Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 74

In his first full day as Moscow’s pointman for diplomatic dealings related to the Kosovo crisis, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said yesterday that he supports a new German initiative aimed at promoting a Kosovo peace settlement. The German proposal, unveiled during an EU summit meeting on April 14, includes a call for a twenty-four-hour suspension of NATO bombing if Belgrade begins a withdrawal of its forces from Kosovo. Washington yesterday rejected key elements of the German plan, while some other NATO member countries complained that the plan might undermine perceptions of the alliance’s unity over its Kosovo operations. In an apparent effort to assuage such misgivings, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder yesterday reaffirmed his support for NATO’s bombing campaign in Yugoslavia. He also insisted that Belgrade would have to accept all the West’s conditions for a Kosovo settlement before NATO would halt its bombing (Reuters, April 15).

That last condition is likely to remain an impediment to the hopes held by some Western leaders–and by the Germans in particular–that Russia can soon be induced to take part in their peace efforts. That was highlighted by Chernomyrdin’s own rather selective endorsement of the German peace plan. The former Russian premier was quoted yesterday as saying that “what Germany is proposing–to stop all military action for at least twenty-four hours and look for a compromise–deserves attention” (International Herald Tribune, April 16; Reuters, April 15). Chernomyrdin expressed his doubts “that any agreement [with Belgrade] can be reached while NATO continues its airstrikes against Yugoslavia” (AP, April 15).

Moscow and the West have clashed over Yugoslavian and Russian insistence that a halt to NATO air strikes is a precondition to any peace negotiations. NATO has said that Belgrade must withdraw its forces from Kosovo before the bombings are halted and negotiations can be resumed.

Meanwhile, Russian President Boris Yeltsin yesterday defended his choice of Chernomyrdin as Moscow’s envoy for Kosovo peace negotiations. Yeltsin described Chernomyrdin as a “strong and wise man enjoying prestige abroad.” He also said that Chernomyrdin “can speak with Milosevic as nobody can. He has known him for a long time and has done business with him on several occasions” Russian Public TV, April 15). Chernomyrdin, for his part, said in an interview published by a Russian daily that a quick solution to the current Balkans crisis is not likely. “We have to arm ourselves with patience and steady our nerves,” he was quoted as saying (AP, April 15).