Yesterday’s developments in Moscow came as a summit of EU leaders in Brussels also held talks with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Those talks, combined with a gathering of NATO foreign ministers on April 12 and the Albright-Ivanov meeting a day later, reflect a new effort by Western countries to seek a diplomatic solution to the Kosovo crisis. The diplomatic initiative is being backed up by both intensified NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia and expressions of the West’s resolve to maintain its military pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Among the key topics under discussion yesterday were two diplomatic initiatives–one which the UN unveiled earlier and another which Germany made public yesterday- -aimed at achieving a peaceful settlement of the Balkans crisis. The German plan includes a call for a one-day suspension of NATO air strikes if Milosevic begins withdrawing troops from Kosovo, and a “permanent suspension” of air strikes once the withdrawal of Serb forces is complete. In addition, it stipulates deploying a heavily armed UN force in Kosovo as the Serbian troops withdraw, returning refugees to Kosovo and placing Kosovo under UN administration until a permanent peace is agreed to. The plan does not mention NATO’s deploying a peacekeeping force in Kosovo, as the West had insisted upon earlier, but suggests instead deploying a “robust” contingent of international troops (AP, April 14).
That last point in the German plan was clearly aimed at mollifying the Russians, who have joined Belgrade in opposing a NATO peacekeeping deployment. Indeed, at least one Western newspaper suggested today that the German plan seemed designed less to appeal to Milosevic than to enlist Moscow’s aid in forging a peace settlement. German officials defended their plan–and Annan’s presence at the EU summit meeting–with the explanation that they hoped to win a positive response from Moscow and thus to draw Russia away from Belgrade and into a diplomatic front against Milosevic (International Herald Tribune, April 15). Such a strategy would appear to be another reflection of the belief, which some Western officials articulated earlier this week, that Moscow is concerned over its increasing isolation.
Today Chernomyrdin responded positively to the German initiative, telling reporters in Moscow that a pause in NATO’s bombing, as outlined in the German proposal, may be key to forging an agreement. “I doubt there can be an agreement while strikes are being made,” he said. “We intend to do everything, undertake everything possible to settle this conflict, including trips.” (Reuters, April 15)
For all that, Moscow appeared yesterday to be still preparing to send more naval vessels to the Adriatic Sea in order to monitor NATO military operations in the region. The Russian navy’s press service said that a number of Black Sea Fleet vessels remain ready to sail to the Mediterranean but gave no date for their departure. According to Russian sources, however, the Turkish General Staff announced yesterday that Moscow had notified Turkey through diplomatic channels that an eight-ship naval squadron would pass through the Turkish Straits in three groups between April 15 and 22 (Itar-Tass, April 14). Russia currently has one naval reconnaissance vessel in the Adriatic.
Russian diplomatic sources, meanwhile, were reported to have indicated anew yesterday Moscow’s intention to pass up NATO’s fiftieth anniversary summit in Washington, scheduled for next week. Although a final decision has apparently not been taken, the sources said that Moscow also intends to forego a meeting of the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council tentatively scheduled to take place in Washington in parallel with the summit ceremony (Russian agencies, April 14). Russia has already severed most of its connections with NATO–and many of its bilateral military contacts with NATO member states– because of the alliance’s air campaign in Yugoslavia.
CHERNOMYRDIN AS BALKANS ENVOY: ANOTHER BLOW TO PRIMAKOV?