Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 86

Russia’s special envoy for the Balkans, Viktor Chernomyrdin, said after talks at the White House yesterday that the two sides had moved “closer to a diplomatic solution” to the Kosovo crisis. Chernomyrdin was also quoted as saying that the two sides “will keep working” on the issue, and that “we remain hopeful.” In their public remarks, however, officials from the Clinton administration did not appear to share Chernomyrdin’s cautious optimism. One was quoted as saying that the perception of progress would be accurate only if Chernomyrdin believed Russia was moving its position closer to U.S. and NATO demands on Yugoslavia (Reuters, April 3).

Yesterday’s talks between Chernomyrdin and U.S. President Bill Clinton (Chernomyrdin met later with Vice President Al Gore) marked the latest chapter in the former Russian prime minister’s frenetic effort to broker a settlement in the Balkans. Since his appointment as special envoy for the Balkans crisis last month, Chernomyrdin has traveled virtually nonstop to further that goal, initially lobbying the leaders of several other former Soviet states in an effort to align their views on Kosovo with those of Moscow. In this he was singularly unsuccessful. He has also twice visited Belgrade for talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and last week traveled to Rome and Bonn for talks with European leaders. He suggested yesterday that he might return to Belgrade for a third time this week.

Few details, however, were available. Chernomyrdin had said prior to departing that he was carrying a letter from Russian President Boris Yeltsin to Clinton which contained Russian proposals for resolving the Kosovo conflict. But the content of that letter has not been made public. Chernomyrdin reportedly also intended to brief the U.S. side yesterday on his talks with Milosevic in Belgrade on April 30. Few details of those talks were made public either–neither at the time they occurred nor after yesterday’s consultations. An unnamed U.S. official who sat in on yesterday’s talks, however, said that nothing Milosevic offered Chernomyrdin during the April 30 meeting merits any serious consideration by the West (AP, April 3).

The Clinton administration set the stage for Chernomyrdin’s visit by restating what it says are Washington’s and NATO’s non-negotiable demands of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said that the war against Yugoslavia would continue until Milosevic both agrees to withdraw Serb forces from Kosovo and allows ethnic Albanian refugees to return home under protection of an international security force with NATO at its core. He also said that Washington feels no pressure to reach a diplomatic settlement despite Chernomyrdin’s peace efforts and Milosevic’s decision this week to release three American POWs. Clinton conveyed much the same message in remarks of his own to reporters just prior to his meeting with Chernomyrdin. That message was punctuated by an intensification of NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia (Western agencies, April 4).

Clinton–speaking for the West—also offered some flexibility on several key points, however. For one, he suggested that NATO might be prepared to agree to a pause in the air bombardment against Yugoslavia–something proposed earlier by Moscow–if Milosevic meets NATO’s demands for the withdrawal of his troops from Kosovo, the return of refugees and the deployment of an international peacekeeping force in the war-torn province. Clinton also repeated an earlier Western offer to include troops from Russia and other states friendly to Serbia in the Kosovo peacekeeping force. But he insisted that “NATO has to be a big part” of that force (AP, April 3).