On the eve of urgent talks between Russian and U.S. military and diplomatic chiefs in Helsinki, Moscow continued yesterday to press hard on several fronts for a larger role in the Kosovo peacekeeping operation. Russian actions included the resupply of Moscow’s 200-strong military contingent in Pristina, fresh demands that NATO do more to reign in Kosovo Albanian rebels, the application of increased pressure on several Eastern European governments to allow Russian overflights of their territories, and the announcement that Moscow will soon launch a major military exercise aimed at repulsing an attack from the West. Russian officials also continued to reject various Western proposals aimed at integrating Russian troops into NATO’s command structure in Kosovo.
Throughout it all, Russian rhetoric and policies still seemed to be dominated by the demands of those hardline military leaders who many believe orchestrated the June 11 surprise deployment of Russian troops in Pristina. Amid more equivocating by Kremlin officials over Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s precise role in that move (UPI, Russian agencies, June 15), concerns have increased that Yeltsin may be losing control over his disgruntled military leadership. Indeed, the alternate explanation–that Yeltsin is fully in charge of events–is at least equally disturbing. It would suggest that the Russian president has deliberately misled Western leaders about Moscow’s intentions, and that the Kremlin may be actively colluding with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to subvert the Kosovo peace settlement.
Russian intentions should become clearer over the next few days. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev is scheduled to meet in Helsinki today with his U.S. counterpart, Defense Secretary William Cohen. Those talks could apparently continue into tomorrow, when Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is to meet–also in Helsinki–with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Russian and U.S. officials have suggested in recent days that the two sides are narrowing their differences over Russia’s role in the Kosovo security force, and several Russian sources suggested yesterday that an agreement is sure to come out of the Helsinki talks (Russian agencies, June 15). Such an agreement would presumably ease the way for Yeltsin and Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin when they come looking for Western economic aid during this upcoming weekend’s Group of Seven summit in Cologne.
…REBUFFS NATO COMMAND PROPOSALS.