Yeltsin to meet with aides on response to bombings
March 24, 1999
MOSCOW (CNN) -- President Boris Yeltsin, enraged by NATO's aerial blitz against Yugoslavia, prepared to consult his aides and ministers on Thursday on Russia's next response to what he called the alliance's "naked aggression."
Shortly after NATO launched its air attacks Wednesday night, Yeltsin announced that Russia was suspending cooperation with NATO and informed the team that monitored the Kosovo cease-fire that he was withdrawing most of the Russian contingent. He also called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to press for an immediate end to the allied offensive.
At that meeting Wednesday night, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov accused NATO of violating international law and demanded an immediate cessation of its "illegal military action."
Russia and China have vehemently opposed unilateral action by NATO without explicit prior approval by the 15-member council, a view supported during Wednesday's open debate by Belarus, India and Yugoslavia itself.
The U.S. contention that NATO has the right to act under existing council resolutions was backed by Britain, France, the Netherlands, Canada, Slovenia, Albania, Bosnia and Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union.
With a lack of consensus among the five permanent members with veto power, the council ended the session without adopting any statement.
Yeltsin, who spoke with U.S. President Bill Clinton and France's President Jacques Chirac by telephone Wednesday, was clearly indignant that NATO had ignored his plea to call off its warplanes and resume the search for a diplomatic solution.
"In the event that the military conflict worsens, Russia retains the right to take adequate measures, including military ones, to defend itself and the overall security of Europe," he said in a statement.
Yeltsin's press secretary Dmitry Yakushkin told Reuters Television the president, back in the Kremlin after recovering from a stomach ulcer, would begin a series of talks on the Kosovo crisis "from the early morning."
Asked what "military measures" Russia might take, Yakushkin said, "Everything will depend on the situation. The military are in a process of permanent consultations."
Yeltsin recalled Russia's top military representative at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Gen. Viktor Zavarzin.
He also halted cooperation with the alliance under the Partnership for Peace program, designed to forge closer ties between former Cold War foes, and he suspended talks on opening a NATO military mission in Moscow.
The Kosovo crisis has provoked a rare display of unity among Russia's usually fractious political elite, with ministers and lawmakers across the spectrum opposing the use of force against Belgrade over its refusal to grant autonomy to Kosovo.
Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a former intelligence chief and foreign minister, postponed a trip to Washington in protest and said airstrikes would damage Moscow's ties with the West.
Belgrade's ambassador in Moscow, Borislav Milosevic -- brother of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic -- told Reuters the air raids would open the way for renewed military cooperation with Russia.
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who was expected to speak by telephone early Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, said Moscow would urge the United Nations to lift the international arms embargo against Belgrade.
The governing council of Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament, was due to meet later Thursday to fix a date for an emergency session. The Duma is dominated by Communists and nationalists fiercely critical of NATO and especially of the United States.
Ultranationalist deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky and about 100 supporters held an impromptu late-night demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and pelted the building with eggs.
But for average Russians waiting at a bus stop, ties with their fellow Slavs in the Balkans have their limits.
"It's their business," said Margarita Smirnova. "It's not worth sticking our necks out for it."
Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty and Reuters contributed to this report.
U.S. defense secretary: No indication of NATO casualties
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - Facts
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