Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 115

On the eve of critical talks between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, sparring between Russia and the West over policy toward Kosovo appeared to intensify yesterday. The immediate cause of tensions was a NATO air exercise in the skies over Albania and Macedonia. The show of strength, aimed at pressuring Milosevic into halting his brutal crackdown on the Albanian majority in Kosovo, involved more than eighty planes from thirteen countries. But the staging of the exercise provoked a heated attack from Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, who said he had been misled by NATO leaders as to the timing of the action. He, and other Russian officials, also complained that NATO had failed to consult properly with Moscow in its decision to launch the air exercise. Russia announced yesterday that it was recalling its envoy to NATO headquarters. It was unclear whether the move was intended as a protest against NATO’s action. (Russian and Western agencies, June 15)

Meanwhile, consultations continued between Washington and Moscow. U.S. officials said yesterday that Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin had spoken by telephone about Kosovo. Clinton, they said, had continued U.S. efforts aimed at getting Yeltsin to take a strong stand during his talks today with Milosevic. White House spokesman Mike McCurry said that “we believe and we understand the Russian president intends to deliver a tough message to Milosevic…. President Yeltsin indicated that he was going to do everything he could to convince Mr. Milosevic of the precariousness of Serbia’s position.” McCurry also said that Clinton had made clear Washington’s resolve to introduce a strongly worded Security Council resolution approving possible military action against Serb forces in the event that Yugoslavian leaders fail to halt the crackdown in Kosovo. (Reuter, AP, June 15) Moscow would be in a position to veto such a resolution. It appears increasingly isolated in its defense of the Belgrade authorities, however, and would probably prefer not to face such a vote at the UN.

Russian authorities, moreover, did not appear to be speaking in one voice. Despite Sergeev’s loud complaints of having been misled, Yeltsin reportedly did not object to NATO’s air exercise during yesterday’s talk with Clinton. Neither did Sergeev himself, nor Russian General Staff chief Anatoly Kvashnin, raise the issue during talks in Moscow with General Henry Shelton, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Indeed, in an effort to take the edge off the disagreement between Russia and NATO on the Kosovo situation, Shelton made a point of accenting the positive elements. He said that his talks with Russian military officials had revealed that Russia and NATO were in many ways in agreement over how to restore peace in Kosovo. He said also that relations between the Russian and U.S. militaries were “progressing very well.”