US, Russia Differ on Lifting Yugoslav Sanctions

By Louis Economopoulos | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Athens, Greece ( - A round-table discussion between the US and Russian ambassadors to Greece shows big differences of opinion remain on lifting the international economic embargo against Yugoslavia.

Addressing the seventh annual Thessaloniki Economic Forum on Southeast Europe, U.S. ambassador Nicholas Burns said the embargo must stay until Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic is removed from power.

Russian ambassador Mikhail Botsarnikov insisted the time had come for an immediate end to the embargo.

Burns defended NATO's military action in the Balkans last year, saying the U.S. was "proud of the accomplishments leading to the departure of the Serbs in Kosovo and the end of ethnic cleansing, the halting of human rights abuses, the conclusion of murders and rapes against women and the return of the Albanian refugees.

"All of these reasons make the NATO intervention rightful," Burns said. He stressed that the U.S. remains opposed to changing the existing borders in the Balkans.

Burns said the international community does not have anything against the Serbian people but against the "wicked" government led by Milosevic.

He said NATO members should maintain a policy of isolating Milosevic's government, and "when democracy returns to Yugoslavia it can once again become an equal member of the international community."

Botsarnikov called last year's "so-called humanitarian intervention ... a grave mistake which cost the lives of people, the destruction of the country's infrastructure, produced enormous ecological problems and created the antistrophe of ethnic cleansing."

He said the reconstruction of the Balkans could not take place without the participation of Yugoslavia, warning, "Isolation of an important component of southeast Europe creates explosive conditions in the region."

Botsarnikov said Russia would continue to play a key role in the Balkans and claim its share in the reconstruction of the countries that were damaged by last year's conflict.

Russian companies should not be left out of the major reconstruction projects expected to take place in the region soon.

Bodo Hobach, co-ordinator of the regional Stability Pact, told the forum Yugoslavia would participate in the pact on equal terms, once it acquires a democratic government.

"The Stability Pact isn't building a wall around the Serb people. On the contrary, it eagerly waits the moment when Serbia will have solved its political problem. We are ready to rebuild Yugoslavia, as soon as these issues are resolved," Hobach said.

Greek Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos said that while Serbia does indeed lack democracy, this was a domestic issue that should be resolved by the Serbs themselves.

In his address, Macedonian vice-president Vasil Topurkowski praised the international community's role in seeking normalization and stability in the region. He stressed that the participation of the U.S., NATO, and Russia was important.

Kosovo's needs considerable

The U.S. diplomatic representative in Pristina, Christopher Hill, told the forum that unemployment in the Kosovo region had reached 50 percent, 30 percent of homes had been ruined and 50 percent of farmland destroyed.

There was hardly any productivity in any sector in the region, with virtually all goods being imported from construction material to bottled water, cars and computers.

"The road is long and things have not been helped out by the fact that the future government of Kosovo has not been selected yet," Hill said.

The major problem in the wider Balkan region is the lack of economic growth and human resources, while new and significant problems are being created by issues concerning the internal affairs of each country, outside factors, historical issues and political instability, said U.S. East-West Institute founder John Edwin Mroz.

He told the forum that the problems in the Balkan region were mainly due to the transitional period that most Balkan countries are going through - changing from socialist markets to free trade - as well as to the creation of new states.