Russia's Ivanov: Policy close with YU

MOSCOW, May 17, 2000 -- (Reuters) Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was quoted as telling his Yugoslav opposite number on Tuesday that Moscow held common positions on key issues with Belgrade and would pursue efforts to keep peace in the Balkans.

Western powers regard Yugoslavia as a pariah state and its leader, President Slobodan Milosevic, as a war criminal who masterminded the ethnic cleansing of former Yugoslavia.

But Russia views the country as a fellow Slav and Orthodox Christian nation, and has tended to stand by Yugoslavia. Moscow was fiercely opposed to NATO bombing of Yugoslav targets during the Kosovo crisis last year.

"It is very important for us to discuss the situation in the Balkans, including Kosovo," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Ivanov as telling Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic.

"This will enable us to continue helping to achieve a settlement of the problem and to stabilize the situation in the entire Balkan region."

He said Moscow and Belgrade had "very close positions as regards the United Nations and other international organizations".

In a sign of solidarity with Yugoslavia, Russia's parliamentarians invited the Balkan state to join a Russian-Belarussian union although few practical steps have been taken to realize the project.

Jovanovic's trip came soon after a secretive May 7-12 visit to Moscow by Yugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic, indicted by a UN court for alleged war crimes in Kosovo.

The UN's chief warcrimes prosecutor on Monday expressed alarm that Ojdanic had been to Moscow and said enquiry's would be made to find out why Russian authorities took no steps to arrest a person under indictment.

Tass news agency quoted Jovanovic as telling Ivanov that Russia was a "strategically important partner". His visit sought to broaden economic ties and "study the possibility of even greater cooperation on international issues".

Interfax news agency quoted diplomatic sources as saying on Monday that they "did not exclude" the possibility that the foreign ministers would discuss a possible trip to Belgrade by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

NATO bombed Yugoslavia last year to force Serb forces out of Kosovo for repressing the province's ethnic Albanian majority.

Although Moscow opposed the air raids, it helped broker a diplomatic settlement of the crisis and joined peacekeeping forces in Kosovo.

Moscow has said it would consider pulling out of the force if UN resolutions were not fully implemented, including guarantees that Kosovo were to remain part of Yugoslavia.

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