Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 114

The current confrontation between NATO and Russia reflects the enduring bitterness among much of Russia’s political and military elite over the course of events in the Balkans. Although Russia–particularly in the person of special Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin–was party to the negotiations which eventually led to the Kosovo peace settlement, many in Moscow have depicted the settlement as a sell-out of Moscow’s and Belgrade’s interests.

The latest confrontation has focused, more specifically, on two aspects of the peace settlement which were left vaguely defined (indeed, in order to satisfy Moscow): overall command and control of the Kosovo peace force and Russia’s particular role within that command system. Moscow, which vigorously supports Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, has vowed that it will not place its forces under NATO command in Kosovo. Russian officials have also demanded that Russia be given control over a specific sector in the province, and have angled in particular for an area in northern Kosovo, near the Serbian border. NATO has rejected the two Russian demands on the grounds that the first would violate the principle of unified command while the second–due to Moscow’s close ties to Belgrade–could encourage the de facto partition of Kosovo.

With the benefit of hindsight, the surprise Russian move into Kosovo is perhaps not such a surprise at all. In the lead-up to last week’s talks between Talbott and Ivanov, a top Russian Defense Ministry official had spoken openly of Chernomyrdin’s alleged negotiating failures, and of the need to amend certain aspects of the peace agreements in Russia’s favor. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov–a notorious hardliner who had been a member of Chernomyrdin’s negotiating delegation and who took part in the Talbott-Ivanov talks–also emphasized that Moscow was going to dig in its heels on the issue of keeping Russian troops in Kosovo independent of NATO’s command (see the Monitor, June 10). He and other Defense Ministry officials simultaneously made clear that Russian paratroopers were ready to depart for Kosovo on a moment’s notice.

Ivashov and other Russian officials ultimately justified the surprise Russian troop movement into Kosovo with the argument that NATO was trying to cut Russia out of any meaningful role in the peacekeeping force altogether. They suggested that Talbott had been deliberately dragging out the negotiations with Ivanov so as to give NATO time to establish itself militarily in Kosovo–and thus to weaken Moscow’s claims on a significant role in the peacekeeping operation. They argued that the Russian military presence in Kosovo would compel Washington to negotiate seriously with Moscow, and, indeed, made the claim yesterday that progress made by Ivanov and Talbott in their talks justified that belief (International Herald Tribune, Washington Post, June 12; International agencies, June 13).

More ominously, Ivashov suggested on June 11 that Moscow would turn directly to Belgrade if its negotiations with NATO fail to produce the desired results. “We don’t intend to beg the American side to provide Russia with a relevant sector in Kosovo,” the Russian general said. If an agreement can’t be reached, “we will declare our sector and agree on this question with the Yugoslav side” (AP, June 11).