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“This is none other than genocide,” Moscow declared as it denounced conditions in the nominally Yugoslav province of Kosovo since its occupation by the U.N. and NATO.

The statement cited as evidence the deaths of some 700 Serbs, the flight of an additional 226,000 and the destruction of numerous Serb dwellings.

Moscow vowed to keep the Balkan region on the forefront of the world stage and stated its determination to maintain close relations with Yugoslavia and its largest member republic, Serbia, “at all levels,” according to official Russian sources.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov described “Southeastern Europe” as “fraught with a flare-up at any moment.” Referring to the attacks on the U.S. and the subsequent international anxiety over terrorism, Ivanov expressed his resolve that the events of Sept. 11 “cannot be allowed to ‘upstage’” the dangers of another Balkan war.

The statements were carried by the Voice of Russia World Service, the official broadcasting service of the Russian government.

Ivanov issued his remarks after meeting with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in Moscow on Friday. Covic expressed bitter disappointment that “no changes for the better” have occurred in Kosovo “after the [1999] deployment of the international peacekeeping force (KFOR) there.”

During a press conference following his meeting with Ivanov, Covic ridiculed statements made by the U.N. Kosovo administration asserting that “security and stability” were being established in the region. Referring to the still deadly divisions between the Albanian majority and the Serb minority in Kosovo, Covic sardonically added, “this can be true … for the Albanians alone,” according to the Voice of Russia.

The independent Yugoslav news agency B92 reported that Covic said Russia would withdraw an unspecified number of troops from the international peacekeeping force, “since the Russian contingent does not wish to be used as part of the excuse for the failure of KFOR.” Covic described Kosovo as a base for “violence and crime.”

Covic characterized the talks with Ivanov as “very successful,” according to B92.

Official Russian support for Serbia and Yugoslavia extends to the former Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, now on trial before the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

Yevgeny Primakov, who was Russian prime minister during the events leading up to NATO’s occupation of Kosovo, and still occupies a prominent position in both Russian politics and government, maintains his support of Milosevic while roundly condemning Western leaders involved in the attack on Yugoslavia.

According to a recent report by the Voice of Russia, Primakov praised Milosevic’s attempts to come to terms with NATO demands and denounced “Western politicians who should be held responsible for the events in the Balkans.” Referring to Milosevic’s trial before The Hague Tribunal, Primakov stated that the same Western leaders who led the attack on Yugoslavia in 1999 now “stop at nothing … to accuse Slobodan Milosevic of all possible crimes.”

The Voice of Russia described Primakov as having “taken an unbiased stand” in his defense of Milosevic.

Radio Yugoslavia, the official broadcasting service of the Yugoslav government, quoted Primakov as describing The Hague Tribunal as an “illegitimate act,” which is “gradually turning into a political process.” Primakov praised Milosevic’s role in obtaining the Dayton peace accords in 1995, ending the Bosnian war.

The prosecution at The Hague Tribunal has encountered numerous frustrations in its attempt to define Milosevic as a war criminal.

Not only have key aides refused to testify against him, but Milosevic has conducted a spirited defense that has embarrassed prosecution witnesses. The Italian news daily Corriere Della Sera reported that the Tribunal ruled that 1,300 depositions obtained by the prosecution were unable to be corroborated, while Milosevic forced one of the prosecution’s chief investigators to admit that evidence he introduced was hearsay and, therefore, inadmissible.

Milosevic was also able to cast doubt on the testimony of a prosecution witness alleging Yugoslav army atrocities in his village. On cross-examination, Milosevic brought out that the witness’ son was a member of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and that the village was a base for 300 KLA fighters.

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