Moscow vows to strengthen ties with Belgrade

By Vladimir Radyuhin

From The Hindu, May 17 [emperors-clothes]


MOSCOW, MAY 16. The Yugoslav Foreign Minister, Mr. Zivadin Jovanovic, has secured Russia's promise to forge close ties with Yugoslavia and extend a $100-million credit to help rebuild his country's economy ravaged by last year's NATO bombing.

Mr. Jovanovic came to Moscow for a two-day visit on Monday on the heels of the Yugoslav Defence Minister, Mr. Dragoljub Ojdanic, who paid a five-day secret visit to Moscow last week. The Yugoslav Ministers were the first and so far the only foreign dignitaries to visit Russia after Russian's new President, Mr. Vladimir Putin, was sworn in on May 7.

"Russia favours all-round and extensive development of relations and cooperation with Yugoslavia,'' Russia's Foreign Minister, Mr. Igor Ivanov, said opening talks with his Yugoslav counterpart on Tuesday. He said the talks would cover "the entire gamut'' of bilateral ties.

Mr. Ivanov said the two nations shared "very close'' positions in the United Nations and other international organisations. "It's very important for us to discuss the situation in the Balkans, including Kosovo,'' he said.

Earlier, Mr. Jovanovic met Russia's Economics Minister, Mr. Andrei Shapovalyants, who said after the talks that Moscow was prepared to extend a $102-million loan to Yugoslavia and was also considering supplying $32-million worth of fuel and other oil products.

Moscow, which strongly opposed the NATO air raids on Yugoslavia, is apparently playing the Yugoslavia card to ease Western pressure on Russia over its eight-month-long war in Chechnya.

In talks with Mr. Gennady Seleznyov, Speaker of Russia's State Duma or lower House of parliament on Monday, Mr. Jovanovic discussed prospects for Belgrade to join a Russia- Belarus union, an offer the Balkan state received at the height of NATO raids last year.

"We consider ourselves, like Belarus, an ally of Russia,'' Mr. Jovanovic told mediapersons after the meeting. "We view the aspiration of the peoples of our nations towards union and the establishment of peace and cooperation in Europe as a reply to those forces seeking to dismember the Slavic countries.''

Last week, the Yugoslav Defence Minister discussed bilateral military cooperation and the situation in the Balkans with Russia's Defence Minister, Marshall Igor Sergeyev, and the head of the armed forces' General Staff, General Anatoly Kvashnin, according to an official statement issued by the Russian Defence Ministry.

Yugoslavia, a traditional ally of Russia, is keen to upgrade its defence potential, especially air-defence forces, with Russian arms

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