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Russia May Send Arms to Yugoslavia

July 1, 1999

MOSCOW (AP) _ Moscow may try to get around a U.N. arms embargo and supply weapons to Yugoslavia, Russia’s ambassador to Belgrade said in an interview published Thursday.

Yugoslavia’s air defenses were no match for NATO planes during the alliance’s 78-day bombing campaign, which damaged much of the country’s infrastructure.

Russia, a Yugoslav ally which opposed the NATO airstrikes, has been a major arms supplier to Belgrade in the past. But Russian officials say Moscow hasn’t broken the U.N. arms embargo on Yugoslavia that was imposed more than a year ago and still remains in place.

``The U.N. resolution ... is still in effect, but I think a legal framework for supplying weapons (to Yugoslavia) will be created soon,″ Russian ambassador to Yugoslavia Yuri Kotov said in an interview with the influential daily Kommersant.

He said Russia had ``insistently urged Belgrade to upgrade its air defenses and other systems″ before NATO airstrikes, but that the ``recommendation was not heeded.″

``Now they admit to us: `We were fools not to agree to your offers.′ But it’s too late,″ Kotov told the newspaper.

Kotov said Russia would also be willing to help Yugoslavia restore power plants that were destroyed or damaged by the NATO raids. About 80 percent of Yugoslavia’s thermal and hydroelectric power plants were built with Russian assistance, he said.

Meanwhile, Russia’s special envoy to the Yugoslav conflict, Viktor Chernomyrdin, said Thursday that Russia ``has the ability, the great potential, and we are obligated to participate in the reconstruction of Yugoslavia,″ according to the Interfax news agency.

He did not say how Russia should help in the restoration of Yugoslavia, or where the money would come from.

Russia is already participating in a multinational peacekeeping operation in Yugoslavia’s Kosovo province. A contingent of Russian paratroopers is based at the airport in Pristina, and some 3,600 Russian troops are scheduled to start arriving in Kosovo within the next several days.

Even that effort, however, has come under fire by critics who say the cash-strapped Russian government should spend its limited budget revenues at home, not abroad. Others also warn that Russian troops are certain to come under attack by Albanian separatists in Kosovo.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin on Thursday warned against any integration of Kosovo Liberation Army fighters into regular military structures, Interfax reported.

Russia wants the KLA completely disarmed, and even has criticized the agreement allowing the fighters to keep their small arms.

``Any kind of compromise or weakness of resolve on this issue would be inadmissible,″ Rakhmanin said.

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