Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 191

Moscow yesterday took a break from its harsh criticism of Western policies in the Balkans. It appeared to take a more pragmatic step toward implementing the agreement reached earlier this week by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke. Reports out of Paris yesterday said that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had moved with his Contact Group partners to fully endorse the Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement. More surprising, Ivanov apparently did not torpedo another Contact Group endorsement–this one expressing support for airstrikes on Yugoslavia in the event that Milosevic fails to comply with the agreement by this Saturday’s deadline. According to German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, Ivanov did, however, oppose a proposed new UN resolution that would specifically authorize the threatened NATO strikes (AP, October 15). A host of leading Russian politicians have harshly criticized threatened NATO air attacks on Yugoslavia, and Moscow has stated unequivocally that it will veto any resolution in the UN Security Council seeking to formally authorize the NATO strikes.

Ivanov also made clear yesterday Russia’s intention to take part in an OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) run verification mission that is to put some 2,000 international monitors on the ground in Kosovo in order to ensure Milosevic’s compliance with the new agreement. In addition, Russia has indicated its desire to take part in air surveillance over Kosovo (Reuters, October 15). A NATO delegation led by Secretary General Javier Solana yesterday signed an agreement in Belgrade which will permit unarmed Western spy planes to monitor whether Serbian forces withdraw from Kosovo in a manner that allows thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees to return to their villages (AP, Reuters, October 15).

Ivanov yesterday portrayed Russia’s cooperation with its Western Contact Group partners in terms suggesting that Moscow’s–and, by extension, Belgrade’s–interests were being well served. The Russian foreign minister reiterated that all Contact Group members continue to support Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity. They do not, that is to say, support calls for an independent Kosovo. He also underscored what he said was the West’s acceptance that UN Security Council resolutions aimed at ending the bloodshed in Kosovo apply to ethnic Albanian separatists as well as to Serb and Yugoslav authorities.

Finally, Ivanov intimated that the decision to entrust OSCE with oversight of the observer mission in Kosovo in fact served one of Moscow’s long-term goals in Europe: namely, to strengthen the OSCE as a European security agency at the expense of NATO. The success of the OSCE mission, he said, “will both promote the settlement of the situation in Kosovo and consolidate a future system of European security in general” (Itar-Tass, October 15). Ivanov did restate Moscow’s objections to the maintenance by NATO of its military threat against Yugoslavia. But, relative to the harshly denunciatory rhetoric that has poured out of Moscow on this score in recent days, Ivanov’s remarks yesterday were markedly moderate.

That relative equanimity is likely to be challenged in the days to come. Aside from the fact that the issue has become a politically supercharged one in Russia, events on the ground in Kosovo seem certain to strike sparks anew between Belgrade and the West in the days, weeks and months to come. Russia, which has presented itself as Belgrade’s staunchest defender, has until this point shown no inclination to stand aloof from such skirmishes. Indeed, despite yesterday’s agreement in Belgrade authorizing Western overflights of Kosovo, NATO authorities criticized Milosevic harshly for what they said was his failure to withdraw police and army units from Kosovo immediately. On Wednesday, moreover, a NATO official had said that the alliance’s activation order, which authorizes air strikes on Yugoslavia, would be kept in force beyond this Saturday’s deadline and “into the foreseeable future” (Reuters, October 15). The remarks were meant to underscore the West’s continuing suspicion of Milosevic’s willingness to live up to the agreement he signed on Kosovo.