War In The Balkans: Russians send reconnaissance ship to war zone

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The Independent Online
ANGRY AND rebuffed, Russia has inched closer to being drawn into the Yugoslav conflict by announcing plans to dispatch a warship close to the war zone in the Mediterranean.

Its Defence Minister, Marshal Igor Sergeyev, said Moscow had applied to Turkey for permission to send a reconnaissance vessel through the Bosphorus tomorrow, and was considering sending six more ships.

Though a largely symbolic gesture, the dispatch of a Black Sea fleet vessel reflects the alarmingly high international tensions over Kosovo, and will make it harder for Moscow to fulfil its goal of mediating in this dispute.

Marshal Sergeyev, whose ministry has threatened to provide intelligence to the Yugoslav military, said the ship would "monitor Nato actions [and] ensure Russia's security".

It also suggests that the Russian government is struggling to maintain its line of balancing opposition to Nato's actions with a policy of staying out of the war, and preserving long-term relations with the West.

Sources pointed out yesterday that April is the traditional period for the Russian navy to set sail on training exercises; yet there is little doubt that the presence of Moscow's vessels in the arena could complicate the conflict, and increase the overall risks. Russian agencies said the seven ships would include missile and anti-submarine frigates.

Further evidence that relations between Moscow and the West are fast freezing over came with the return of the Russian premier Yevgeny Primakov, after his still-born peace mission to Belgrade and Bonn. No sooner had he disembarked from his aircraft than he was savaging Nato for its "stupid, tragically mistaken" decision to continue bombing Yugoslavia.

The Prime Minister blamed the failed mission on Nato intransigence, arguing that President Slobodan Milosevic had sent "a signal ... enough to start a political process". In the event, the offer brokered by Mr Primakov - in which Yugoslavia would reduce forces in Kosovo provided the Nato bombing stopped - was swiftly rejected by Nato and the White House.

Mr Primakov yesterday even went so far as to question whether genocide in Kosovo is the fault of the Serbs, or the alliance. "It is for you to judge where genocide is happening, when it is happening and against whom."

Few in Russia or beyond expected the premier's mission to succeed, and his words can be put down partly to rhetoric for domestic consumption. But he may have been affronted by the abrupt speed of Nato's rejection.