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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Agreed to Sell Weapons to Yugoslavia

NEW YORK -- In a move that could threaten the delicate peace in the Balkans, Russia has agreed in principle to sell Yugoslavia tanks, attack helicopters, ground-to-air missiles, MiG-29s and spare parts, U.S. officials report.

The deal, which was arranged in Moscow in December, has not been made public, and U.S. officials say they are in the dark about the details, including the quantity of weapons and how many have already been delivered.

The Russian weapons will put Yugoslavia in violation of the Dayton agreement, which ended the fighting in Bosnia, an official with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said. The organization, which monitors compliance with limits set on weapons in the Balkans, had not been told about the Russian deal, the official said.

American officials would talk about the deal only on the condition that they not be identified because U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration has sought to keep it from becoming a public issue. The administration has formally objected to the deal in meetings with Russian officials, a State Department official said Tuesday.

This is not enough, in the view of human rights advocates.

"Military goods should not be transferred to a government implicated in war crimes," Fred Abrahams, an associate at Human Rights Watch in New York, said of the government of the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic. He added that there was "strong evidence that attack helicopters were used indiscriminately against civilians in the recent demonstrations in Kosovo."

Shortly before the recent turmoil in Kosovo, the Yugoslav government received two Russian-made attack helicopters, an American official said. It was because of Milosevic's actions against the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo that the United States, Britain and other powers imposed an arms embargo on Yugoslavia on March 9. A continuation or lifting of the ban will be on the agenda on Wednesday at a meeting in Bonn of France, Germany, Italy, the United States, Britain and Russia, which make up the "Contact Group" that monitors events in the Balkans.

Russia did not oppose the arms embargo, but in recent days it has indicated that it would do so now.

Under the 1995 Dayton accords, there are ceilings on the number of weapons, including tanks, helicopters and combat aircraft, that the governments in the region can have. Yugoslavia is at the ceiling in all categories, except artillery, an OSCE official said.

U.S. officials fear that excess weapons will be transferred to the Bosnian Serbs, or to a country like Libya, which Milosevic has sold to in the past.

The Clinton administration, however, is on somewhat shaky ground in opposing the deal, several U.S. officials said, because under the "train and equip" program, it is upgrading the weapons of the predominately Moslem Bosnian army.

It is not clear how Yugoslavia will pay for weapons from Russia, given that its economy is bankrupt. But back in the days of the Soviet Union, Moscow ran up a debt of $1.5 billion to the former Yugoslavia, primarily for agricultural goods, steel and clothing.