Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic met yesterday in Moscow with top Russian officials. Russian media and political analysts today described Djukanovic's visit as a turning point in Russia's foreign policy. Our correspondent reports from Moscow.
Moscow, 3 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Despite the lack of public comment from top Russian officials following talks with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in Moscow yesterday, most Russian media in their commentaries today describe the visit as a "turning point" in the country's foreign policy.
Djukanovic's official visit was the first time that a leader who has challenged Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was warmly received at the top levels in Moscow.
Ahead of the Moscow trip, Djukanovic repeated earlier warnings that Montenegro could declare its independence unless Serbia -- its larger partner in the Yugoslav Federation -- introduces substantial reforms leading to democracy and a market economy.
The Russian daily "Kommersant" writes today that Djukanovic's visit "shows that Russia intends to forge links with democratic forces opposing Slobodan Milosevic." It added that "even more importantly, [the visit indicates that] Moscow intends to sever ties with the questionable friends it inherited from its [Soviet] past."
Djukanovic's talks with Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov focused on boosting political and economic ties between Russia and Montenegro.
Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement that both sides have agreed "on the need to solve problems in Yugoslavia through dialogue and the existing constitutional order."
Luzhkov -- a leading presidential candidate in Russia -- was the only Russian politician to make a public comment on Djukanovic's visit. He spoke in support of Montenegro:
"We must not allow Milosevic's arbitrariness toward Montenegro. This is the most important thing. It could lead to a new worsening of the situation."
However, Luzhkov added that he still considers NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia "an act of aggression."
Stepashin -- in footage broadcast by Russian television networks -- only repeated his view that humanitarian aid should be provided to all of Yugoslavia, not just the province of Kosovo and Montenegro. Western countries, including the United States, say Serbia should be excluded from receiving such aid as long as Milosevic remains in power. Stepashin:
"I think that the position of Russia and of its president has played an important role in order to put an end to military operations. This is something that everybody acknowledges and it was confirmed also in Sarajevo. Those who, as a result of the military operations, are now in a difficult situation, independently of the place where they live, need the support of international organizations and also of Russia."
But during the Balkan Reconstruction Summit, Stepashin did acknowledge that "the sufferings of the Yugoslav population were caused not only by the [NATO] bombings but chiefly by Milosevic's regime."
Djukanovic -- in an interview with "Kommersant" published today -- said "it is very important that Moscow recognized Milosevic's responsibility for Yugoslavia's tragedy. This shattered the illusions of many Yugoslavs whom Belgrade had convinced that Russia supported Milosevic and would defend him."
During the 11 weeks of the NATO bombing campaign, Russia clearly supported Milosevic. Most analysts in Moscow say the new pragmatism in Moscow shows an understanding of changed circumstances.
Andrei Piontkovsky is director of the Moscow Center for Strategic Studies. He told RFE/RL that "this is not the first time Russia changed position on an issue. Simply, Russian officials have finally understood that support for Milosevic leads nowhere and it is time for a change."
Sergei Rogov is director of the U.S. and Canada Studies Institute. In an interview with the English-language daily The Moscow Times, Rogov said Russia now is "interested in participating in the Balkan settlement and not in being associated with anti-Western regimes."
Russian news agencies reported that, during Djukanovic's talks in Moscow, particular emphasis was given to the issue of reconstructing war-torn Yugoslavia. Russia has promised some $150 million from its budget to finance fuel and food supplies this year and to promote Russian companies' efforts to win contracts to rebuild Yugoslavia. Much of the country's energy infrastructure was built with Soviet and Russian assistance.
Economy minister Andrei Shapovaliants said recently that his ministry would be in charge of controlling the funds and that a special commission focusing on Russia's participation in the reconstruction of Yugoslavia will only have "consultative character."
"Kommersant" today said that the work of the special commission -- chaired by Stepashin -- would likely be aimed at facilitating the participation of Russian companies in the rebuilding works.
The daily quotes a controversial businessman appointed to be Stepashin's deputy on the commission, Vladimir Potanin. Potanin says that, in order to be able to join the group of Western donor countries, Russia "will have to convince the West that [by] rebuilding Yugoslavia, it does not aim at strengthening Milosevic."