Putin's Role in Foreign Policy Expands with Serb Crisis

Article excerpt

Russia yesterday emerged as the potential power broker in the standoff between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and the West, another sign of a surprisingly aggressive foreign policy pursued by President Vladimir Putin.

Opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica, who claims to have won the Sept. 24 presidential election outright, yesterday said he would consider an invitation by Mr. Putin to come to Moscow as early as tomorrow to discuss the next steps in the contested election.

"President Putin's proposal is very much in my interests," Mr. Kostunica told the Moscow daily Kommersant. "All that remains to be done is to work out certain details and the format of the meeting in Moscow."

Russian officials in Moscow said the timing of the meeting will depend on the schedule of Mr. Putin, who yesterday cut short a planned three-day visit to India to return home to deal with the Yugoslav crisis.

The embattled Mr. Milosevic has not agreed to the Moscow meeting, although Yugoslavia's ambassador to Russia, who happens to be Mr. Milosevic's older brother, said that such a visit had not been ruled out.

In the face of mass work stoppages and demonstrations by Mr. Kostunica's supporters yesterday, Mr. Milosevic is insisting that he and his rival must compete in a runoff ballot Sunday.

Western governments have denounced the government's vote-counting as a fraud, but Russia, a traditional ally of Yugoslavia, has been more cautious.

Russia's importance to the process was underscored by calls from European and U.S. officials seeking Mr. Putin's backing for the international pressure campaign to force Mr. Milosevic to go.

Despite daunting social and economic problems at home, Mr. Putin has found time to carve out an extensive foreign policy record in the five months since taking office, visiting capitals in Europe and Asia, touting a negotiating breakthrough on the Korean peninsula, issuing a new foreign policy doctrine and cultivating allies to challenge a "unipolar" world dominated by the United States. …