Putin admits concern over Milosevic

NAGO, Jul 22, 2000 -- (AFP) Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted Saturday that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was becoming a problem, according to a German official.

The Yugoslav leader could not automatically count on Russian support, the German official said after 40-minute talks between the Russian leader and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

"Milosevic is becoming more and more of a problem for Putin," said Michael Steiner, Schroeder's foreign policy adviser, speaking at a Group of Eight summit in Japan's southern Okinawa island.

"Putin indicated that he himself felt that the policies being pursued by Milosevic posed a problem," the aide said.

The G8 leaders said Friday they were "very concerned" about revisions to the Yugoslav constitution, according to a statement issued after a working dinner on the first day of their three-day summit in southern Japan.

Earlier this month, the Yugoslav parliament adopted constitutional changes allowing the president, indicted by the UN tribunal for war crimes in Kosovo, to seek a new term by a direct vote.

The changes provide for direct presidential elections for a four-year mandate, and would allow the same candidate to stand twice.

Currently the president is elected by parliament for a non-renewable four-year term.

The German official said the Russian leader had conveyed the impression that "if Milosevic thinks that Putin can be his mentor, then he is wrong."

Putin said he was "ready to contribute to a concerted effort to oppose any escalation of violence, which we cannot rule out", between Serbia and the smaller member of the Yugoslav federation, Western-minded Montenegro.

Schroeder and Putin were both "very worried about recent developments in relations between the two Yugoslav republics," Steiner added.

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