Yeltsin says Milosevic seeking entry in Russian-Belarus union
MOSCOW (CNN) -- In a new diplomatic twist to Russia's opposition to airstrikes on Yugoslavia, President Boris Yeltsin claimed Friday that Belgrade wanted to join the Russian-Belarus union.
CNN's Steve Harrigan reported from Moscow that Yeltsin said his Yugoslav counterpart Slobodan Milosevic made the request in a meeting with the speaker of Russia's lower house of Parliament, Gennady Seleznyov, who returned Thursday from a trip to Belgrade.
Seleznyov briefed Yeltsin and the parliament about the trip on Friday.
Russia and neighboring Belarus have created a loose political union over the past three years. Yugoslavia has observer status in the union's parliamentary assembly. It shares no borders with either country.
Russia has condemned the NATO strikes against Yugoslavia, and Yeltsin has been trying to broker an end to them. He has also reiterated that he won't allow Russia to be drawn into the conflict.
Yeltsin predicted that NATO would not launch a ground offensive in the Yugoslav conflict.
"NATO won't dare start ground operations," Yeltsin said. "If that happens, the Serbs will fight until the end."
Yeltsin's latest statements came as Russian lawmakers stepped up their diplomatic offensive to resolve the Kosovo conflict, urging NATO to halt its 16-day-old air campaign against Yugoslavia.
'Russia wants to play a role'
"If in the coming days the situation does not change, we need to take additional extraordinary measures, including at the highest level," said Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
Ivanov met Thursday with Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The two failed to reach any agreement, but Vollebaek welcomed Russia's mediation attempts.
"Russia wants to play a role. I think they have the contacts, they have the possibilities, and we would like to try from our side to use these contacts," Vollebaek said.
Ivanov later held talks with the secretary-general of the French Foreign Ministry, Loic Hennekinne.
Yeltsin had earlier said he was preparing new proposals on ending the crisis and called for a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of 8, made up of the world's leading industrialized nations and Russia.
If that fails to achieve a resolution, Russia may call for a summit of world leaders on the Kosovo conflict.
Yeltsin took credit for prompting Milosevic to declare a unilateral cease-fire earlier this week.
NATO has rejected the cease-fire, saying Milosevic must withdraw his troops from Kosovo, accept a political framework for ethnic Albanian autonomy, agree to admit a NATO-led peacekeeping force into Kosovo and allow refugees to return home before its bombing campaign will cease.
Russia has sent humanitarian aid to Yugoslavia but has so far ruled out intervening militarily. However, some Russian army officers want to organize a volunteer force to defend the Serbs.
"When Comrade Stalin was still alive, neither Truman nor Roosevelt would ever think of bombing a Soviet Union ally," said retired Lt. Col. Stanislav Terekhov of Russia's Officers Union.
Can't afford military involvement
Between 400 and 500 former soldiers have volunteered to fight for Yugoslavia, and Russian commanders say more are ready to sign up. The Russian government has so far turned down their offer.
Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said Thursday that Russia simply cannot afford military involvement.
"I don't think Russia has the economic capability for participating in any huge military actions," he said.
Russia may have another lever, however: oil. Russia had been supplying about 88,000 tons of oil a month to Yugoslavia until the NATO raids started last month, when Moscow decided to suspend the supplies, said Sergei Slesaryev, a spokesman for the Russian Fuel and Energy Ministry.
Seleznyov said in Belgrade on Thursday that Russia would supply oil to Yugoslavia, although Slesaryev would not say whether there were plans to restart deliveries.
NATO airstrikes have targeted oil facilities to try to immobilize Yugoslav military forces by depriving them of fuel. A sustained oil embargo by Russia could be catastrophic for Yugoslavia.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon asked Ivanov to use Russia's "full influence" to work for the release of three U.S. soldiers captured by Yugoslavia near the Yugoslav-Macedonian border.
According to Sharon's spokesman, Ivanov said the Russian government's position is that the soldiers should be released and said he would consider the request "with all due seriousness."
Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty and Correspondent Steve Harrigan contributed to this report.
NATO vows strikes will continue, Serb TV shows fresh 'hits'
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.