A prominent leader of the Serb opposition movement stated that Yugoslav troops should return to Kosovo and decried NATO’s continued rule of the region, according to an official Russian news report.

Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, or SPO — best known of the groups in opposition to the rule of Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic — made his comments at a press conference in Moscow during a two-day visit to the Russian capital.

Draskovic’s remarks were broadcast on the Voice of Russia World Service, the official broadcasting service of the Russian government. His comments place him at odds with Western diplomacy and in accord with Moscow.

During the visit, Draskovic met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. After talks with Ivanov, Draskovic echoed Moscow’s position that stability in the Balkans depended upon observance of U.N. resolution 1244 which guarantees the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and the return of Serb refugees to Kosovo.

This is Draskovic’s second trip to Moscow and his second meeting with Ivanov in less than five months.

Draskovic is a founder of the opposition movement to the Milosevic regime. Draskovic and his SPO party, however, ultimately joined a coalition with Milosevic in January 1999. Given the post of Deputy Prime Minister to President Milosevic, in the early days of NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia, Draskovic was prominent in explaining Belgrade’s position in the struggle against NATO.

After publicly criticizing Milosevic, Draskovic was dismissed from his position of Deputy Prime Minister and again found himself in the role of opponent. Though a popular figure, he remained apart from the anti-Milosevic coalition until January 2000.

Draskovic does not advocate that Milosevic be tried as a war criminal, as other opposition figures do, but rather that Milosevic simply “fade away.”

Western leaders consider Milosevic a war criminal.

Moscow, too, has been critical of Milosevic, but in milder terms. While Russia has never wavered in its position that NATO’s attack upon Yugoslavia was illegal and unjustified, there is an indication that Russia considers Yugoslav leadership to bear responsibility for the disastrous confrontation with NATO.

Shortly after the end of NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia, then-Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin declared that Milosevic was “largely responsible for what has become of Yugoslavia.”

Moscow has hosted another anti-Milosevic figure, the president of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic.

Montenegro is one of the two republics making up the Yugoslav confederation. Montenegro’s partner is the much larger Serbia.

During his August 1999 visit to the Russian capital, Djukanovic expressed interest in greater Russian investment in Montenegro. He stated that any economic agreement between Russia and Montenegro could be concluded “without intermediaries in Belgrade.”

Russia is vitally concerned about the fate of Yugoslavia and the preservation of Kosovo as an integral part of the Yugoslav federation. A high-ranking Russian military official, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, has indicated that Russia could find itself compelled to confront NATO over the Kosovo question.

Moscow’s commitment to Milosevic is not as firm as its commitment to Yugoslavia, however. Moscow is willing to talk with other leaders, as the Draskovic visit demonstrates.

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