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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Urged To Provide Safe Haven For Milosevic

WASHINGTON — Former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic on Tuesday hailed President Slobodan Milosevic’s first-round poll defeat and urged Russia to give him temporary refuge to avoid bloodshed.

Panic, a U.S.-based businessman defeated by Milosevic in 1992 in elections he said were rigged, said he was writing to President Vladimir Putin to suggest he fly the Balkan strongman to Russia.

He said Milosevic was a "cornered animal" who would "try anything" after conceding defeat in Sunday’s first round but calling a runoff election for Oct. 8.

Western officials, like the Serbian opposition, say moderate nationalist Vojislav Kostunica won the first-round vote outright and that Milosevic cheated and only received some of the 40.23 percent the State Election Commission says he got. The commission said Kostunica received 48.22 percent of the vote.

"The Russians can save the Serbs and Yugoslavs — and Milosevic, for the time being," said Panic, who was made prime minister by his political enemy Milosevic but purged in a wave of nationalism five months later.

"I’m going to be asking Mr. Putin very soon to send a plane and pick him up," he added in a telephone interview.

"How about Siberia?" one American official suggested on hearing of Panic’s idea.

Another said ironically that Moscow might serve as a transit stop — en route to an international court in The Hague where Milosevic is wanted to stand trial for alleged war crimes.

U.S. officials flatly denied a New York Times report in June that quoted unnamed U.S. and NATO officials as saying President Bill Clinton’s administration was discussing the idea of an exit strategy for Milosevic with Western allies and Russia.

But Panic said the immediate priority was to get Milosevic out of Yugoslavia "to avoid bloodshed" — either against him or because of his desire to stay in power to avoid extradition.

Reflecting on a series of Balkan wars that have brought not only bombs but international sanctions down on Belgrade’s head, Panic said, "It’s a very sweet moment to see him out. But it’s a very bitter moment, what he has done to Serbia, and the people of Yugoslavia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo."

Panic is chief executive of U.S. drugs firm ICN Pharmaceuticals Inc., which has interests in Russia, and has met Putin in the past. He wants to regain control of a drug-making unit that was one of Belgrade’s most successful companies when the government took it over in a move blasted by the U.S. State Department as a way of avoiding paying $175 million it owed ICN for medicines.

"If Milosevic leaves today, I will return tomorrow," Panic said.

The Foreign Ministry had no comment Wednesday on Panic’s plans.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov repeated Russia’s appeal for calm and stability in Yugoslavia following Sunday’s election but made no comment on Belgrade’s decision to call a second round.

Ivanov, quoted by Interfax, used carefully guarded language that left unclear whether Russia backed the opposition or President Slobodan Milosevic’s supporters.

"Russia firmly believes that the Yugoslav peoples should be completely free to express their will without any internal or external pressure," Interfax quoted Ivanov as saying.