Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 159

The impasse at Orahovac–and Russia’s role in the KFOR peacekeeping mission more generally–has, meanwhile, been on the minds of key U.S. diplomats. The situation in the Balkans was reportedly the main topic of discussion during a telephone conversation on August 29 between Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Ivanov reportedly reiterated Moscow’s oft-expressed dissatisfaction with several aspects of the Kosovo peacekeeping mission. According to a Russian Foreign Ministry news release, Ivanov “expressed serious concern in connection with… the continuing expulsion from the region of the non-Albanian population, the slow process of disarming bandit groups (one of Moscow’s standard references for the KLA), and provocations against the Russian contingent of peacekeepers.” That last point refers to the standoff in Orahovac and other threats aimed at Russian soldiers in Kosovo by the ethnic Albanian guerrillas. There was no indication of whether the two diplomats had reached any agreement on an approach which might help to resolve the standoff at Orahovac or ease the plight of Russian troops in Kosovo more generally (Reuters, Itar-Tass, August 30).

Richard Holbrooke, Washington’s recently sworn-in ambassador to the UN, also addressed the subject of Russia’s role in Kosovo during a trip over the weekend to the region. During talks with Lieutenant General Mike Jackson, the British commander of the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo, Holbrooke pointedly underscored what he said was the importance of Russia to the peacekeeping effort, urging a quick resolution to the Orahovac dispute and describing the Russians as an “important part of the process which ended the war” in Kosovo and said that Moscow has a “legitimate role here.” Holbrooke, nevertheless, did note that he was struck by the depth of the animosity toward the Russians which was held by ethnic Albanian villagers he had met with a day earlier (Reuters, August 29; AP, August 30).

In his own remarks after the Holbrooke visit, Jackson also emphasized the strength of the hostility in Kosovo. But he suggested that ethnic Albanians in Orahovac may be mistaken in believing the reports and rumors alleging Russian participation in the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing campaign in the region. “As ever,” he said, “I fear we may have a situation where beliefs are rather more awful than the actual facts.” He expressed his suspicions that Russian involvement with the Serbs in Orahovac was less than Albanians believe, if it existed at all (Reuters, August 29).