Putin: Balkan solution must involve Belgrade

MOSCOW, Jun 27, 2000 -- (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that any resolution of problems in the Balkans had to involve the Yugoslav leadership.

Putin's statement, made after talks with Greek President Costis Stephanopoulos, reaffirmed Russia's support for Belgrade three days after its UN ambassador left a UN Security Council meeting because Yugoslavia had been excluded.

Putin said any settlement of the Balkan crisis could only proceed on the basis of UN Security Council resolution 1244 stressing that Kosovo remained an integral part of Yugoslavia.

"We must uphold Yugoslavia's territorial integrity," he told reporters.

"I believe it is vital for Yugoslav authorities to be included in the peace process. This does not mean that the international community has to agree with everything that is happening in the region," he said.

Kosovo had to be demilitarized and ethnic Albanian activists in the region disarmed, he added.

Russia has longstanding ties with Slav, Orthodox Yugoslavia. It fiercely opposed NATO's 11-week bombing campaign against Belgrade, mounted in response to Yugoslav authorities' campaign against Kosovo's ethnic Albania majority.

It later sent a contingent to take part in the NATO-led peacekeeping force overseeing the province.

Moscow has lately complained that neither the peacekeepers nor UN administrators in the region are able to protect minority Serbs. It has also been critical of Yugoslav government moves against independent media.

Putin said Greece, where Orthodoxy is the main faith, could play a "dominant" role in seeking a settlement in the region.

Greece, historically sympathetic to Yugoslavia, expressed some criticism of the NATO operation, but as a member of the alliance provided logistic support for it.

Athens has recently been more critical of Belgrade, particularly of moves against independent press outlets.

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