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The East: Reaction To NATO Air Strikes Ranges From Opposition To Support

Prague, 29 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The following is a roundup of early reaction to the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia from officials in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.


Moscow -- Russia on March 26 ordered NATO's representative in Moscow to leave the country because of the alliance's air raids in Yugoslavia. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia no longer has any contact with NATO leadership, including the alliance's Secretary-General Javier Solana. President Boris Yeltsin, senior ministers and intelligence chiefs met earlier March 26 to discuss Russia's response to the latest developments on Kosovo. Ivanov said Russian leaders agreed to offer humanitarian aid to Yugoslavia. Community Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said that all party factions in the Duma are "unanimous" in their support of the government's position on Kosovo. IMF chief Michel Camdessus arrived in Moscow for talks at the weekend. The IMF says any decision on granting loans to Russia will be based on the soundness of Moscow's economic reform programs.

Kazan -- The President of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev, said he does not support NATO's military strikes against Yugoslavia but he said Russia has gone too far in its support for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Our correspondent in Kazan quotes Shaimiev as saying it is impermissible for Russia to get involved in the conflict between NATO and Belgrade. He said Moscow does not have enough means to affect the decision that has already been taken. He said the idea that NATO peacekeeping troops should police any peace accord between ethnic Albanians and Serbia "has to be accepted."


Moscow -- The defense ministers of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan adopted a joint statement March 25 condemning the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia as "inhuman" and "a threat to peace and security." Itar-Tass quotes the statement as saying the decision to resort to force "contradicts the norms of international law" and calls into question the existence of the UN. The Georgian observer at the meeting, Colonel Guram Nikolaishvili, did not sign the statement, as he was not empowered to do so, according to Caucasus Press.

It is unclear whether the representatives from Kazakhstan and Ukraine added their signatures to the statement. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Moldova did not send representatives to the meeting.


Tirana -- Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko says his government welcomes the NATO action, "taken after all political means for solving the crisis in Kosovo and ending Serbian repression were exhausted." Majko has repeated his long-standing offer to put all port and airport facilities at NATO's disposal for operations in Kosova. Majko added that "the Albanian government at this moment feels itself very close to the fighters of the Kosova Liberation Army [UCK], who are defending the nation against the Serbian war machine."


Yerevan -- Armenian Foreign Ministry acting spokesman Ara Papyan expressed concern (in a statement March 25) at NATO's recourse to force, adding that Yerevan hopes the conflict parties will still find a peaceful resolution to the Kosovo problem. He said "Armenia has always stood up for the right of peoples to self-determination." Leading political groups in Armenia showed a rare unanimity yesterday when they spoke out against the NATO action.

A senior member of the usually pro-Western Armenian Pan-National Movement, Hovannes Igitian, said the Alliance's decision to bomb Yugoslav targets was an "illogical step." Igitian also argued that Western powers had no right use force without an authorization from the UN Security Council.


Minsk -- Belarus' President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in a statement March 25 that NATO's actions were an undisguised act of aggression which violates basic principles of the world order. Commenting on Russia's reported intent to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus in response to NATO's action, Lukashenka said March 25 that Belarus has not asked for the return of nuclear weapons. Quoted by Interfax-West, Lukashenka said Russia and Belarus may well discuss the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus but any decision will be made by him and not by Russian leaders.


Sofia -- The parliament on March 25 passed a resolution calling on Yugoslavia to "sign the peace agreement in order to avert new human casualties and destruction." At the same time, it called on NATO to accept Bulgaria as a member. The government information service said on March 26 that no NATO aircraft have attacked Yugoslavia from Bulgarian territory. Bulgarian officials also on March 26 denied reports that NATO planes had crossed Bulgarian air space. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov has said the NATO action will pose an "economic threat," both because Bulgaria's transport links with Europe pass through Yugoslavia and because further destabilization in the Balkans will hamper foreign investments.


Zagreb -- Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa has told the government that Croatia supports the NATO air strikes but wants guarantees for its security from NATO and the U.S. He said Croatia supports Western policies in the region and should receive the same assurances that the Atlantic alliance recently gave to members of the Partnership for Peace program, even though Croatia is not yet a member of that program.


Prague -- There has been mixed reaction from Czech leaders. President Vaclav Havel has voiced his support for the bombings, saying they are an "extreme solution" but it was necessary to prevent the losses of human lives and suffering. He said it is up to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end the crisis. The foreign ministry said March 26 that NATO planes used in the Kosovo operation are flying over the Czech Republic's territory but that these were only non-combat re-fueling planes. The government said March 25 that as a member of NATO it accepted the decision to bomb, but that the decision had been taken before it had become a member. It expressed the hope that there would be the least possible loss of life and renewed peace talks. Parliament Chairman and Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leader Vaclav Klaus said he believed that all alternatives leading to a peaceful solution to the conflict had not been exhausted prior to the attack on Serbian targets.


