Russia Defiant Over
NATO's Planned
Yugoslavia Oil Embargo
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Russia reacted angrily on Friday to what it called NATO's "policy of threats" over a planned Western oil embargo of Yugoslavia, making clear it would be guided only by its own national interests.
As the European Union's embargo came into effect, Montenegro -- Serbia's tiny partner in the two-republic Yugoslav federation -- pleaded to be exempted from the sanctions, saying they would destroy its battered economy.
Russia's leadership has been incensed by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen's comment that vessels from any country shipping oil to Serbia would face "serious consequences" including military force by NATO warships.
"Regarding those hints of threats I can say that Russia will act according to its decisions," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters after a meeting with his Canadian counterpart Lloyd Axworthy in Moscow.
"I don't consider it reasonable to slide into a policy of threats, which would lead nowhere," he said.
Cohen said in Washington on Thursday that he believed any oil deliveries to Yugoslavia would fall into the category of armed hostilities, demanding a stiff NATO response. "I believe there should be an interdiction of the supplies coming and I believe that force should always be an option."
The Russian Defense Ministry echoed Ivanov's tough remarks.
"Russia is not a country that can be threatened, as Cohen is doing," said Col.-Gen. Leonid Ivashov, who heads the Defense Ministry's international cooperation department. "If there is a political decision (to go on with the embargo), Russia will defend its interests," said Ivashov, an outspoken critic of NATO's actions.
Russia has already made clear it does not consider the oil embargo applicable to countries which are not members of NATO or the European Union.
Asked about the ban on Friday, European Commission spokesman Nigel Gardner said: "It's in place."
The EU's ban, endorsed by EU ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, is intended to complement NATO's efforts to isolate Yugoslavia and prevent the supply of fuel to President Slobodan Milosevic's military machine.
East European countries seeking EU membership, including three of Yugoslavia's neighbors, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, have also joined the ban.
In the Montenegrin capital Podgorica, the republic's economy minister, Vojin Djukanovic, said the new sanctions could destroy his country and invited foreign observers to check up on its promise to keep fuel out of Serbian and Yugoslav army hands. "An embargo would be the end of Montenegro," Djukanovic said. "More destabilization could lead to civil war."
Montenegro's pro-Western government has acted practically like an independent state since the NATO bombing began.
NATO bombers rewarded its anti-Belgrade stance by sparing all non-military targets but with the Yugoslav 2nd Army spread across the republic, it could not be let off the hook completely.
Western allies now have the same dilemma with the embargo.
They do not want to throttle Montenegro's economy but are even more intent that no oil should reach Serbia or the army.
The problem is more acute since Yugoslavia's only important port, Bar, is on Montenegro's Adriatic coast.
Djukanovic promised that Bar, which NATO has refrained from attacking, would not become a haven for tankers circumventing the blockade to fuel Milosevic's war efforts in Kosovo and his defiance of NATO bombing.
"When Milosevic resigns or is sacked then maybe our ports will become Yugoslav ports but at the moment they are just for Montenegro," he said.