Prague, 29 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic's outspoken criticism of the Yugoslav leadership over the past few days has caused some Western leaders to speak of rifts in the Belgrade regime and of a new willingness on the part of Yugoslav leaders to find a negotiated settlement to the Kosovo crisis.
In a series of interviews in the last week with various Western and domestic media outlets, Draskovic has called on the Yugoslav leadership to "stop lying to the people of Serbia." He said "the people should be told that NATO is not facing a breakdown, that Russia will not help Yugoslavia militarily, and that world public opinion is against [Serbia]."
Draskovic also denounced Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party and the Party of the Yugoslav Left -- headed by Milosevic's wife -- for placing party interests ahead of national interests.
On Wednesday Draskovic went even further, saying Belgrade could allow armed international peacekeepers into Kosovo, as well as an outside investigation of alleged Serb atrocities in the province. Draskovic said a peacekeeping force sanctioned by the United Nations -- including elements from NATO countries -- could bring the conflict in Kosovo to a quick end.
In an interview this week, Branka Mihajlovic of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service asked Draskovic why Belgrade is now willing to make concessions on the deployment of foreign troops in Yugoslavia:
Q: "You said that you support deployment of foreign troops in Kosovo. What's the difference between that and Belgrade's earlier policies?"
A: "I'm surprised. I had the same attitudes even before the Rambouillet talks. In the U.N. flag, we can see part of our own national flag and part of our sovereignty. The U.N. Charter is the world's constitution, the U.N. Security Council is the world's government, and for us the most important thing is to get the text of a good political agreement. That is what I said before the Rambouillet talks, and that is what I am saying now."
While Draskovic maintains that Milosevic is supportive of his ideas, he admits he has not specifically discussed them with the Yugoslav president. Draskovic was asked by RFE/RL how his views differ from those of Milosevic:
Q: "What are the differences between your attitudes and official ones?"
A: "Maybe there's no big differences. I think that it is absolutely important not to insist on a bastard Rambouillet text, not to mention an independent Kosovo, not to mention Kosovo as a third Yugoslav republic, and not to insist upon NATO but upon U.N. troops. And all of that according to the U.N. Charter, which can guarantee our sovereignty, territorial integrity, our borders and keeping Kosovo inside Yugoslavia and Serbia."
In his interview with RFE/RL, Draskovic also addressed NATO's requirement that any peacekeeping troops in Kosovo must be armed and Belgrade's earlier refusal to consider such a demand:
"Before the war, we insisted on unarmed (peace) forces. But an international presence before and during the war are not the same thing, and I think that is a fact that everybody should understand."
Western diplomats have generally welcomed Draskovic's admission that NATO is becoming stronger while Serbia is becoming ever more isolated. U.S., British and German officials have pointed to his comments as proof of discord within the Yugoslav leadership.
But they also caution that Draskovic is not likely to be speaking on behalf of the only real player in Yugoslavia that matters -- Slobodan Milosevic.
Nenad Pejic, director of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service, says it is a mistake to attach too much importance to Draskovic's statements:
"I wouldn't overestimate Draskovic. In the Western world, [the post of] deputy prime minister means an important person, but this does not necessarily mean that this is an important person in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at all. All the keys are in the hands of Mr. Milosevic."
Some commentators argue Milosevic may be using Draskovic to prepare the populace to face the idea that victory over NATO is impossible and to accept an eventual peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
This view is supported by Wednesday's announcement by another senior Yugoslav official, Goran Matic, on the possibility of a basic outline being forged in Moscow this week for a peace agreement on Kosovo.
Matic -- a government minister from the Yugoslav United Left party of Milosevic's wife -- insisted on only two conditions for a peace settlement: no independence for Kosovo and no armed troops in the province.
Other commentators are more skeptical and question whether Draskovic is speaking on behalf of Milosevic or in his own name and for his own interests. The South Slavic Service's Nenad Pejic says Draskovic is basically superfluous to Milosevic's needs:
"Milosevic has very well-known channels -- political and diplomatic channels -- if he wants to address an issue."
Analysts point out that only a few weeks ago, Draskovic was claiming Kosovar Albanians had committed genocide against Serbs in the province. In Moscow -- where negotiations over Kosovo are taking place this week -- Russia's special envoy for Yugoslavia, Viktor Chernomyrdin, also discounted Draskovic's remarks. Chernomyrdin -- who met Wednesday in Moscow with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott -- said he spoke with Draskovic on Monday but does not have the impression Draskovic's views reflect the whole Yugoslav leadership.
Draskovic has a history of openly clashing with Yugoslavia's ruling powers. He started his political career as an activist while studying law in Belgrade, protesting the Communist regime of Tito. In 1990, he co-founded the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement.
He rose to international prominence during demonstrations in 1993 against the Milosevic regime and was imprisoned. In 1996, Draskovic again took to the streets to lead tens of thousands of Serbs in protests against alleged election-rigging by Milosevic.
Analysts say much of Draskovic's credibility as the country's main opposition leader was neutralized after Milosevic appointed him deputy prime minister in January of this year. Draskovic later supported Milosevic by helping to remove the opposition mayor of Belgrade and by standing by Milosevic during earlier phases of the Kosovo crisis.