Moscow, meanwhile, played host once again yesterday to a host of foreign officials and leaders involved in resolving the Kosovo conflict. In addition to Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, UN special envoy Eduard Kukan was in the Russian capital for talks with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and other Russian officials. A second UN envoy for Kosovo, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, was expected to arrive in Moscow today for talks of his own with Ivanov.
During his talks with Kukan, Ivanov reportedly emphasized Moscow’s hope that the United Nations would play the leading role in administering the “post-crisis settlement in Yugoslavia.” He also called yet again on NATO to halt its air campaign against Yugoslavia, arguing that continuation of the bombing could disrupt the peace process. Ivanov also repeated the Russian warning–voiced earlier by President Boris Yeltsin–that a failure by NATO to halt the bombing could lead Moscow to withdraw from the negotiation process. “The bombing has to be stopped, and the sooner the better,” Ivanov said. “That is the condition for our continued joint work” (Reuters, Itar-Tass, May 20).
In addition to Ivanov’s comments, the Russian Foreign Ministry also issued a statement yesterday denouncing an accidental NATO strike made on a Belgrade hospital Wednesday night. The statement described the bombing as “criminal” and as a “flagrant violation of the Geneva conventions on the protection of war victims” (Russian agencies, May 20). While whitewashing or ignoring reports of Serb atrocities in Kosovo, Russia has routinely condemned as criminal actions NATO strikes resulting in civilian deaths.
Unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry sources, meanwhile, were quoted yesterday as saying that a decision by NATO to deploy ground troops in Kosovo could also lead Moscow to withdraw from the Kosovo peace negotiations. Operations of this sort by NATO, the sources said, would be viewed in Moscow as the occupation of a sovereign country. Ivanov himself appeared yesterday to make much the same point. He told journalists that Moscow would react “very negatively” to a NATO decision deploying ground forces, which he said would lead to an “escalation of the conflict” (Russian agencies, May 20).
STANDOFF CONTINUES OVER IRAQ.