Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 81

A NATO plan to impose an oil embargo on Yugoslavia was probably one of the main topics of discussion in Moscow today during talks between Russian leaders and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Talbott, dispatched to Russia yesterday, was expected also to discuss the results of former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin’s April 22 visit to Belgrade.

However, following his initial two meetings with Russian officials, Talbott declined to provide details of what had been said. Emerging from his meeting with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Talbott said only that he had gained a better understanding of Russia’s view of the Kosovo crisis. “I’m convinced that the United States and Russia are continuing to work together along with many other countries to try to bring peace to the region,” he added. Talbott characterized his subsequent meeting with Russia’s special Balkans envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, as “constructive, serious and frank,” but again declined to provide details.

The Clinton administration joined other NATO governments this past weekend in rejecting an agreement reportedly reached by Chernomyrdin and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic during their April 22 meeting. Despite the rebuff, however, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin did hold a lengthy telephone conversation on April 25–which Moscow reportedly requested–during which Yeltsin apparently convinced Clinton to send Talbott to Moscow (see the Monitor, April 26). NATO has tried to get Moscow involved in diplomatic efforts to end the conflict over Kosovo, but wants to ensure that any Russian mediation conforms with a series of nonnegotiable Western demands to Belgrade. Several other Western diplomats will follow Talbott to Moscow this week with that goal in mind.

The recent NATO and European Union decisions to impose oil embargoes on Belgrade are likely to be one source of friction during this week’s talks in Moscow. Russia is one of Belgrade’s primary oil suppliers, and Russian officials said once again yesterday that they will in no way feel bound to stop oil shipments to Yugoslavia. That point was made clearly by both Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and by the country’s Fuel and Energy Ministry (Reuters, April 26; International Herald Tribune, April 27).

Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov appeared to give Moscow a little more wiggle-room, however. He was quoted yesterday as saying that Russia would respond cautiously to NATO efforts to pursue the oil embargo, and that Moscow’s actions would be governed by how NATO tries to enforce the blockade (Itar-Tass, April 26). NATO officials yesterday acknowledged that legal ambiguities on the oil embargo have not been resolved. One top-ranking official also said that the alliance would not resort to force to stop Russian vessels from carrying oil to Yugoslavia (Reuters, New York Times, April 26).