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Russia’s re-emergence as a big player in the Kosovo crisis was a major story across Europe Wednesday, with papers giving contrasting interpretations of this week’s talks in Moscow between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and the Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia, Victor Chernomyrdin. In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ran a front-page headline reading “Rapprochement between Washington and Moscow” and stressed their commitment to future cooperation. The Italian papers, by contrast, generally pronounced the negotiations a failure. La Repubblica of Rome said that peace is now more remote, La Stampa of Turin that the meeting produced no result, and Corriere della Sera of Milan that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is resisting Russia’s efforts at a diplomatic solution. There was much uncertainty, too, about the significance of Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic’s statement that Milosevic would accept a U.N. peacekeeping force. “What does Draskovic stand for? Who stands behind Draskovic?” asked the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in an editorial that didn’t provide answers.
Rapprochement or not, the Financial Times of London reported from Moscow that vehement opposition to NATO’s actions in Yugoslavia is “the most consensual issue in Russian politics today.” Most European papers gave prominence to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s saying that the world has entered a new era of lawlessness and that NATO’s disregard for the United Nations was comparable to Hitler’s contempt for the League of Nations. Corriere della Sera carried an interview with Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who said that Milosevic will never surrender. “NATO would have to send in 200,000 ground troops, and who’s to say that even they would be sufficient. There would follow a long war, the first real one in Europe since World War II, that would cause many, many dead and even more refugees.” Answering the accusation that Russia hasn’t done enough to help the Kosovars, Primakov said it could have done more if it hadn’t been excluded from the Rambouillet conference.
Primakov said that the Balkan conflict has undermined his efforts to democratize Russian institutions, combat corruption, guarantee free expression, and bring Russia closer to Europe, because it has reopened Russian religious, political, and ethnic divisions and, above all, revived Russian hatred of the West. “If Russia were to become an Asiatic power again, world equilibrium would be at risk,” he said. Primakov added that he had tried in vain to understand the logic of NATO’s actions, but they had served only to consolidate the Milosevic regime and eliminate all political opposition in Serbia. If NATO’s attacks were initially directed at military targets, “they are now ruining the economy of rather a poor country. When Western troops cross the Yugoslav border, they will find nothing but graves and hatred. With what advantages? To what purpose?”
In Britain, the Kosovo conflict has been squeezed off the front pages of many papers this week by extensive coverage of the murder Monday of Jill Dando, a popular TV presenter, who was shot in the head with a pistol on her front doorstep in west London. But Wednesday, the tabloid Daily Mail managed to link even this event to the war with front-page speculation that her murderer might be a Serbian gunman seeking revenge for NATO’s bombing of a Belgrade TV station last week.
Tuesday’s Guardian of London carried a rare, perhaps unique, interview with a volunteer Serbian “cleanser,” a 50-year-old Belgrade truck driver named Milan Petrovic, who recently spent 10 days in Kosovo helping to drive thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes. Petrovic said that the cleansers are under orders not to kill, beat, or mutilate their victims and that most obeyed. “One in a hundred, I’d say, did raping or killing or that kind of thing–not more,” he said. While claiming that the cleansers generally “respected human rights,” Petrovic didn’t attempt to conceal his racial prejudice. “They’re cowards, those Albanians, they run like rabbits,” he said. The rich Albanians–“all criminals you know, with satellite TVs and big houses”–are tougher to move than the others, “but if you push hard enough, they all go in the end.”
Petrovic claimed to feel sorry for the children he expelled from their homes, but said that, as Albanians, they had no right to be in Kosovo. “I had to follow my orders, and anyway, I knew there would always be someone to meet those women and children,” he said. As for the KLA “terrorists,” he would have liked to kill them and their families on the spot, but his orders had been to hand them over to the army. “I don’t know what they did to them–they’re probably holding them as prisoners of war.” Petrovic said he had signed up as a cleanser when the war started to show his disgust for NATO. He was one of about 2,000 volunteers who assembled in the southern Serbian city of Nis before leaving there to start cleansing operations in the Kosovo village of Silovo. He said he saw little of NATO’s war, “We heard the planes way up above us, but I think they were concentrating on Pristina so they didn’t give us any trouble.”
In London Wednesday, the tabloid Daily Express reported from Kukes in Albania that 100 Kosovar women gave the same account to UNICEF counselors of how they had been repeatedly stripped, sprayed with perfume, and then raped by Serb soldiers who held them hostage in three houses for several days. The subject of rape also cropped up in an interview Wednesday by Corriere della Sera with the wife of the suspected war criminal and former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic. Ljiljiana Karadzic, who like her husband is a psychiatrist, said that in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serb soldiers had been accused of raping 150,000 women. “If we compare this figure with the number of our soldiers, it means that every one of them must have raped three women,” she said. “So when did they find the time to fight?” Referring to one claim by a Bosnian woman that her 75-year-old cousin had been forced to rape her at rifle point, Karadzic commented: “I am also a sexologist. To think that I could have cured my patients of impotence by pointing a pistol at their temples!”
The British satirical magazine Private Eye had an exceptionally tasteless cover this week of President Clinton photographed in intimate conversation with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook under the headline “Clinton–Ground War Latest.” Clinton is saying, “I’m not going in–it’s too risky.” “I expect you say that to all the girls,” replies Cook.