As the Kosovo conflict’s chief peace brokers geared up yesterday for yet another frenetic week of negotiations, Russia’s special envoy for the Balkans appeared to send signals which may not be much appreciated in the West. Former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin is scheduled to hold three-way talks in Moscow tomorrow with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. The meeting will follow what one Russian source said yesterday will be two days of intense preparatory talks among officials from Russia, Finland and the United States. Tomorrow’s talks will also come on the heels of an exhausting series of negotiations–carried out on several fronts over the past two weeks–aimed at brokering a political settlement of the Kosovo crisis. Russian officials, and some in the West, were uncharacteristically downbeat this past weekend over what increasingly seem to be irreconcilable differences between the West and Russia on several key components of the peace settlement agreement (see the Monitor, May 24).
Tomorrow’s talks in Moscow are apparently intended to finalize the negotiating points which Chernomyrdin will carry to Belgrade for yet another round of negotiations with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on May 27 (some sources had suggested over the weekend that the Russian envoy might depart for Belgrade yesterday). If Chernomyrdin and the two Western envoys are able to iron out their differences, Ahtisaari will reportedly accompany Chernomyrdin to the Yugoslav capital. The two sides reportedly remain divided over the composition and status of the international security force that is to be deployed in Kosovo, and over the timing and extent of Belgrade’s military withdrawal from Kosovo.
Russia, which seems to have hardened its stand–one already very sympathetic to Belgrade–in the weeks since the accidental NATO attack on the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia, has warned several times over the past few weeks that it will withdraw from the peace talks if its views on Kosovo are not taken seriously by the West. A fresh warning of that same sort appeared to be implied by Chernomyrdin during remarks made to reporters yesterday. The Russian envoy suggested that it was time for a “firm decision” on Kosovo and that tomorrow’s talks should yield a “concrete result.” In a statement unlikely to be welcomed in the West, Chernomyrdin said that this “result” should be a halt to the NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia and the “transferal of the conflict from a military to a political footing.”
Much the same point was made yesterday by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. He said that “this week’s consultations on Yugoslavia have one goal–to achieve a halt to NATO military operations as soon as possible.” Ivanov also intimated that a political solution to the Kosovo conflict was also within easy grasp, but that success would require “a corresponding political decision by the NATO countries” (Russian agencies, May 24).
Chernomyrdin also repeated Russian claims that the peace talks are being complicated by the intensification of NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia. As is now standard for Moscow, he suggested that termination of the NATO air strikes should be a precondition for the start of peace talks (Russian agencies, May 24). As is also standard for Moscow, he ignored the actions of Serb police and military forces in Kosovo and did not suggest that a cessation of Belgrade’s policy of ethnic cleansing in the war-torn province should itself serve as the main precondition for the start of peace talks.
RUSSIAN DEFENSE SPENDING HIKE MAY BE IN THE OFFING.