Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 51

Talks between Belgrade and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership were scheduled to resume in Rambouillet, France this morning, but few Western observers appeared to be predicting any quick successes. The dearth of optimism was due in part to a failure on March 12 by the foreign ministers of Russia and Greece to convince Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept the deployment of an international peace enforcement contingent in Yugoslavia. The Russian-Greek effort, meant to exploit traditional ties between Belgrade and both Moscow and Athens, came two days after U.S. Balkans envoy Richard Holbrooke failed to win Milosevic’s acceptance of a NATO-led force.

In remarks to reporters which followed his talks in the Yugoslav capital with Milosevic, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Belgrade “decisively and with finality rejects the possibility of a foreign military or police presence in Kosovo.” Western officials, joined by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership, have insisted that deployment of a NATO force must be part of any political agreement between Belgrade and Kosovo rebels. Yugoslav leaders, however, with the apparent support of Moscow, have repeatedly tried to decouple the political agreement from plans for the deployment of NATO forces. Western hopes of pressuring Milosevic into accepting the agreement were dealt a blow over the weekend when Kosovo Albanian leaders failed to meet their pledge to sign it.

What was unclear was whether Ivanov had in fact tried to convince Milosevic to accept the NATO troop deployment plan. In remarks made on the eve of his meeting with Milosevic, Ivanov had appeared to signal a slight shift in Moscow’s position on the issue. While reiterating to reporters that any international troop deployment in Kosovo “should be conducted with Belgrade’s consent,” Ivanov also said that the “creation of international forces will facilitate the practical realization” of the peace plan (Itar-Tass, March 11; Reuters, Russian agencies, March 12). That remark appeared to suggest that Moscow might now be willing to push for a troop deployment, albeit probably not one led by NATO, as the Western powers have insisted upon.

Ivanov’s remarks following his talks with Milosevic suggested that, whatever might have been said in the closed negotiations, Moscow is not willing to pressure Belgrade in public to accept a peace force. That knowledge is likely only to embolden Milosevic in his defiance of the West.