Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 104

Indeed, it was a bad day all around for Russian officials in their efforts to broker a Kosovo peace deal. Aside from the indictment announcement, yesterday’s talks in Moscow apparently concluded without any agreement. The three-way negotiations–which brought together Chernomyrdin, EU special envoy (and Finnish President) Martti Ahtisaari and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott–were aimed at finalizing a Kosovo peace plan which Chernomyrdin might then present to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Yesterday’s marathon talks marked the third time in the past two weeks that the three chief Kosovo negotiators had convened with this goal in mind. But the envoys were apparently unable yet again to overcome the differences between Moscow and the West that have thus far deadlocked the talks. Those problem areas include Russia’s call for an immediate halt to NATO’s bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, the West’s insistence on the deployment in Kosovo of a NATO-led international security force and the West’s demand for a total withdrawal of Serb military and police forces from Kosovo. Ahtisaari said yesterday after the talks that the two sides were moving closer on those issues, but the fact that Ahtisaari chose not to go to Belgrade with Chernomyrdin was a clear indicator that sufficient agreement had not been found.

Yesterday’s disagreements had to some extent been foreshadowed. In remarks which preceded the beginning of the Moscow talks on May 26, Talbott had ruled out any early end–or pause–to NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia. He also reiterated the West’s insistence that NATO play a central role in any post-settlement security force deployed in Kosovo. And, though he suggested that a token Serb force might later be allowed back into Kosovo as part of a settlement agreement, he insisted that any such agreement must stipulate the withdrawal of all Serb military and police forces from the province. Finally, Talbott also reportedly made clear Washington’s opposition to any sort of partition of Kosovo–or the creation of a separate Russian-controlled zone in the northern part of the province. There have been reports that Moscow would like to have its own troops deployed in the northern and northeastern parts of Kosovo, which are areas of particular interest to Belgrade (International Herald Tribune, May 27; Western and Russian agencies, May 26).

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, meanwhile, used an appearance in Stockholm on May 26 to renew Moscow’s general attack on NATO’s overall strategy in the Balkans. Following talks with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Ivanov reiterated Moscow’s contention that the NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia are illegal and contrary to both the UN Charter and international law. He sought also to transfer control of international policy toward Yugoslavia from NATO to the UN. Earlier, Ivanov had attributed NATO’s policies toward Yugoslavia to “spur-of-the-moment political ambitions which have nothing to do with Europeans’ aspirations.” Ivanov was presumably restating the sometimes-heard Russian argument that Washington has pushed for military actions in the Balkans to bolster U.S. President Bill Clinton’s political standing at home. Moscow has also long sought to exploit tensions within NATO between the United States and its European allies (Russian agencies, May 26).