Russia `will not oppose Nato oil blockade on Yugoslavia'

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The Independent Online
BRITISH AND American warships could be deployed by Nato to impose an oil embargo on Yugoslavia, it emerged yesterday, as Nato leaders affirmed their intention of upping the pressure on Slobodan Milosevic. But the United States sought to dispel fears that the move would bring Russia into the conflict, despite a threat by the Russian Foreign Minister that Moscow would ignore an embargo.

The embargo, expected to be formalised by the European Union in Luxembourg today, was endorsed by Nato leaders at their 50th anniversary summit in Washington yesterday. Although the US Defense Secretary, William Cohen, said no decision had been taken on how it might be enforced, he said he felt confident there would be "some sort of intervention" - if not forcible boarding of ships then "some other mechanism".

Russia, which supplies substantial amounts of petroleum to Yugoslavia would be especially affected by a blockade, but the US National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, said he expected Russia to comply with an embargo. "Yeltsin gave no indication he would not comply," he told reporters.

Mr Berger was referring an almost hour-long conversation yesterday morning between President Bill Clinton and the Russian leader during which Nato conditions for a solution to the Kosovo crisis were explored. Russia had stayed away from the Nato summit to underline its opposition to the use of air strikes against Yugoslavia.

Despite its boycott of the Nato summit, Russia will be represented at this week's meeting of the IMF and World Bank, at which it confidently expects the release of more than $4bn in loans. The Russian Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, promised yesterday that Russia would persist with its economic reforms and not reverse the privatisation completed so far.

Russia's absence from the Nato gathering, it emerged yesterday, has precipitated a hectic round of diplomacy, which starts today with a visit to Moscow by the Deputy US Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott. The Swedish Prime Minister and Canadian Foreign Minister are also expected in Moscow in the next few days, and Russia's special envoy on Kosovo, the former Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, has announced plans to meet Nato representatives before the end of the week.

Taking a cue from European leaders who have stressed that there can be no resolution of the Kosovo question without the involvement of Russia, Mr Clinton was said to have "articulated Nato's unified position that Russia should remain engaged and can play a constructive role in bringing this conflict to an end".

Contingency plans for stopping oil tankers before they reach port in Montenegro are being drawn up by General Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and are believed to include the use of Marines. The Prime Minister's official spokesman insisted, however: "Anything that we do will be done in accordance with international law."

Nato's plans to intensify the pressure on Yugoslavia, including the possible use of ground forces, went into a higher gear yesterday with an undertaking to bring under its defensive umbrella the "frontline" states in the Balkans, including Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Slovenia and Albania.

President Clinton said: "The nations of the region have risked, and even faced, armed confrontation with Serbia by facilitating and supporting our campaign to end the bloodshed in Kosovo."

Nato's spokesman, Jamie Shea added: "They need our help, and we are giving it to them. We will not tolerate threats against them, or attacks on them by Belgrade."