Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 105

Frenetic diplomatic maneuvering over the American holiday weekend appeared to bring negotiators closer to a settlement of the Kosovo conflict. Several key questions remained unanswered yesterday, however, and some NATO leaders voiced skepticism over announcements out of Belgrade suggesting that Serb President Slobodan Milosevic had moved toward accepting key Western demands. Russia, meanwhile, remained at the heart of the Kosovo negotiations. The latest diplomatic developments were keyed on Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin’s May 28 visit to Belgrade.

That visit–Chernomyrdin’s fourth to the Yugoslav capital since the latest Kosovo peace initiative began–followed a week of intensive negotiations involving Chernomyrdin, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and EU envoy (and Finnish President) Martti Ahtisaari. Those talks had appeared to end inconclusively late last week, a conclusion suggested by Ahtisaari’s decision not to accompany Chernomyrdin to Belgrade. Diplomats had said earlier that the Finnish president would go to Yugoslavia only if Russia and the West could overcome several differences on key points of a Kosovo peace plan (see the Monitor, May 28).

Chernomyrdin and Milosevic held some six hours of talks on May 28. The Russian envoy was reportedly accompanied by a group of military specialists, including the Defense Ministry’s chief for cooperation with foreign countries–and a noted hardliner–General Leonid Ivashov. A Russian source suggested that the presence of the military specialists testified to the fact the negotiations included talks on the withdrawal of Serb army and police units from Kosovo (Itar-Tass, May 28). The scope of that pullout has been a key sticking point between NATO on the one hand and Moscow and Belgrade on the other. Last week’s talks among Chernomyrdin, Ahtisaari and Talbott were notable for the fact that military experts from Russia and the West took part for the first time.