Russian lawmakers call for military aid for Belgrade
Moscow to send warship to Mediterranean
March 31, 1999
MOSCOW (CNN) -- Legislators scuffled in Russia's parliament Wednesday, united in their opposition to NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia, but sharply divided over how to respond.
Following the failure of a mission by Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to end the NATO attacks, many Russian politicians are demanding Russia break an international arms embargo on Belgrade.
"We should announce to the entire world that we will provide military and technical aid to Yugoslavia in order to minimize civilian casualties there," said Alexander Lebed, the governor of the vast Siberian province of Krasnoyarsk.
"This would allow us to unite our nation and regain our self-respect," he said.
Acting on Lebed's advice, the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, approved a non-binding resolution calling on the government to send military aid to Yugoslavia.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin and other senior Russian officials have said Russia will not get involved militarily as a result of the NATO campaign.
But Russia's defense ministry announced Wednesday it was sending at least one warship to the Mediterranean to monitor the conflict.
Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said a reconnaissance ship would leave its Black Sea port Friday and another six were also ready to go "to ensure Russia's security when the defense ministry considers it necessary."
"The defense ministry is also considering more decisive actions that will be recommended to the leadership if the situation changes," Sergeyev said, refusing to elaborate.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said the move was not "a particularly helpful gesture."
"We are obviously concerned by the signal such a large deployment might send to Belgrade and other countries in the region," he said.
Russian officials have blamed NATO for escalating a crisis in Kosovo, prompting tens of thousands of refugees to flee the troubled Serbian province.
Primakov, irked by NATO's immediate rejection of the truce offer he negotiated with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on Tuesday, said NATO's policy would not result in peace.
"There is a consolidated NATO line to continue military actions against Yugoslavia. But those actions will lead nowhere. They will not bring any stability to either Kosovo or the Balkans as a whole," he said.
Milosevic had offered to return to peace negotiations and withdraw some of his forces from Kosovo if NATO stopped its air campaign. NATO leaders rebuffed the proposal, saying it fell short of their demands for Milosevic to halt his offensive in Kosovo and accept the framework of a U.S.-drafted peace plan that would grant ethnic Albanians autonomy.
Correspondent Steve Harrigan and Reuters contributed to this report.
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