Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 39

Russian leaders and their Serb counterparts joined yesterday to hail the results of negotiations between representatives of the Serbian government and ethnic Albanian rebels. The Rambouillet talks, which were overseen by the six-nation Contact Group, recessed on February 23 following acceptance of a partial agreement which calls for substantial autonomy for Kosovo. The Kosovo Albanian negotiators accepted the agreement conditionally, and will use the two-week recess in negotiations to consult with both their people and rebel groups in the hills. The talks are to resume on March 15 (AP, Reuters, February 23-24).

Serbian leaders, meanwhile, treated the partial agreement as a victory for Belgrade and a defeat for the United States and NATO. Upon their return to Belgrade yesterday, Serbian negotiators hailed what they said was their success in keeping NATO peacekeepers out of Yugoslavia. “Our principal efforts to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our country were affirmed,” Serbian President Milan Milutinovic was quoted as saying (AP, February 24). The Serbs and Russians had together opposed NATO plans to enforce any peace agreement reached in Rambouillet by deploying NATO peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. Both Moscow and Belgrade have portrayed this policy as a defense of Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in the midst of an official visit to Tajikistan, echoed Serbian officials in remarks he made to the press yesterday. In addition to praising the outcome of the talks, he criticized NATO for trying to impose the peacekeeping forces agreement on Belgrade. President Boris Yeltsin, speaking through his press spokesman, also applauded the outcome of the Rambouillet negotiations. He reportedly reiterated Russia’s support for a solution which respects Yugoslav “sovereignty and territorial integrity” (Russian agencies, February 24).

Like Belgrade, Moscow had, from the beginning, tried to decouple the Contact Group’s call for a political settlement of the Kosovo crisis from an accompanying document which specified the deployment of NATO peacekeepers. Western negotiators had insisted that the two documents were part of one package. Russia had suggested that it might be willing to contribute forces to any peacekeeping force which might be deployed to Kosovo. But it made clear that any such force must have the backing of Belgrade. Moscow also insisted that any peacekeeping force deployed in Kosovo must be organized under the auspices of either the UN or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and must not be a NATO force. NATO leaders refused to consider a peacekeeping contingent of that sort.