Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 115

Russia and the West continued to butt heads yesterday over the issue of Moscow’s participation in the international security force now deploying into Kosovo. Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton discussed the issue by telephone yesterday–their second such conversation in two days–but apparently failed to resolve their differences. The two men did agree to dispatch senior government officials to Helsinki for urgent talks on the matter. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen will depart from Washington sometime in the next day or two to meet with their Russian counterparts, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. After those talks Albright will reportedly join Clinton in Cologne, Germany, where he will be attending the Group of Seven summit. The Russian and U.S. presidents are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of that event for additional discussions about the standoff in Kosovo (Reuters, AP, June 14).

Yesterday’s telephone negotiations between Washington and Moscow came as the Russian Security Council convened to discuss Russian policy in Yugoslavia. The council is an advisory body to the president which includes, among others, the country’s prime minister, foreign minister and leading defense and security chiefs. Created by Yeltsin early in his presidency, the council’s influence has waxed and waned depending on political circumstances and Yeltsin’s whim. It is currently at a low ebb, but yesterday’s meeting was apparently intended to demonstrate the seriousness which the Kremlin is attaching to the issue of Russia’s peacekeeping role in Kosovo. Until now, the Security Council has not played a significant role in government deliberations on the Yugoslav crisis. Instead, senior officials involved in dealing with the crisis had met under the chairmanship of the prime minister, or, later, under special Russian Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Chaired yesterday by Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, the council appeared in large part merely to rubber stamp the government’s existing views on the standoff over peacekeepers. Members of the council reportedly agreed that Russia should play a “significant” role in the political settlement of the Kosovo conflict and in the international peacekeeping force being deployed there. The council reiterated Moscow’s insistence that the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo be placed under the auspices of the UN, and said that Russia’s national interests necessitated that Moscow play a prominent role in the peacekeeping force. The council tasked the Foreign and Defense Ministries–and other relevant agencies–to prepare a series of recommendations on Kosovo for the Russian president. Stepashin will reportedly present the results of yesterday’s council deliberations to Yeltsin during a meeting today (AP, Russian agencies, June 14).

Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who as special envoy had earlier conducted Russia’s negotiations with the West and Belgrade over Kosovo, was apparently not involved in yesterday’s deliberations. The peace agreement which he helped author–and which ended the hostilities over Kosovo–has been severely criticized in Russia as a sellout of Russian and Yugoslav interests. Although the Kremlin and government leaders have spoken positively of Chernomyrdin’s performance, they have distanced themselves from the peace agreement. They also seem to have spent much of the past week attempting to rewrite those sections of the agreement which Moscow views with disfavor.