Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 128

Less than two weeks after the United States and Russia hammered out an agreement defining Moscow’s role in the Kosovo peacekeeping force, NATO negotiators have apparently been confronted this week with a set of new demands by Moscow. Reports said yesterday that three days of talks between alliance officials and a visiting Russian delegation in Brussels had ended inconclusively.

It had been assumed by NATO leaders that this week’s talks with the Russians would be mostly a matter of filling in the details of an agreement reached by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev in Helsinki on June 18. In fact, however, the Russian delegation–under the leadership of Admiral Valentin Kuznetsov–is apparently pressing several new demands on the alliance. These include an expansion of Russia’s areas of operation into the British and Italian sectors of Kosovo. Russian troops are currently slated to be deployed in the sectors overseen by the United States, Italy and Germany.

Moscow is also reportedly seeking more operational independence for Russian troops in Kosovo. Although nominally under Moscow’s command, the Russian troops in Kosovo were expected to follow the alliance’s military operational guidelines. In addition, the Russian delegation is reportedly seeking a voice in the political oversight of Russian operations in Kosovo. NATO has insisted on vesting that oversight responsibility solely in the North Atlantic Council, but Moscow is apparently pressing now for its troops to be placed under the supervision of the Permanent Joint Council, a NATO-Russian consultative body established in May of 1997.

A senior U.S. official complained this week that the “Russians are trying to re-open some things we thought were worked out” during the Helsinki talks. But White House spokesman P.J. Crowley was quoted as saying that Washington nevertheless expects the Brussels negotiations to resume next week, and that the two sides “expect to work out all the arrangements necessary for the Russian deployment to begin soon” (New York Times, AP, Reuters, June 1).

Washington’s public optimism notwithstanding, the difficulty of the talks in Brussels, combined with the new demands being made by the Russian side, together suggest that Moscow is seeking to rewrite the terms under which it agreed to send troops to Kosovo. In itself, that should raise new concerns about the reliability of the Russians as partners in Kosovo and elsewhere. It also raises yet more questions about who is making policy in Moscow. According to some reports, agreement between Russia and the United States was reached in Helsinki only when Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev–a loyalist of President Boris Yeltsin–made some key concessions to the West. There is believed to be a hardline faction within the military leadership that may be at odds with Sergeev, however. That group is rumored to have been behind the surprise dash of Russian paratroopers to Pristina on June 12. It may also be behind the efforts of Russian negotiators in Brussels to rewrite the Helsinki agreement.