Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 141

Russia has apparently backed off a bit from its earlier held position that the Kosovo Albanian rebel groups seeking independence from Belgrade should not have a role in negotiations aimed at ending the conflict in the Serbian province. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told reporters on July 21 that Moscow would not object if representatives of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) were to take part in talks with the Yugoslav government. Rakhmanin said that Moscow still backed an agreement reached by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic saying that only “political parties” could represent the Kosovo Albanians in peace talks. But he suggested that the various groups in the Kosovo Albanian community were welcome to make their own arrangements as to who would represent the community in talks with Belgrade. (Russian agencies, July 21)

The Yugoslav leadership has opposed including rebel representatives in the peace talks, preferring to deal exclusively with the moderate Kosovo Albanian groups led by Ibrahim Rugova. Moscow had backed that position. The United States and some of its European allies, however, have recognized both the growing political clout of the KLA in Kosovo and the fact that talks without the KLA would probably be pointless. Moscow had previously opposed the U.S. view, and had been critical of recent efforts by U.S. diplomats to meet with rebel leaders. Moscow has blamed the KLA for the ongoing violence in Kosovo, and has charged that the meetings between the U.S. diplomats and the rebels had emboldened the KLA and made the resumption of peace talks less likely. At a meeting of the six-nation Contact Group in Bonn on July 9, the participants released a statement offering the KLA a seat at peace talks. But they also said that any KLA representatives would play a subordinate role to the moderate Rugova. (See the Monitor, July 2, 7, 9)

Moscow’s retreat on the issue of KLA representation is probably occasioned at least in part by the recent upsurge of violence in Kosovo. Indeed, a Russian member of an OSCE delegation that recently toured Kosovo warned on July 21 that the region faced a possible “bloodbath…unless the international community takes the necessary measures.” (Itar-Tass, July 21) The Russian diplomat clearly had in mind the OSCE. Moscow probably fears that the resurgence of violence in Kosovo will reanimate Western planning for a possible NATO military intervention in Kosovo. As part of its effort to maintain friendly relations with Yugoslav authorities in Belgrade at virtually any cost, Moscow has worked tirelessly to head off any possible NATO actions in the troubled province.