Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 92

China remained an unexpected wild card in efforts to find a political solution to the Kosovo conflict yesterday, as Russia’s special Balkans envoy wound up a brief stay in Beijing while China pushed for acceptance of a UN Security Council resolution condemning NATO for its strike last week on Beijing’s embassy in Belgrade. Amid considerable criticism of NATO worldwide for the embassy tragedy, it was unclear whether Chinese anger at NATO and the United States over the attack would ultimately impede efforts to win UN support for a Kosovo peace plan worked out last week between Russia and the G-7 countries.

Moscow, meanwhile, remained at the center of frenetic diplomatic maneuvering aimed at bringing peace to the Balkans. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine was in the Russian capital yesterday for consultations with Russian officials. His boss, President Jacques Chirac, is to hold talks in Moscow today, as is U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

Russia’s special envoy for the Balkans, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, returned to Moscow yesterday following talks in Beijing with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, and Deputy Prime Minister Qian Qichen. That Chernomyrdin was invited to meet with such a high-ranking trio of Chinese officials during his hastily arranged visit bespoke the importance Beijing attached to his presence.

It was unclear, however, precisely what Chernomyrdin had achieved–or had wanted to achieve–during his stay in Beijing. Both sides harshly criticized NATO for its accidental strike on the Chinese embassy and, more generally, for its continuing air campaign against Yugoslavia. They also spoke of the similarities in Moscow’s and Beijing’s views of the conflict in Kosovo. Both sides appeared also to emphasize what they said was Russia’s and China’s insistence that a halt to the NATO air strikes must serve as a precondition for any political negotiations aimed at ending the Kosovo conflict (Reuters, Russian agencies, Xinhua, May 11). That view appeared to reiterate Chinese statements from a day earlier suggesting that Beijing could block efforts to win UN Security Council approval for last week’s G-7 peace plan.

That position presumably put Chernomyrdin into something of a difficult position. Although he too voiced Moscow’s standard call for an end to the NATO strikes–both in Beijing and in Moscow–reports prior to his departure for China had suggested that Chernomyrdin would try to convince Chinese leaders to put aside their anger over the embassy bombing to let diplomatic efforts on the G-7 peace plan move forward. Russia, after all, was involved jointly with the G-7 countries in drafting the plan, and has used that agreement with the West to vault into a high-profile role as the chief “mediator” of the Kosovo conflict. The Russian-G-7 plan contained no mention of a cessation of NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia as a precondition for a political settlement of the conflict.

Moscow, moreover, also backed the plan because it would ultimately put consideration of the Kosovo conflict into the hands of the UN–a goal the Kremlin has long sought. Thus, while Russian and Chinese officials yesterday proclaimed Chernomyrdin’s visit as one more example of how well the two countries work together on the international stage, it was unclear how that cooperation would be manifested with regard to concrete efforts to resolve the Yugoslavian crisis.

Chernomyrdin met with President Boris Yeltsin this morning, just before Yeltsin’s surprise announcement that he had sacked Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov (Reuters, May 12).