Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 91

In a move which could further complicate NATO efforts to force an acceptable peace settlement on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Russia’s special Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin flew to Beijing yesterday for talks with Chinese leaders. The trip, an unscheduled and unexpected one for Chernomyrdin, followed in the wake of NATO’s accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade on May 7. China has reacted furiously to the incident, and has demanded an official apology from both NATO and the United States. Beijing also indicated yesterday that it would make a cessation of NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia a precondition for any talks aimed at reaching a political settlement of the Kosovo conflict.

Chernomyrdin’s trip appears to have been prompted by a telephone conversation yesterday between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin. The official Chinese Xinhua news agency quoted Yeltsin as expressing his utmost indignation over the NATO strike on the Chinese embassy. Yeltsin reportedly also reiterated Moscow’s more general condemnation of NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia and joined Beijing in saying that the campaign must be halted before a political solution to the conflict can be achieved (International news agencies, Xinhua, May 10).

It was unclear yesterday whether Chernomyrdin has traveled to Beijing in order to calm the reactions of Chinese leaders to the embassy bombing. That might make sense in view of what Russia and some in the West have touted as the success of last week’s G-7 meeting in Germany. There, Russian and NATO foreign ministers agreed on a set of principles which were to serve as the basis for a new peace initiative aimed at ending the Kosovo conflict. They also said that they would work to make those principles the basis of a UN Security Council resolution which would grant an international mandate to the Russia-NATO peace effort. In remarks on May 9 Chernomyrdin criticized NATO for the embassy bombing. But he appeared to suggest that Moscow would work nevertheless to maintain the diplomatic momentum which came out of the G-7 meeting.

Given the signals coming out of Beijing in recent days, however, Chernomyrdin’s visit to China could also mark the beginning of a joint Russian-Chinese effort to seize the diplomatic initiative on Kosovo and to push for a settlement which would be less attractive to the West than the one agreed upon at the G-7 meeting. Any initiative of that sort would presumably reflect Beijing’s demand–one which Moscow has also expressed repeatedly–that NATO halt its bombing campaign as a precondition for the start of peace negotiations. Indeed, in his conversation yesterday with Yeltsin, Jiang reportedly told the Russian president that continued NATO bombing of Yugoslavia would make it “impossible for the UN Security Council to discuss any plan to solve the [Kosovo] problem” (Reuters, Xinhua, May 10). Like Russia, China is a permanent member of the UN council.