Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 96

Western leaders hope also to confirm today that Moscow continues to support their framework for a peaceful settlement of the Kosovo conflict. The principles of this framework were agreed upon jointly by foreign ministers from Russia and the leading Western democracies during a meeting in Bonn on May 6. At the time, Western leaders proclaimed the results of the Bonn meeting as proof that Russia had, in large part, embraced Western efforts to impose a peace settlement on Belgrade. Although Russia and the West continued to disagree over the exact composition of the postsettlement security force in Kosovo, Moscow had reportedly also come at least to accept the Western view that the force had to be a robust military one. Belgrade has said that it would agree to the deployment only of a lightly armed international force–one more akin to a police force or international observer group–in Kosovo.

Since the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade by NATO aircraft on May 7, however, Russia has seemed at times to be distancing itself from the agreements reached in Bonn. Top Russian officials have on several occasions joined Beijing in calling, among other things, for a halt to NATO’s bombing campaign as a precondition for talks on a Kosovo settlement. Russian President Boris Yeltsin has also twice warned that a failure by the West to respond to Russian demands in this area could cause Moscow to withdraw from its Kosovo mediator’s role altogether.

That seems unlikely to happen, given that Moscow sees the Balkans conflict and its mediator role as a unique opportunity to recover some of its prestige on the international stage. Russia’s continued reluctance to be seen only as a “courier” for the West, however, was in evidence once again yesterday during a meeting in Brussels between foreign ministers from the European Union and Russia. The talks in Brussels reportedly were to focus primarily on the question of the international security force for Kosovo. Acting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov used the occasion, however, to repeat Moscow’s demand that NATO halt its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

Russian diplomatic sources suggested yesterday that Moscow is also seeking clarification from the West on the issue of withdrawing Serbian military forces from Kosovo. Those sources said that these two issues–a possible pause in the NATO bombing campaign and the rate and extent of the Serb military withdrawal from Kosovo–will also be on the agenda during the talks today in Helsinki (Russian agencies, May 17). Those remarks suggest that differences between Russia and the West are not confined to questions over the composition of the post-conflict Kosovo security force.