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Yugoslavia: Russian Official, Unofficial Delegations Aim To Stop Bombing

Moscow, 29 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Russia is stepping up diplomatic efforts aimed at stopping NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia and re-starting diplomatic negotiations on Kosovo.

An unofficial Russian delegation, composed of three pro-reform politicians -- former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, and former deputy Prime ministers Boris Nemtsov and Boris Fyodorov -- arrived in Belgrade yesterday. And officials in Moscow said today Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov will travel to Yugoslavia as early as tomorrow.

Primakov's press secretary Tatyana Aristarkhova said that plans for Primakov's visit are being worked on. Government spokesman Igor Shchegolev said Primakov is trying to find ways to halt the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev are expected to travel with Primakov.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Yakuskin said President Boris Yeltsin not only approved of Primakov's trip, but ordered it.

The Russian president, who is scheduled to make a much-delayed state of the nation address tomorrow, seems caught in the middle between a tough line against NATO -- which opposition politicians, in concert with public opinion, want -- and maintaining working relations with the West.

Meanwhile, State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev told Interfax news agency that on Thursday a delegation of the lower house of parliament, led by deputy speaker Sergei Baburin, will also travel to Belgrade. Baburin is one of the leaders of the pro-communist faction "People's Power." According to Seleznev, the Duma delegation will be composed of representatives of all Duma factions. Seleznev said deputies are going to show "moral support" for the Yugoslav people.

In separate comments, Seleznev had earlier said legislators wanted to meet tomorrow with Primakov, Sergeyev, Ivanov and other top government officials to discuss "preliminary measures" to boost the military capability of Russia's cash-starved military forces.

Officials have said Russia has no intention of becoming militarily involved in the Kosovo crisis. But defense analysts say the military may attempt to use tensions with NATO to win extra funding.

In a stream of bitter anti-NATO and anti-American rhetoric, Russia has denounced air strikes against Yugoslavia as a serious threat to stability in Europe and post-World War Two international order.

In terms of action, Russia has suspended relations with NATO and expelled NATO representatives in Moscow, but has otherwise been relatively restrained.

Despite passing an almost unanimous resolution condemning NATO and declaring solidarity with "brotherly Yugoslavia," the Russian parliament shopped short of approving the supply of weapons and troops, including volunteers, to Yugoslavia.

Most observers in Moscow say that on-going financial negotiations with the International Monetary Fund are softening Russia's position.

Primakov said last week that Russia was ready to offer its services to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the Kosovo crisis, but he and most Russian officials have underlined that raids against Yugoslavia should stop before talks resume.

NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia are not only affecting Russia's foreign policy. They are also having a powerful effect on Russia's internal fight for political power.

At Saturday's emergency Duma sessions, communists and nationalists used patriotic rhetoric in attacking the foreign policy that President Yeltsin has pursued for the last nine years.

Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov said he was convinced impeachment proceedings the Duma is scheduled to discuss April 15 will bring the 300 votes necessary to send the discussion to the Federation Council, under a complicated procedure. Zyuganov says:

"As long as in the Kremlin there is an invalid unable to formulate ideas ...nobody will care about [Russia's] positions. Therefore, the faster we dismiss him with legal methods, the faster we will start to ensure our own security."

Ultra nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, for his part, called on Yeltsin to take advantage of the situation to strengthen his power.

"We have the historical chance to get out from [the international regime of] sanctions on the supply of weapons and other goods to all countries under blockade --Iraq, Lybia and Yugoslavia-- and partial blockade --Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Cuba. [Zyuganov] says we have a weak president, but he can be strong, if helped, and nine years of ruins, nine years of superfluous reforms can be recovered with a victory in the Balkans."

Vladimir Ryzhkov, leader of the centrist "Our Home Is Russia" faction, blasted communist colleagues for seeking to use the Kosovo crisis in their battle with Yeltsin.

And "Yabloko" leader Grigory Yavlinsky added that, instead of calling for military action, the Duma should concentrate on how to avoid a larger conflict.

"It is inadmissible [thinking] that our people could die, to defend the mistakes and the criminal actions of Yugoslavian, Albanian, U.S. politicians. I am saying this because those supporting the supply of weapons to Yugoslavia, the calls for volunteers, are actually calling for an open war with NATO."

Duma deputy speaker Baburin said today that the impeachment procedure against Yeltsin will certainly go on. He added that a no-confidence vote in the government also cannot be ruled out, if the cabinet fails to support strong anti-NATO measures.

Some Western countries have urged Moscow to use its traditional ties in the region to end Belgrade's conflict with NATO, but another point that remains unclear is how much sway Russia may actually have with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

A former foreign minister who has dealt with tensions in Yugoslavia and Iraq, Primakov relishes the role of diplomatic peacemaker. However, internal political threats from the communist side, up to now Primakov's most important source of support in the Duma, puts enormous pressure on the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, it is unclear where the independent peace mission led by Gaidar will lead. The delegation held talks with Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic and with some Western diplomats in Belgrade. But it is still not clear whether a meeting with Milosevic will take place.

Zyuganov, as well as Yugoslav state controlled media, harshly criticized Gaidar, Fyodorov and Nemtsov and said they were controlled by the United States. Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov today said the three politicians "did not get and do not have" the Kremlin's approval for their mission.

However, some in Moscow hint that Gaidar's mission helped the Kremlin to decide on instructing Primakov and the other officials to travel to Belgrade.