Tallinn -- Following the swearing in of the new Estonian cabinet, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement March 25 saying that it regrets that negotiations failed to find a peaceful solution to the situation in Kosova but arguing that NATO action was "unavoidable." Estonian President Lennart Meri had told journalists the previous day after his return from France that NATO, its partner states, and Russia did "everything to avoid that war." He added that he "regrets deeply that the world was left with no choice" but to use force to bring peace to Kosova.


Tbilisi -- Georgian President Shevardnadze deplored the fact that the international community did not succeed to achieve its aims in Kosovo with peaceful means. He said the military actions carried out by NATO should not have negative consequences on international relations. Parliament Chairman Zurab Zhvania also deplored the use of force and expressed the hope that NATO actions will not harm international relations. Georgian Socialist Party leader Vakhtang Rcheulishvili condemned the bombing of peaceful people, defining NATO's actions as "enforcement of peace" aiming to maintain stability in Europe.


Budapest -- The Hungarian parliament voted by a wide margin to allow NATO to use military airfields for strikes against Yugoslavia. The decision was supported by nearly all parliamentary groups and it amends an October 1998 decision that allows only the use of Hungary's air space for this purpose.


Astana -- The Kazakh Foreign Ministry issued a statement that neither condemned nor endorsed the strikes but called for the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosova. RFE/RL's Astana bureau quoted the ministry as saying the U.N. Security Council should be involved in the effort and humanitarian aid should be launched in the area.


Riga -- The Latvian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on March 24 saying that it "understands NATO's decision to begin military strikes against Yugoslavia as there are no other ways" to solve the Kosova crisis. But, the statement added, Latvia still hopes that the parties to the conflict will return to the negotiating table.


Vilnius -- The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said Vilnius regards NATO's decision to initiate air strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a "means of preventing the spread of military conflict, which would effectively cause a humanitarian catastrophe in the Balkans."


Skopje -- Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has appealed for calm after protests in Skopje against NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia turned violent. Georgievski, in an interview published March 26 in Nova Makedonija and Vecer, two government newspapers, said "little by little" opposition to NATO action was growing. But said: "There is no place for panic." He said the government believes that Macedonia has maximum security guarantees from NATO. He denied his country was being used to mount aggression against Yugoslavia. He warned the biggest problem was the influx of refugees from Kosovo -- ethnic Albanians fleeing repression by Serbian security forces.


Chisinau -- The Moldovan Foreign Ministry said March 25 it is "worried" about the failure of the negotiating process in Yugoslavia. The ministry said it "takes note" that the NATO decision to use force has been "to a large extent imposed by the irreconcilable position" of one of the sides involved in the Kosova conflict. RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau quotes the ministry as saying any use of force "carries with it inherent risks" and that Moldova will continue to support and participate in "efforts of the international community to restore peace and the respect of human rights in Kosova," The communist parliamentary group expressed "indignation" over the strikes.


Bucharest -- The Romanian Foreign Ministry issued a statement March 25 saying it regrets the failure of diplomatic efforts to convince Belgrade authorities to accept a political settlement in Kosovo. It said military solutions, even when necessary, still represent "sad episodes."

The foreign ministry expressed concern over the conflict spreading and affecting other countries in the region. It urged Yugoslavia to sign the Rambouillet accords, which preserve the territorial integrity of the country. Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu said March 26 that Romania is prepared to take in refugees from neighboring Yugoslavia if necessary. Plesu said there have been no significant movements to Romania yet.


Bratislava -- The Slovak government has granted a NATO request to allow the alliance's planes to use Slovak air space and to land for refueling. Premier Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists on March 24 that NATO's decision to strike is "the smallest of two evils" in a situation where "the civilized world could not watch for ever the massacres of innocent people in Kosova." During a stormy debate in the parliament, the opposition Movement For a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) called the NATO decision "modern barbarism," and in a declaration issued on March 25, the HZDS expressed "solidarity" with the Yugoslav population. It also argued that the government's decision on approving NATO flights over Slovakia was "unconstitutional," having been taken without the consent of the parliament."


Ljubljana -- President Milan Kucan said in Ljubljana on March 24 that the Atlantic alliance is welcome to use Slovenian air space to launch air strikes against Serbia. Kucan said that the attacks "had to happen," and he recalled "memories of Vukovar, Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, Srebrenica" and other places in Croatia and Bosnia that Serbian forces attacked during the 1991-1995 wars. Slovenia belongs to NATO's Partnership for Peace program.


Dushanbe -- The Tajik Foreign Ministry unequivocally condemned the strikes as destabilizing the global situation and called for immediate peace talks.


Kyiv -- The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has called for all sides to return as early as possible to a peaceful settlement. It said such a settlement should guarantee the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and extend wide autonomy to Kosovo. The ministry's statement March 25 voiced deep concern over the NATO strikes. The statement said the use of military force against a sovereign state without the sanction of the U.N. Security Council is unacceptable. The Ukrainian parliament on March 24 urged the government to prepare legislation on renouncing Ukraine's non-nuclear status. Ukrainian presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko responded by saying this move "was induced by emotions and not by considerations."

No official comment from Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, or Uzbekistan is currently available.