Russia to send spy ship, 6 warships to monitor NATO attack on Serb ally

But navy spokesman says fleet has neither funds nor capability for cruise

April 01, 1999|By Will Englund | Will Englund,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- A Russian navy reconnaissance ship has been dispatched to the Mediterranean to keep watch on the NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia, and a squadron of six more warships will follow, Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said yesterday.

The announcement came shortly after Sergeyev returned from a diplomatic trip to Yugoslavia and Germany with Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov that failed to bring about an end to the bombing and left Russian leaders even more determined to find the means to back up their verbal support for the Serbs.

It also came on the day that the spokesman for the Black Sea Fleet, Alexander Smirnov, was quoted in the newspaper Vremya as saying that ships would not be heading into the Mediterranean because the fleet "has neither the money nor the capacity to go there."

That, in a nutshell, is the dilemma faced by a much-diminished Russia in what has become the most serious challenge to its foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.

Regaining `self-respect'

As Alexander Lebed, the retired general and governor of Krasnoyarsk, said yesterday, Russia should provide technical assistance to Belgrade for one principal reason: "so we can regain our self-respect."

Either Sergeyev's announcement means Moscow, in a matter of hours, scrounged up the money and capacity to send its ships to sea or the Kremlin is still struggling to find a way to do it.

Russia, in any case, says it has notified Turkey, which controls access to the Mediterranean from the Black Sea, that the ships will be coming through in April. The Itar-Tass news agency reported last night that the full squadron will consist of anti-submarine and missile-carrying frigates as well as support ships.

"We are planning a sailing by a Black Sea Fleet reconnaissance ship into the conflict area," Sergeyev said at a news conference. " Since the situation is developing at a very rapid pace, since it is planned to build up military efforts -- we must ensure the security of Russia and for this reason we must have more concrete information about the situation in that area. We must analyze such information and draw the necessary conclusions."

Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov, who appeared with Sergeyev, reiterated that Russia will not allow itself to be drawn into the fighting. "Our choice is peace and a search for a political settlement," he said. Ivanov chose not to see Tuesday's mission to Belgrade and Bonn as a failure, but as a step toward persuading the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to halt the bombing.

Primakov, upon arriving in Moscow yesterday morning, said he believed that Milosevic had given a signal that he was willing to negotiate, but one that the NATO countries had chosen to ignore.

`This stupid decision'

"Russia will continue to exert its efforts to stop this stupid, this mistaken, tragically mistaken operation and the tragically mistaken decision to continue military actions against Yugoslavia," he said.

After at first ignoring the flood tide of Albanian Kosovar refugees who have been driven from their homes, Russian officials acknowledged the problem yesterday while contending that the refugees were fleeing NATO bombs and not Serbian police.

But the unanimity that embraced Moscow's politicians when the bombing started had begun to erode by yesterday. All still denounced NATO, but differences in tone and approach were growing.

On the one hand was Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Communists in parliament who spent most of the day pushing to keep President Boris N. Yeltsin's impeachment hearings on track.

"After Yugoslavia," he said, "one of our former [Soviet] Union republics will be next. I don't know whether Minsk or Kiev or Moscow will be the first to be bombed. So, the war will spread. But you are wrong in thinking that Russia is totally impotent. All the modern weapons for keeping the peace are there.

"At the same time the whole world understands the essence of the new American reich. This confronts the leadership in Moscow, Beijing, India, Iran and many other countries with very obvious questions. They must merge their forces in order to stop the aggressor."

`We have Chechnya'

On the other was Oleg Sysuyev, a Yeltsin aide.

"We should understand that the Kosovo crisis has no simple solution," he said. "We have Chechnya in this country and we know how complex such problems can be. Undoubtedly, nobody could expect Milosevic, by a magic wand, to agree to NATO terms and NATO to agree to Milosevic's terms.

"This conflict is running deep and it is a bloody conflict. The conflict can only be resolved with Russia's participation -- I am sure that with Russian participation this conflict will be resolved, step by step."

At the U.S. Embassy yesterday, where bottle-throwing crowds gathered all last week and a gunman tried to launch a grenade Sunday, all was quiet as heavily armed security forces blanketed the surrounding area.

Conflict moved instead to the State Duma, or lower house of parliament. In an angry debate over a futile peace attempt, one deputy called another a "political prostitute," and with that fists were flying. "The cameras are on you," the speaker pleaded. "We don't need this kind of advertising."

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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