President Boris Yeltsin defiantly stood by Yugoslavia’s outcast Serbs on Friday, accusing NATO of “counting the trophies” of Serb civilians killed in its bombing raids and warning that plans to expand the Western alliance could push all of Europe into war.
At his first solo news conference in more than a year, Yeltsin vowed to aid the Bosnian Serbs targeted by NATO airstrikes and hinted he will send weapons as well as more humanitarian help if attacks continue.
“These bombings are impermissible,” Yeltsin said.
He accused the United States of backing Bosnia’s Muslim-led government and Germany of supporting the Croats, leaving Russia little choice but to aid the Serbs who share Russia’s Slavic heritage.
“We have historically had good contacts and relations with the Serbs. We have always supported each other,” Yeltsin said. “Why should we leave them in the lurch today?”
Noting that Russian troops are stationed in Bosnian Serb-held territory as part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission for the Balkans, Yeltsin pointed to the NATO attacks as evidence that Russia has much to fear from Western plans to broaden the alliance to include former Soviet republics and former communist countries in Eastern Europe.
“It would be a major political error on the part of those who are now insisting on expanding NATO,” Yeltsin warned. “It will mean a conflagration of war throughout all Europe.
“It would be a major political error on the part of those who are now insisting on expanding NATO,” Yeltsin warned. “It will mean a conflagration of war throughout all Europe.”
With its bombing raids aimed at forcing the Serb rebels to the negotiating table, “NATO is already showing what it is capable of,” Yeltsin stated - “only of bombing, and then counting the trophies of how many are killed among the civilian population.”
The Bosnian Serbs have claimed that the NATO raids are killing civilians, but there has been no Western confirmation of such deaths.
Although Yeltsin echoes Russia’s nationalist hard-liners in vowing to rescue the rebel Serbs, there is little popular support in Russia for an open confrontation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and even less for involvement in a war on behalf of a vague notion of Slavic solidarity. But with Russia in the midst of a parliamentary election season, NATO’s efforts to break the Serb siege of Sarajevo have whipped up a fury of political grandstanding on the issue.
The recessed Duma, Russia’s lower house of Parliament, has called an emergency session today to discuss the Balkans crisis and proposals to break U.N.-imposed sanctions against the Serb-led federation.
Yeltsin planned a meeting later today with Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin to discuss the Russian-NATO confrontation before heading off Sunday for a vacation in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
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