On a day of intense political maneuvering between Russia and the United States over Kosovo, some seven hours of talks apparently failed to produce a diplomatic breakthrough. Yesterday’s Helsinki talks came amid signs of a split in NATO over the possible use of ground troops in Kosovo, and indications of both rising political tensions in Yugoslavia over the conflict and a growing interest in Belgrade for a settlement to end the NATO airstrikes.
Russia’s special Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin held talks in the Finnish capital yesterday with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Also present at the meeting was Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. Their talks were aimed at resolving differences between Russia and the United States over a proposed peace plan for Kosovo–and were reportedly directed in particular at finding common ground on how a postsettlement international security force in Kosovo should be constituted. Chernomyrdin and Talbott were scheduled to continue their negotiations this morning.
Prior to his arrival in Helsinki, Chernomyrdin said that he would continue on from the Finnish capital to Belgrade later today. Expectations were that Ahtisaari, who has been anointed the EU’s special envoy for Kosovo, would accompany Chernomyrdin to Belgrade if the talks between Talbott and the former Russian prime minister reached a successful conclusion. As of last night, that question had apparently not yet been answered.
Although reports have said that differences between Russia and NATO over the composition and status of a security force for Kosovo remain the major obstacle to an agreement, remarks by Chernomyrdin and other Russian officials suggest that there may be other differences to resolve as well. Prior to his departure for Helsinki yesterday, for example, Chernomyrdin suggested to reporters that he intended to focus on Moscow’s demand for a quick halt to the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia. “The main issue is to stop the bombing in Yugoslavia,” Chernomyrdin said (Reuters, Russian agencies, May 18).
MOSCOW UNDERSCORES DEMAND FOR HALT TO NATO AIR CAMPAIGN.