Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 89

Russia and China were criticized last weekend for a meeting which their UN ambassadors held last week with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. But despite their apparent unhappiness over the talks in Belgrade, diplomats suggested that the two permanent UN Security Council members were unlikely to face any sort of censure.

The weekend’s criticism was a response to news that Russian UN ambassador Sergei Lavrov and Chinese UN ambassador Shen Guofang had traveled in secret to Belgrade on April 26 for talks with Milosevic, an indicted war criminal, and other top Yugoslav officials. The visit came on the eve of a three-day fact-finding mission to Kosovo by an eight-member UN Security Council delegation. Lavrov and Shen, who were part of that delegation, traveled to Yugoslavia at UN expense, though their own governments apparently covered their side trip to Belgrade. The two diplomats had not informed the UN Security Council of their intention to visit the Yugoslav capital prior to the start of the fact-finding mission (see the Monitor, April 28).

Canada took the lead in criticizing the unannounced meeting. On April 29 Canada’s UN ambassador, Robert Fowler, expressed his deep disappointment with the decision of the Russian and Chinese diplomats to talk with Milosevic. Fowler told reporters that he had no objection to their visiting Belgrade before they joined the six other Security Council envoys in Kosovo, but criticized the decision to meet with an indicted war criminal and complained that the talks with Milosevic would only further complicate efforts by the already divided Security Council to deal with Kosovo.

The Canadian member of the UN’s Kosovo fact-finding mission had similar things to say on April 30. Michel Duval complained that Lavrov and Shen’s visit with Milosevic had “sent the wrong signal” and had complicated the work of the mission. According to Duval, when the UN delegation arrived in Pristina, it was “faced with reports that [the] delegation had been to Belgrade and there was support for Belgrade.” He said that the Russian-Chinese visit had undermined the delegation’s efforts to appear neutral and intimated that it had encouraged Belgrade in its efforts to undermine the UN’s policy of trying to bring “reconciliation and autonomy” to Kosovo. Duval made clear, finally, that the UN mission had not traveled to Yugoslavia to criticize the work of the UN administration in Kosovo (Reuters, April 30). Russia and China have repeatedly blamed the UN administration–and the NATO-led peacekeeping mission–for the continuing problems in Kosovo. Yugoslav leaders repeated that charge during Lavrov’s and Shen’s visit to Belgrade.

In addition to Lavrov, Shen and Duval, the UN Security Council delegation to Kosovo included envoys from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Argentina, Ukraine and Jamaica. The United States, Britain and France–NATO members as well as permanent UN Security Council members–were not represented on the Kosovo mission. Reports over the weekend suggested that several ambassadors had privately expressed dismay over the Russian-Chinese visit to Belgrade, with at least one calling it a provocation. They also made clear, however, that they did not intend to draw more attention to the visit by making an issue of it (Reuters, April 29-30, May 1).