Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 93

Those differences between Russia and NATO over Kosovo–and particularly the question of how a post-conflict security force in the province should be constituted–were the subjects of consultations in Moscow yesterday between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Russian officials. Talbott met yesterday with both Chernomyrdin, the former Russian prime minister now serving as special envoy for the Balkans crisis, and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. After the talks, Talbott departed for Helsinki and consultations with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. Talbott returned to Moscow today and met again with Chernomyrdin. Chernomyrdin, in turn, was himself to travel to Helsinki later today for talks of his own with Ahtisaari. The Finnish president appears to be emerging as another key Kosovo mediator, one backed by the United States over special envoys for Kosovo appointed recently by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (Washington Post, May 12).

Some of the seeming ambiguities in Moscow’s position on the Kosovo negotiations were in evidence yesterday. Despite President Boris Yeltsin’s hardline statements regarding Russia’s role as a Kosovo mediator, reports after Talbott’s talks said that the talks had gone well and that there was no evidence that Russia has reconsidered its diplomatic role in the conflict. In addition, Talbott and the Russian side set up two working groups on Kosovo–one military and one civilian–which continued to meet while Talbott was in Helsinki (Western and Russian agencies, May 12). Despite the show of cooperation, however, the two sides apparently made no quick progress on the issues which divide them. “There are still wide gaps on the composition of the security force and the timetable for the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces,” U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said yesterday. Speaking for NATO, he added that “we did not achieve a breakthrough, we did not expect a breakthrough and we do not expect a breakthrough any time soon” (Reuters, May 12).

Western officials, meanwhile, appeared to try to console themselves with the belief that Yeltsin’s warnings about Kosovo did not represent a change in Moscow’s actual position toward the conflict, but were in fact political statements directed at a domestic Russian audience. The fact that Yeltsin’s threat to withdraw Moscow from the negotiations came shortly after he had announced Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s dismissal appeared to add some credence to that interpretation. It also introduced the possibility, however, that the Kosovo conflict and Russia’s role as a mediator in it are to become increasingly the subject of domestic political squabbles. With Yeltsin’s impeachment beginning today and the political fall-out over Primakov’s dismissal likely to intensify, Western hopes for a constructive Russian role in resolving the conflict may be increasingly difficult to fulfill.