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Yugoslav Revolt: Putin Recognizes Kostunica as Newly Elected President

Aired October 6, 2000 - 7:12 a.m. ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Andria, right now we want to change gears and take you over to Belgrade. We're going to join some coverage in progress right now at CNN's sister network, CNN International. There may be a key puzzle -- piece of the puzzle that may have just fallen in place in Yugoslavia. Let's go there now live.

Instead of joining our sister network, let's go now directly to Belgrade. Our CNN Belgrade bureau chief Alessio Vinci is standing by there.

Alessio, we understand there has been a key development now. What's going on?

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN BELGRADE BUREAU CHIEF: That is correct, Leon. A meeting between Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition leader, and the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, has just ended. Mr. Ivanov spoke to reporters just a few minutes ago. He said that he came to Belgrade to bring a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said that message congratulating the new -- congratulating Vojislav Kostunica as the new president of Yugoslavia.

Therefore, a major change in Russia's position here. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, who has kept a distance from -- a different stance from other opposition leaders, calling on President Milosevic to step down and recognizing the victory of Vojislav Kostunica, now dispatching his foreign minister here to Belgrade and saying that he, Vladimir Putin, is a congratulating Vojislav Kostunica as the newly elected president of the Yugoslav Federation.

Back to you, Leon.

HARRIS: Alessio, then, now -- the question now is what of Mr. Milosevic? Is there any other word now about where he is? And now with Russia coming in and recognizing Mr. Kostunica, is it clear now that Mr. Milosevic is going to have to leave the country or what?

VINCI: Well, that does not mean that Mr. Milosevic will have to leave the country. What it seems clear that a traditional ally of President Milosevic and of Serbia, Russia is now siding with the opposition and with opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica. This means that Mr. Ivanov, at some point today, we understand will meet with President Milosevic, according to his -- to Milosevic's brother, the Yugoslav ambassador to Russia. Earlier told, from Moscow, that Mr. Milosevic, the Yugoslav president, is indeed in Serbia, is in Belgrade, and he will meet with Igor Ivanov.

So, at this point, we need to see what happened at that meeting between Ivanov and Milosevic, whether any deal will be discussed, whether Kostunica and Vladimir Putin discuss any kind of was out for Mr. Milosevic.

Kostunica all along has said that his top priority was not to handover Mr. Milosevic to The Hague, that his top priority right now was to be able to bring Serbia back into the European nations, and therefore the fact that the political future of Mr. Milosevic right now, not a top party for Mr. Kostunica. So perhaps the two men have discussed some kind of a deal, but at this point, the only thing we know is that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is recognizing Kostunica as the elected leader of this country.

And, at this point, I don't see how Mr. Milosevic could reverse the situation at this point.

HARRIS: So you can't say whether or not at this particular point whether the Russian prime minister, Mr. Ivanov, even offered asylum to Mr. Milosevic?

VINCI: No, we don't have that information. As far as we understand, also, earlier reports from Moscow that a deal for Mr. Milosevic's asylum was not discussed. We had an indication that perhaps Belarussia was going to offer that kind of deal, although an application for asylum has not been introduced there in Belarussia. So we don't really know at this point what will be the political future of President Slobodan Milosevic or of Mr. Milosevic at this point.

The only thing that we know is that Russia has really changing dramatically its position towards the opposition leader, calling Vojislav Kostunica, the next president. This is a very significant development. However, that does not change the stance that Mr. Kostunica has regarding Mr. Milosevic.

HARRIS: Understood. Alessio, now, no one at this network has been closer to this story than you. You had been reporting on this story for us from Belgrade there from the very beginning. You've got as much perspective as anyone does. Give us an idea of what kind of momentum this now gives Mr. Kostunica, and the opposition. Do you know whether or not this is going to change their plans? I know they had been talking about putting together some sort of interim commission right now. Does that change that plan?

VINCI: No. Well, that interim commission has been established, and what that interim commission is trying to do now is trying to convene the newly elected federal parliament. They're trying to do this within the next few hours. I understand they want to convene the federal parliament. If they reach a quorum, they said that they will vote and they will swear in Vojislav Kostunica as the president of Yugoslavia. There is one little problem, though, the supporters of President Milosevic, the Yugoslav Left and the Socialist Party, won those presidential elections, and the opposition is not contesting that victory. Therefore, in order to reach a quorum in the newly formed federal parliament, the opposition need some members of the Socialist Party and some members of the Yugoslav Left, former allies of President Milosevic, or current allies of President Milosevic, to come to the federal -- to come to the city council and actually meet.

And then, if they have enough deputies to reach a quorum, then it is expected that Vojislav Kostunica could be sworn in as the Yugoslav president as early as this afternoon.

HARRIS: And Alessio, as you know, many who are around this story on the outside, some within that country, others bordering that country, say for instance, Bulgaria and Romania, are quite skeptical of Mr. Milosevic's intentions, and are still keeping a wary eye for any potential violence.

Do get a sense that people there are still concerned about that, and they think that might happen with all of these developments?

VINCI: There is a little bit of a concern, Leon. One thing, for example, that opposition leaders this morning called on supporters to gather again in downtown Belgrade, and you can probably hear behind me the people gathering, the horn and the cars arriving, honking their cars, they are gathering in downtown Belgrade because they say that whatever victory was achieved yesterday still must be protected.

Opposition leaders here and the people especially in the streets of Belgrade are still very wary about one fact, that the army has not yet come out clearly saying on which side they are siding with. And also the long silence of President Milosevic is making many people here very nervous.

On the other side, now that Russia has recognized Vojislav Kostunica as the newly elected president of Yugoslavia, it is really unthinkable at this point that President Milosevic could reverse the situation at least in this country. And I believe that if indeed that that parliament will be able to reach -- the Yugoslav parliament will be able to reach a quorum today, we will see very soon Mr. Kostunica as sworn in as the newly elected president of this country.

And at that point, the army will have to respect, as I said all long, will have to respect he will the people, and once Vojislav Kostunica is sworn in as the Russian president, he also becomes automatically the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and at that point we can expect that the army will come out and clearly side with him.

HARRIS: For those who are just joining us, we're talking right now live with CNN's Belgrade bureau chief Alessio Vinci, who has been covering the story from Yugoslavia, the reaction there amongst the populace there in the wake of the elections, and now it seems as though there may have been a key piece to the puzzle that has in fallen place. Alessio, please stay with us, because we've got a lot of people who are just joining us who've been trying to merge coverage with our other sister networks. Give those who are just joining us the headline. Understanding now there has been a development now with the Russian prime minister.

Alessio, do -- Alessio, can you here us still?

VINCI: Sorry, Leon, go ahead please.

HARRIS: I'm sorry for that, and we apologize, we have some minor technical difficulties here, but we have a lot of people who are just joining us because we are trying to merge our coverage. Can you give our listeners and viewers now another view, another look at the headline this morning and the news that has developed now with the Russians?

VINCI: Yes, Leon. What happened is that the meeting between Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition leader, and Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, has just ended. Mr. Ivanov came out, spoke to reporters, and he said he brought a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulating Vojislav Kostunica as the newly elected president of the Yugoslav Federation.

That is a dramatic change, shift in the position that Russia has taken all along towards Yugoslavia in the last few weeks, especially after the end of the presidential election. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, congratulating Vojislav Kostunica as the newly elected president of Yugoslavia.

HARRIS: Alessio Vinci reporting live this morning from Belgrade. Nice work. Standby there, Alessio, we will get back to you in just a moment.



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