Moscow maintained its opposition this week to UN and NATO plans to transform the Kosovo Liberation Army into a largely civil force. But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov yesterday rebuffed a Defense Ministry claim that Moscow’s dissatisfaction with the NATO-led peacekeeping effort might lead Russia to withdraw its troops from Kosovo. In Pristina, meanwhile, the commander of the Russian troops in Kosovo said yesterday that his soldiers would not use force to break through a blockade that for nearly a month has kept a Russian unit out of the city of Orahovac. His remarks appeared designed to ease tensions in Kosovo, including the apprehensions that many Kosovo Albanians feel toward the Russian contingent deployed there (AP, Russian agencies, September 16).
The latest expression of Russia’s opposition to a UN and NATO plan to transform the KLA into a uniformed “Kosovo Corps” (see Monitor, September 9) came during a visit to Moscow this week by Bernard Kouchner, the top UN representative for Kosovo. Since the plan was first mooted earlier this month, Russian officials have repeatedly argued that it fails to comply with UN requirements calling, in Moscow’s view, for the complete disarmament and disbandment of the guerrilla army. They also suggested that, because of Moscow’s objections, the meeting with Kouchner in Moscow could be a stormy one. That appears not to have been the case, however. Ivanov did restate Moscow’s position on the matter–arguing that “the formation of a paramilitary agency under any name can only make a political settlement more difficult.” But he appears also to have reassured Kouchner that Moscow understands the difficulties the UN mission faces in Kosovo, and that the mission could count on “full cooperation with Russia” (Russian agencies, September 14-15; AP, September 16).
In addition, Ivanov appeared yesterday to rebuff directly a statement made on September 14 by Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the hardline head of the Defense Ministry’s administration for international cooperation. Ivashov had voiced Moscow’s now standard laundry list of NATO’s alleged failures in Kosovo, and had warned that “if NATO… continues policies failing to correspond with the national interests of Russia, the question of pulling the Russian peacemaking contingent out of Kosovo may arise” (Itar-Tass, September 14). Ivashov’s September 14 warning was not the first time that he has suggested Russia might withdraw its troops from Kosovo.
The Russian foreign minister said yesterday, however, that Ivashov’s statement had not been authorized by the Russian government, and suggested that it carried no weight. “I don’t know if this is Ivashov’s personal point of view or he is quoting someone,” Ivanov said. He then added that official statements pertaining to Russian foreign policy can be made only by the Russian president, the prime minister, the foreign minister or officials under their instruction. Ivashov apparently did not fall into that last category (Itar-Tass, September 16).
Ivanov’s criticism of the Russian general may be noteworthy. Ivashov is believed to be a leader of a clique of hardline senior Russian military officers who orchestrated the surprise dash of Russian paratroopers to Pristina in June and who have more generally pursued a hard line toward NATO’s peacekeeping effort in Kosovo. It has not always been clear whether the views of that clique are fully in line with those of the Russian government as a whole. Ivanov’s rebuff suggests that tensions between the two sides remain.
[Note: The Monitor continues the series of profiles of the candidates in Ukraine’s presidential election.]
UDOVENKO AND KOSTENKO: RUKH CONTENDERS.