Russian President Vladimir Putin has cast doubt on NATO's effectiveness and overall resolve in ending the violence in Macedonia. Mr. Putin made the comments during a visit to Ukraine, where he met with Macedonia's President Boris Trajkovski.
President Putin has had some tough words for NATO in the past few days. He described as "long overdue" the alliance's efforts to disarm ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia. And, while he expressed support for the campaign, which is to get underway next week, he also cast doubt on its effectiveness unless NATO blocks all weapons supply channels.
Russia has been critical of NATO policy in the Balkans in general and staunchly opposed NATO's military campaign in the Serbian province of Kosovo in 1999. President Putin echoed long-standing Russian criticism that NATO's failure to disarm ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo allowed the conflict to spill over into neighboring Macedonia.
He also discounted rebel claims that they are fighting for greater rights and recognition for Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority. President Putin said rebels are "terrorists" and he warned the international community against being fooled by such pretexts.
The Russian leader is currently in Kiev to attend ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of Ukraine's independence from what was then the Soviet Union. He has met twice with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski on the sidelines of the celebrations.
President Trajkovski thanked Russia for its support of the Macedonian government and urged Moscow to become more actively involved in peace efforts. He also called for an international conference to confirm existing borders in the Balkans.
President Trajkovski also met separately with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to discuss efforts to end the Macedonian conflict. Ukraine has been a major supplier of military equipment to the Macedonian government. However, Ukraine suspended arms shipments to Macedonia after pressure from the United States.