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Balkan Report: October 3, 2000

3 October 2000, Volume 4, Number 73

The Offer They Can't Refuse? The current crisis in Belgrade may provide Moscow with a golden opportunity to expand its influence in Serbia. The decision on whether it will do so lies with that country's leading politicians.

Since the 24 September Serbian and Yugoslav elections, Russian officials have carefully hedged their bets in choosing between the camp headed by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and that of opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2000). Moscow has not openly declared one side or the other the winner, but stresses merely that elections were a "victory for democracy." Over the weekend, President Vladimir Putin offered to send Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to mediate, and two senior Russian diplomats arrived in Belgrade.

Then came what may prove to be the proverbial "offer they can't refuse." As he was departing for a visit to India on Monday, Putin issued an invitation to Milosevic and Kostunica to come to Moscow and let him personally mediate. Given Kostunica's anti-NATO and pro-Russia rhetoric during the election campaign, he is likely to welcome the offer. Milosevic is similarly Russophile in his public statements, and will also be hard pressed to refuse lest he lose credibility with the public at large.

But either man could still choose a way out of what could prove to be an uncomfortable situation. Kostunica could simply declare that he won outright--and that there is nothing to discuss in Moscow or anywhere else. He would thereby preempt any pressure by Putin to force him into a second round of voting. Milosevic, for his part, could also declare that the matter is closed, since the Election Commission has already decided in favor of a second round--which must be held, he could argue, since Serbia is a state based on the rule of law.

Russia, in any event, appears to be playing its cards well. According to London's "The Observer" of 1 October, Moscow has placed its good offices at the disposal of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in his reported effort to persuade Milosevic to leave office in return for not being prosecuted for war crimes. Putin has also spoken to U.S. President Clinton on the telephone about current Balkan developments.

This underscores what Serbia and the rest of the Balkans always were to Russian diplomacy: a means to enhancing its international position. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow never abandoned its claim to great-power status in the Balkans.

One of the most persistent myths in media reporting on the region is that Russia is concerned about Serbia because of traditional Eastern Orthodox ties. But as the late historian Barbara Jelavich pointed out in her writings, Russian (and Soviet) policy in the Balkans was always motivated by cold-calculated national interests and not by sentimentality (the writings of some publicists and politicians aside). After all, Russia shifted its support back and forth between rival claims of Orthodox Serbia and Orthodox Bulgaria after 1878, depending on Russian policy makers' perceptions of their own country's interests. Russia could not please both, although Russophiles in both countries doggedly adhere to the myth that Russia is their own special friend.

The current developments in Serbia nonetheless provide Russia with an important opportunity in Serbia. First of all, Russia can shore up its own position of influence in Belgrade by helping ease Milosevic out. This is not just because Kostunica and many of those around him are Russophile. The main reason is that they are happy to have a strong Russian--and EU--presence in Serbia to offset what they see as the overwhelming power of the U.S. in the region and the world.

Similarly, by making good offices available in the current crisis, Putin can build up political capital in Berlin, Brussels, and Washington by helping solve the Milosevic problem. In particular, there are those in Western Europe--and not just in France--who would be more than pleased to see an enhanced Russian role in the region to counterbalance that of the U.S. The politicians in Belgrade will largely determine whether this comes to pass. (Patrick Moore)

Ex-Generals Weigh NATO Move In Montenegro. NATO's top military commander during last year's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, retired U.S. General Wesley Clark, says Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic should recalculate if he thinks he can get away with a crackdown in Montenegro.

Clark told RFE/RL on 21 September that although NATO can maintain stability in the Balkans even if Milosevic continues to rule, overall progress in the region cannot be achieved without his stepping down or removal: "It is time for Milosevic to go. But that is a decision for the people of Serbia. They have to see it. They have to make those calls. In the meantime, I think that the nations of the West have made it perfectly clear that they are going to ensure that there is no threat to the stability of the region outside Serbia."

Clark says that NATO is militarily prepared to respond in a variety of ways to any aggression by Milosevic. But he emphasizes that the decision on whether and how to respond would be made by the leaders of the alliance's 19 member states.

Clark says all legal aspects of a possible intervention would be up for examination by NATO as the first order of business if trouble arises in Montenegro. But he draws a firm distinction between the actual practicality of a military intervention by NATO and international legal and political questions. He says there should be no misunderstanding on the part of any Serbian authorities: NATO has the military capabilities to do what it is asked to do.

