Washington Post - Russian minister visits YU

By Dusan Stojanovic

Thursday, Dec. 23, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia –– The Yugoslav president and Russia's defense minister exchanged medals of friendship and heroism Thursday, and accused the West of failing in its peace mission in Kosovo.

A statement from President Slobodan Milosevic's office after his meeting with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev accused NATO members of continuing a policy of "violating Yugoslavia's legitimate rights, peace and stability in the region."

It charged that the West had violated the U.N. agreement regarding Yugoslavia's southern province and that international officials were "aiding ethnic cleansing" of non-Albanians from Kosovo.

"Yugoslavia and Russia consider the present situation in Kosovo unsustainable," the statement said. It called on the United Nations to step in and allow the return of Yugoslav army and police forces to the province.

NATO-led peacekeepers arrived in Kosovo in June following a 78-day bombing campaign to halt Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Western governments and international human rights groups have assailed Moscow in recent weeks for its own bombing campaign in the Russian breakaway province of Chechnya. In light of Kosovo, the Kremlin has called that criticism hypocritical.

Russia has said it would not bow to Western demands to moderate its campaign against Chechen rebels, whom it calls terrorists, and Sergeyev did not hesitate to throw his support behind Milosevic Thursday.

The Russian defense minister also bestowed awards on Yugoslav army chiefs for their "heroic defense of the country," the state-run Tanjug news agency reported.

Among those decorated was Yugoslav army chief of staff, Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, who along with Milosevic has been indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

"The NATO aggressor did not dare undertake a land operation, fully aware of the strength and determination of your army," Sergeyev was quoted by Tanjug as saying while handing out the medals.

Earlier Thursday, at a ceremony at Milosevic's residence in Belgrade, the Yugoslav president decorated Sergeyev with medals for promoting cooperation between the two countries and their armies.

Sergeyev arrived in Yugoslavia on a two-day visit for what Russian media said would be tough talks with U.N. and NATO officials in Kosovo on the way they were doing their jobs.

He met Thursday with Milosevic and his army commanders, who are looking for help in repairing damage caused to the military by NATO airstrikes.

Milosevic has criticized the international Kosovo mission for its failure to protect minority Serbs in the province from retaliatory ethnic Albanian attacks, and Sergeyev said Thursday, "events over the past few months prove that what is happening in Kosovo is not peace."

Sergeyev's trip to Kosovo was scheduled for Friday. While in the province, he said he will meet German Defense Minister Rudolf Sharping to discuss military relations between the two countries.

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