Russian diplomats quietly claimed a diplomatic triumph yesterday as Western powers deferred until next week a decision on new sanctions against Yugoslavia. Yesterday’s developments followed talks in Belgrade between the German and French foreign ministers on the one hand, and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Serbian President Milan Milutinovic on the other. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said afterward that, though the talks had not produced a breakthrough, the authorities in Belgrade had met enough of the West’s demands to put off the immediate imposition of new sanctions. The Contact Group had leveled mild sanctions on Yugoslavia during a March 9 meeting and had given Belgrade ten days — ending yesterday — to meet a series of demands or face harsher penalties. The group is now scheduled to meet on March 25 in Bonn, where it will consider the sanctions issue anew.
What the Western powers won from Belgrade yesterday included an offer by Milutinovic to conduct unconditional negotiations with Kosovo Albanians on political autonomy within Serbia. They also got a pledge from Milosevic to back those talks, and his agreement both to meet with a European Union envoy and to establish an OSCE mission in Kosovo. Milosevic also said that the special police units involved in the bloody crackdown earlier this month in Kosovo — which left at least eighty dead — had been withdrawn. That had been another of the West’s demands.
The French and German ministers, however, failed to get Milosevic’s consent to the participation of an outside mediator in the talks on Kosovo’s future. That had been a key demand of the Kosovo Albanians. Milutinovic also ruled out independence for Kosovo, a precondition to talks that had been opposed by the Kosovo Albanians. Kinkel and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine indicated they would urge the Kosovo Albanians to enter into dialogue with Belgrade, despite the fact that the West had not gotten all it wanted. (Reuter, Russian agencies, March 19)
Yesterday’s results dovetailed in large part with what Moscow had been aiming for in its own diplomacy on Kosovo. Indeed, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov had himself been in Belgrade only a day earlier for talks of his own with Milosevic and Milutinovic. Russian sources suggested those talks were decisive. (Itar-Tass, March 19; see also, Monitor, March 18) Primakov backed Belgrade’s opposition to any foreign mediation of talks on Kosovo — arguing that the crisis was an internal matter for Yugoslav authorities to solve on their own — but did urge a dialogue on autonomy for Kosovo Albanians. Primakov also spoke out, as Moscow has done from the beginning, against the leveling of any new sanctions on Belgrade.
Moscow Backs Belgrade at UN.