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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Envoy Heads for Yugoslavia

Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov travels to Yugoslavia on Tuesday to press demands for a diplomatic solution to the Kosovo crisis.

Primakov is due to meet Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic during his two-day visit to Belgrade. No talks are scheduled with ethnic Albanian leaders from Kosovo, but Russian media reports suggest a meeting could yet be arranged.

Primakov will try to use Russia's friendly relations with its fellow Orthodox Christian Slavs in Serbia to persuade Milosevic to pursue a negotiated settlement in Kosovo, where more than 80 people have been killed in a security crackdown.

"Russia is for a quick start to dialogue," Primakov said last week.

But Russia's historic ties with Serbia reduce its chances of influencing the Kosovo Albanians, who refuse to attend talks with Belgrade unless their independence demands are discussed.

Primakov could simply reiterate Moscow's largely pro-Serbian stance. Russia has accused ethnic Albanian "terrorists" of starting the violence in Kosovo, backed Serbia's stand that it is an internal affair and dismissed Kosovo's demands for independence.

"The entire international community believes that Kosovo must be a part of Yugoslavia-Serbia," Primakov said on Russian television at the weekend.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman last week played down the significance of Primakov's visit, noting it was part of a regional trip later taking him to Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia.

He said Primakov would discuss Kosovo in Belgrade but Russia would not play the role of intermediary in the crisis.

Russia may have learned the lessons of the past. Its efforts to influence Serbia during the war in Bosnia produced few results, despite the efforts of special envoy Vitaly Churkin.

President Boris Yeltsin sounded cautious last week when he said he would not send Russian peacekeepers to Kosovo.

"We must not get involved there. We have enough places, you know, where our armed forces are deployed," he said.

Moscow is in a difficult position. It is anxious to maintain good relations with its Yugoslav allies but can ill afford to upset its colleagues in the six-nation Contact Group -- Britain, Germany, France, the United States and Italy.

Primakov stayed away from a Contact Group meeting in London last week, and Russia did not join a ban on government-financed export credit support for trade and investment in Serbia.

Russia's motives are partly economic. It believes good relations with Belgrade will help it win trade contracts.

But it is also worried that support for Kosovo might encourage separatist-minded regions in Russia, including Chechnya.