Looking at past NATO interventions in the former Yugoslavia, Clark suggested that there is no legal precedent for intervening in Montenegro. He told participants in a conference in Prague on Balkan reconstruction that NATO intervened in Bosnia not in a civil war but rather, in his words, "against international aggression aided and abetted by Serbia against the sovereign state of Bosnia."

Clark warns that the case of Montenegro is different. "Montenegro is part of Yugoslavia. It is not an independent country. What does it take to make it independent? A declaration of independence by President [Milo] Djukanovic? A referendum on independence? A referendum followed by a period of two weeks, two months, two years of de facto independence as well as de jure [that is, by law] independence?"

But retired U.S. four-star General Jack Merritt, who is active on the boards of several U.S. foreign policy institutions, responded by reminding Clark of the justification for NATO's intervention in Kosovo last year. "Actually, Kosovo constituted an intervention in a sovereign entity, right? All of the pronouncements at the time were that this was done for humanitarian reasons and in fact there were pronouncements at the time that humanitarian reasons trumped the [Peace] of Westphalia and classical sovereignty." (The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 ended the Thirty Years War and established the European system of sovereign nation states.)

Merritt pointed out that NATO's air strikes last year were aimed at--and eventually succeeded--in forcing the withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from the Serbian province of Kosovo. That, he said, created a precedent for interfering in the sovereignty of another state and so may be used by Western leaders as a precedent for intervening in Montenegro.

But Clark and Merritt both warn that the possibility of a crisis erupting in Montenegro comes at a time when moves are afoot in the U.S. Congress to terminate or further limit U.S. participation in peacekeeping activities in the Balkans.

Clark says posing the question of how long U.S. and other NATO forces will remain in Kosovo and Bosnia is driven, as he puts it, "by a disinclination to stay involved." In his words, "you can't put a timetable on it, and asking for the timetable is not a neutral question." But he says NATO will remain in the Balkans for as long as is necessary: "And the simple truth is we are not going to resolve this problem unless the international community stays involved. If we get out of our engagement in the region, then the region will adopt some form of government under the leadership of some leaders who are the strongest, the toughest and the most corrupt and can survive."

Clark says failure to resolve the region's problems will only result in further outflows of people in search of a better life abroad. (Jolyon Naegele)

KOUCHNER: Kosova Is Ready For Elections. The UN administrator for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, says the result of elections in Yugoslavia will lead to an improvement in the situation in Kosovo and the region. In remarks to the Security Council on 27 September in New York, he also said Kosovo's municipal elections, set for next month, are on track. Council members in general approved of the polling plans.

For the UN officials responsible for running its protectorate in Kosovo, the events in Serbia are momentous. Kouchner briefed Security Council members and the secretary-general on the province's municipal elections planned for 28 October.

But it was Yugoslavia's recent elections and the prospect of a change of government in Belgrade that loomed large over the discussions. Kouchner told reporters that for Kosovo's Albanians there is not much difference between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his opponent, Vojislav Kostunica. But he says Kostunica's advent to the presidency would greatly improve the UN mission's ability to stabilize Kosovo. "It will change for us and certainly for [the Serbs] a lot of things because it will be easier to talk to them, to open the door, to have open relations for reasons of common interests."

Kouchner's briefing focused on Kosovo's own election plans. They are marred by the non-participation of the minority Serbs, which Kouchner blamed on coercion by Serbian leaders. Serbs say intimidation and attacks by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority are the main reasons for their not participating.

But the registration of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians and pledges to include Serbs in elected assemblies have won praise from most Security Council members (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 September 2000). The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, complimented Kouchner for preparing the polls but devoted most of his comments to the Yugoslav elections.

Holbrooke said this is a historic moment for the Balkans. He pledged U.S. support for helping a new Yugoslav government integrate into the international community. "We believe that time is running out. The brave voters of Serbia have now made it clear with their message of determination that they wish to end Yugoslavia's international isolation, rebuild its broken economy and form a government that is neither feared by nor fears its people," Holbrooke argued.

Britain's ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, joined a number of other Council members in stressing the regional impact of a Milosevic defeat. "The effect could be quickly felt in all communities in Kosovo if President Milosevic draws the correct conclusions from the turn of the tide," he said.

The Russian and Chinese representatives on the Council did not mention the Yugoslav elections. Both repeated concerns that Kouchner's mission was creating too much autonomy for Kosovo and abusing its powers.

Russia's Ambassador Sergei Lavrov also criticized the UN mission for failing to stop the violence committed against the non-Albanian minorities in Kosovo. He called for involving representatives of the Yugoslav government more in the administration of the province.

