Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 109

Concerns that last week’s capitulation by Belgrade had come a little too easily were justified over the weekend as talks between NATO and Yugoslav generals ended in a stalemate while criticism of the West’s diplomatic “victory” in Kosovo mounted among Russian officials. The complications which followed Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s June 6 agreement to NATO’s peace terms appeared also to force a postponement–albeit only by a day–of a meeting between the Group of Seven countries and Russia, which had been scheduled for yesterday. Those complications were apparently also responsible for a last-second decision yesterday by the European Union’s special envoy for Kosovo, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, to postpone a visit to China. He was to have briefed Chinese leaders on the Kosovo peace plan which was approved by Milosevic last week during a meeting with Ahtisaari and Russian special Balkans envoy (and former prime minister) Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Yesterday’s stalemate in talks between NATO and Yugoslav generals came despite what Western officials had suggested was a promising start to the talks a day earlier. The June 5 meeting was held at a restaurant in the Macedonian town of Blace on the Yugoslav-Macedonian border. Yesterday’s follow-up talks took place at an airfield in Kumanovo, just northwest of Skopje, Macedonia’s capital. Reports suggested that the Yugoslav side had objected to NATO’s seven-day deadline for a full withdrawal by Serb and Yugoslav forces from Kosovo. The Yugoslav generals reportedly also wanted assurances that they would not be attacked by Kosovo rebels. Some reports suggested that the Yugoslav generals had refused to sign the withdrawal agreement simply because they still objected to the presence of NATO troops in Kosovo. The talks will reportedly resume today (AP, Reuters, June 5-6; International Herald Tribune, June 7).

Moscow may also have played a role in yesterday’s standoff. Although earlier reports had made it clear that Russia was to be represented at the talks in Macedonia, no Russian military official appeared to take part on June 5. Russia’s Defense Ministry made the dubious announcement that it was unaware Russia was to take part in the meeting. Only yesterday (June 6) did a Russian general–Yevgeny Barmyantsev–finally arrive at the talks. Barmyantsev reportedly brought with him a message from Russia’s Foreign and Defense Ministries to the effect that NATO peacekeepers could enter Kosovo only on the basis of a UN Security Council resolution. A Russian report suggested that NATO was trying to violate the principle in the negotiations with the Yugoslav generals. It was unclear whether Moscow’s stance helped complicate the talks in Macedonia (Itar-Tass, June 6). NATO is giving Yugoslavia seven days to withdraw all its forces from Kosovo, and has said that its bombing campaign will come to a halt after the pullout has been verified over the course of a day.