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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Here to Save the Day

Things have really gotten mixed up in our Russian home: The administrator-manager Viktor Chernomyrdin has plunged himself into foreign affairs problems, while "the chief Russian diplomat," Yevgeny Primakov, has become immersed in issues of administration and management. In public, both state that they are members of the same team, working to resolve the Yugoslavia crisis. But while Chernomyrdin radiates satisfaction, Primakov cannot hide his pique.

Primakov's pique is understandable: Chernomyrdin brought a different set of rules and arguments to the game after it was shown that the game played by Primakov's rules was going nowhere. Indeed, the harsh statements by Primakov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov toward NATO bordered on hysterical: The threats to put ships from the Black Sea Fleet into the Adriatic and Primakov's agreement to kiss up to Slobodan Milosevic and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko concerning a possible Russia-Belarus-Yugoslavia union only succeeded in removing Moscow from the group of possible intermediaries in the process of settling the Yugoslav crisis. President Boris Yeltsin's appointment of Chernomyrdin as the special presidential representative to Yugoslavia greatly increased Moscow's chances for playing the peacekeeping role.

The task that Yeltsin gave Chernomyrdin - to "hug Milosevic more tightly" - brought sighs of relief from Western politicians, who were already noticeably perplexed after four weeks of bombing and did not know what to do with the obstinate "Belgrade dictator." The West's hopes were raised by Chernomyrdin's plan to solve the conflict, which was coordinated with several members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan) and, more importantly, coincided with five points of Germany's peace plan. Chernomyrdin, it would appear, has joined ranks with the West's peace initiatives.

The Kremlin apparently decided that "hugging Milosevic" is more effective than kissing him: This allows it to restrict his movement while at the same time whispering things in his ear. For instance, that Moscow's support for Belgrade's actions will no longer be unconditional; that it is time for Belgrade to recognize Moscow's interests and not cause a rupture in Russia's relations with the West.

And if this kind of whispering brings no results, than there are other methods of influence: To remind Belgrade, for example, that if Yugoslavia's oil sector is completely destroyed by NATO's bombing, its dependence on Russian oil deliveries rises sharply. True, that argument is understandable less to Milosevic than to his good friend, the Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Maryanovic, who not long ago was head of Serbia's version of Gazprom - the Progress company. Such arguments are fully convincing, which is why Belgrade last week warily awaited the arrival of the Russian president's special emissary.

Moreover, it had become clear that Milosevic's warm embraces with Primakov, Lukashenko and State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov had not yielded the results Belgrade had counted on. The integration ardor stimulated by the Duma quickly evaporated last week after President Yeltsin clarified the issue of a possible Russia-Belarus-Yugoslavia union. Yeltsin would act "cautiously and precisely" in approaching the idea of such a union, and concluded his comment on a non-committal note: "We'll think about it."

Nor was Milosevic cheered by the arrival in Belgrade last week of Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Yugoslav side assumed that the Russian patriarch would fully support the Serbian brothers. Instead, he appealed to the Yugoslav leadership to help "all peaceful and well-intentioned people" return to their homes in Kosovo, and entreated it "not to soil life in a region holy to all the Serbs with fratricide." The Milosevic family's distress with this turn of events was expressed by Borislav, Slobodan Milosevic's brother and Yugoslavia's ambassador in Moscow, who said Alexy II "should have convinced NATO to stop its aggression."

It is not difficult to understand the Milosevics' annoyance: Despite their expectations, Moscow is shifting from the passenger's to the driver's seat in the Russian-Yugoslav relationship. Not only to its own benefit, but also to that of Belgrade.

It is more difficult, however, to understand the disappointment with this turn of events on the part of Primakov's supporters within the Russian elite. The leftists in the Duma and the Federation Council are seriously questioning whether Chernomyrdin's appointment as Yeltsin's special representative on Yugoslavia was "lawful." Also included among the disappointed are pro-Primakov "hawks" such as the political scientists from the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, who have been urgently mobilizing their information resources. One of their mouthpieces, the host of the "Postscriptum" program on TV Center, recently expressed his disappointment that the ships of the Black Sea Fleet were not sailing to the Adriatic. He declared that only "toughness and decisiveness of a consolidated Russian position," embodied by Primakov, could bring about an end to NATO's aggression.

But the period of tough and hysterical reactions from Moscow to the Yugoslav crisis has passed. This policy brought Russia no political dividends. A new stage of practical steps towards helping solve the crisis is beginning. And it appears the experience and possibilities of the administrator-manager Viktor Chernomyrdin will be very apropos. It can only be hoped that Russian geopoliticians, actively supported by the Duma's leftist majority and a group of "red governors" in the Federation Council, will not spoil his efforts.

Alexander Shumilin is the foreign editor of Expert magazine. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.