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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

COMMENT: Milosevic Stifles Press And Finds New Patron

The already gloomy outlook for democracy in Yugoslavia darkened considerably recently when President Slobodan Milosevic shut Belgrade's two main opposition-run broadcasting operations along with the popular newspaper, Blic. These actions were accompanied by a wave of arrests aimed principally at members of Otpor, a new and fast-growing student-based protest group that Milosevic's regime accuses of plotting his violent overthrow. Some 20,000 people protested the media crackdown in the streets of Belgrade, where they were clubbed by Milosevic's riot cops.

Elections are supposed to take place this year in Serbia. This latest crackdown suggests that the vote will be anything but free and fair. Indeed, the regime may be planning an outright dictatorship in place of the superficially legalistic system it has employed to date. Taking an optimistic view, Western governments suggested that Milosevic's crackdown vindicates their policy of pressuring him through sanctions while supporting the Serbian opposition. NATO's secretary-general called the attack on the media "an act of panic."

Perhaps. Or perhaps Milosevic has actually felt fortified by recent international events. First the U.S. Congress sent a strong signal of Kosovo fatigue, nearly adopting a measure that could have forced a U.S. pullout from the province by July of next year. The measure passed the House but was defeated 53 to 47 in the Senate. Then newly inaugurated President Vladimir Putin extended Belgrade moral and material support, welcoming to Moscow Belgrade's defense minister, General Dragolub Ojdanic, indicted by the war crimes tribunal in the Hague for actions during the Kosovo war. Putin agreed to sell Belgrade $32 million worth of oil, as well as to extend a $102 million loan. Now the isolated Milosevic has what he needs most: a foreign patron.

Thus did Putin demonstrate that his conception of restoring the country's great power status includes violating his nation's legal responsibility to enforce a valid international arrest warrant against a wanted war criminal. This was a slap in the face of U.S. Bill Clinton's administration and a challenge to NATO. Whereas the West envisions an economically integrated Balkan region under democratic rule, Putin apparently sees such a Milosevic-free environment as a threat to national grandeur. The loan to Yugoslavia was especially provocative considering that Russia itself is seeking fresh credits from the International Monetary Fund. If Russia has $102 million to spare for its favorite tyrant in the Balkans, perhaps U.S. or IMF assistance could be reduced by a like amount. If Putin wants to coddle war criminals, let him do it on his own nickel.

The above appeared as an editorial in The Washington Post.