Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 117

The Russian government, meanwhile, appears in recent days to be attempting to introduce some order into its policy making vis-a-vis Kosovo. Following a meeting with President Boris Yeltsin on June 15, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin announced that the Foreign Ministry would henceforth play the lead role in coordinating policy toward the Balkans. That decision was presumably not only Yeltsin’s, but one arrived at also during a meeting of the Russian Security Council that took place one day earlier. “The main thing on which we agreed is that all efforts related to Yugoslavia must be coordinated. The Foreign Ministry leads the effort,” Stepashin told reporters. “Synchronized actions by the Foreign Ministry, military and government with follow-up reports to the president–that is the strict pattern that is already being implemented,” Stepashin said (Russian agencies, June 15).

The import of Stepashin’s June 15 announcement is unclear. On the one hand, the Foreign Ministry’s new ascendancy probably signals the end of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin’s role as Russia’s pointman for the Balkans. Chernomyrdin, appointed special Balkans envoy by Yeltsin in April, has been widely criticized in Moscow for the Kosovo peace agreement which he helped negotiate with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and EU special envoy (and Finnish President) Martti Ahtisaari. Indeed, Moscow’s every action since consummation of the peace deal appears to be have been aimed at wriggling out of the terms it set–particularly those relating to NATO’s leading role in the Kosovo security force.

Stepashin’s announcement that the Foreign Ministry will coordinate policy toward the Balkans may also be directed at reining in the hardline military leaders who many believe have been driving Russian policy toward Yugoslavia in recent days. Although Yeltsin seems since to have embraced the surprise deployment of Russian troops to Kosovo, there is still speculation that he was not fully involved in the decision to send the troops. Whether Ivanov is capable of running Russian policy toward Yugoslavia is another matter. Ivanov is a career diplomat who lacks the independent political standing and authority wielded by his predecessor in the Foreign Ministry post, Yevgeny Primakov. It also seems unlikely that Ivanov receives the kind of respect from the military leadership that Primakov enjoyed.