Lavrov also said it is time for the return of some Yugoslav military personnel, especially to border areas, as provided under Resolution 1244 creating the Kosovo protectorate, he argued. He cited attacks among Kosovar Albanian political parties in August as further proof of the lack of stability in the province.

"In practice what reigns in Kosovo is violence. Even Albanian political parties are subject to a campaign of blackmail and violence from elements of the former KLA {Kosova Liberation Army)."

Kouchner rejected allegations that he had called for independence for Kosovo. And he urged the Council to provide clear guidelines on setting up a legal framework for the province, defining what form "substantial autonomy" in Kosovo will take after the elections are held later this month. (Robert McMahon)

Albania, Macedonia Plan Free Trade Agreement. Albania's Deputy Minister for Economic Cooperation and Trade Engjell Skreli has met with Macedonian officials to discuss the possibilities of establishing a free trade regime, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 29 September. Skreli told the daily that both sides intend to drastically reduce customs tariffs between the two countries and also to eliminate restrictive administrative regulations hampering bilateral trade.

Both sides will weigh the eventual creation of a customs union. Albania became a member of the World Trade Organization this year, while Macedonia is still negotiating its accession. Meanwhile, Macedonia has started negotiations about a EU Association and Stabilization Agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 2000). A possible accession of Macedonia at a later point may, however, force Macedonia to abolish its free-trade pact with Albania. (Fabian Schmidt)

Albania Boosts Electric Company. Albania's government has prepared a draft law to free the country's electricity company KESH from import taxes on essential technical equipment that is financed through international donations, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 29 September.

Officials from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) had demanded the lifting of the duties on the import of the donated materials. The EBRD made this a precondition for assistance of about $150 million pledged for various projects to upgrade and modernize the power grid. Lidra Zegali, who is the spokeswoman of the Ministry of Public Economy and Privatization, said that the parliament is expected to approve the bill soon.

Italy's electricity company EnEl has taken over the management of KESH and is helping its Albanian partners to collect outstanding bills, which is another precondition for support by international donors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2000). KESH has been unable to collect most debts from its customers in the past. Several state-run heavy industries owe millions of dollars to KESH.

KESH will use the donations from the EBRD and the Japanese, Swiss, and Austrian governments to repair the hydro-electric power station at Fierza, while Italian and German funds will be used to upgrade the power-grid and two hydro-electric power stations in the south. (Fabian Schmidt)

Italy Welcomes Albanian Speedboat Bill. Italian Interior Minister Enzo Bianco welcomed Albania's introduction of a bill that imposes harsh penalties for speedboat smugglers (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 August 2000). The "Albanian Daily News" quoted Bianco as saying on 27 September in Berlin that "the approval by the Albanian parliament of the law�shows that Albania's pledges to Italy are solid." He added that "the law is important because it allows Albanian and Italian policemen to act against traffickers [in goods and human beings] even when their boats have not actually set sail." (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "Slobodan, Slobodan, save Serbia and kill yourself!" -- Chant by demonstrators in Belgrade protests.

"Russia's position is that the people of Yugoslavia should have full freedom of expression of their will without any internal or external pressure. It is important not to allow the situation to destabilize, which would be to the advantage of only those forces that are not interested in preserving a united Yugoslavia, [and] in the restoration of its positions in the international arena. We are confident that, acting strictly within the framework of the law and being guided by higher national interests, all political forces of Yugoslavia will be able to properly get through this difficult stage in the country's history." -- Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Quoted by Interfax from Moscow on 27 September.

"Russia could play a very big role in the process [of mediating between Milosevic and the opposition] and also create a basis for its influence in that country for a long time to come." -- Vladimir Lukin, deputy speaker of the State Duma and a leader of the Yabloko party. Quoted by Interfax from Moscow on 27 September.

"The United States is deeply involved in the Balkans because it has a basic interest in forging a Europe that is peaceful, undivided, and democratic. We have invested heavily in this effort ever since World War II. The initial investment has paid off in a stable, prosperous, and democratic partner in Western Europe. Since the end of the Cold War, Europe and the United States have been partners in the joint enterprise of extending the stability and security they have long enjoyed to the rest of the continent."

"Central to this effort has been NATO's involvement in the Balkans--the one European region in which neither peace nor stability is yet guaranteed. As the alliance leader, the United States must do its part. It need not always provide the lion's share of the troops or money, and in this case we are doing neither. But as long as a peaceful and democratic Europe is threatened by the prospect of organized violence in the Balkans, getting the job done will require an American military presence." -- "The Washington Post," 28 September 2000.