his turnabout would not affect negotiations with the IMF, which he described as "a different thing entirely [from the dispute over Kosovo]. We do not trade in our principles." He said he telephoned IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus; later, officials said Camdessus would come to Moscow for talks on Saturday.

Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the centrist Yabloko bloc in parliament, criticized Primakov's decision to abort his trip, calling it a "gesture in the Cold War style." Yavlinsky said Primakov would have been more effective making his protest in the United States.

Vladimir Lukin, a former Russian ambassador to Washington and chairman of the foreign relations committee of the lower house of parliament, said the Kremlin had become "overly involved" in the Balkans and that the IMF lending is of vital importance to Russia. "When we make emotional outbursts on the Balkans issue, we must not forget these other interests," he said.

Andrei Kozyrev, Primakov's predecessor as foreign minister and now a legislator, also was critical of his action. "By turning the plane around," he told the Interfax news agency, "the Russian side found itself in a situation of supporting a dictator [Milosevic] who does not understand anything but force and who conducted ethnic purges in Kosovo and drove the situation there into a blind alley."

Kozyrev expressed concern that relations between Washington and Moscow were getting worse, with Moscow finding itself defending Milosevic and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He said Russia should strive to return to better ties with the United States and Europe and "give up support for dictators."

Regardless of their views on Primakov, most Russian politicians who spoke out today were critical of the prospective NATO attack on Yugoslavia. "People may not care much about Serbia, but they do care about bombing by NATO," said political analyst Sergei Markov. "They see in a stronger NATO a greater possibility that this force can be used against Russia in the future."

Several Russian nationalist and Communist politicians suggested that Russia should begin to arm Yugoslavia and that a NATO attack would negate the U.N. arms embargo imposed on Belgrade. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said Russia "must seriously respond to the Western aggression."

However, Yeltsin hinted that Russia would not. "We, for our part, are doing what we can, but we can't do everything," he said. "That is, we can, but our conscience forbids us."

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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