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Russia Sends Aid to Yugoslavia

April 6, 1999

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia sent its first batch of humanitarian aid to Yugoslavia on Tuesday to help ease the impact of NATO raids _ attacks that President Boris Yeltsin called ``barbaric.″

The Russian leader reiterated, however, that Russia would not respond militarily to the NATO assault on its traditional ally.

``The situation is favorable for our energetic political, but not military steps,″ he said. ``One can’t help expressing indignation over the barbaric bombardment of Belgrade.″

Yeltsin and other government leaders have condemned NATO raids on Yugoslavia in harsh rhetoric reminiscent of the Cold War. But Russia’s economy is in shambles and its once-mighty military is in disarray, making it hard for the Kremlin to go beyond verbal protests and symbolic measures.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II blessed the first batch of the humanitarian aid _ mostly medicines and food _ which was headed Tuesday to the Yugoslav capital Belgrade in a truck convoy.

Yeltsin and Alexy said the aid was for anyone in need, not just Serbs, and would eventually reach regions where ethnic Albanians fleeing Serb crackdowns in Yugoslavia’s Kosovo province have been displaced.

Responding to calls by the Communist-led opposition to aid Belgrade with weapons, First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov, the top Communist in the Cabinet, said Tuesday there could be no question of Moscow giving any military assistance.

``Maybe there are some crazy people in Russia who want to supply arms to Yugoslavia. It is absolutely impossible,″ he told reporters.

Russia has suspended ties with NATO and sent a warship to the Mediterranean to monitor NATO forces in action against Yugoslavia.

Six more warships from the Black Sea Fleet were on standby, but a Russian naval commander said Tuesday there was little point in sending the ships now.

Adm. Igor Kasatonov, a deputy chief of the Russian Navy, said Russia should have deployed its warships earlier to prevent the conflict.

``Now it’s impossible and inexpedient,″ he said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Kasatonov didn’t elaborate, but the Russian media has said that the Black Sea Fleet has suffered from a severe fuel shortage that has stranded its ships in harbor for years, depriving the crews of proper training.

The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Gennady Seleznyov, left for Belgrade on Tuesday to meet with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

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