As had been expected, Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin–who has been the Kremlin’s pointman in the Kosovo negotiations–was the target of much criticism in Moscow over the weekend for the peace agreement accepted by Belgrade on June 3. Russian grumbling over the agreement had started almost immediately. The military members of the delegation which accompanied Chernomyrdin last week to Bonn and to Belgrade suggested that the Russian envoy had made too many concessions to the West and, in doing so, had violated the instructions given him by President Boris Yeltsin (see the Monitor, June 4).
That criticism was continued by Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, a hardline senior Defense Ministry official who had been a part of Chernomyrdin’s negotiating delegation. Ivashov complained on June 4 that the Kosovo peace agreement would make Russian peacekeepers sent to Kosovo “dependent on the will of NATO and the United States.” He suggested, more broadly, that the Russian military was not pleased by the central role which NATO would play in Kosovo. Moscow had long backed Belgrade’s opposition to a strong role for NATO in the Kosovo security force, and had, by all appearances, maintained that position right up to the end of last week’s negotiations on a Kosovo settlement. In what appeared to be a cut at Chernomyrdin, Ivashov suggested to reporters that each of Russia’s negotiators should pose the following question in his own “soul”–“have we betrayed Yugoslavia or not?” (AP, Russian agencies, June 4).
Similar criticism came from other quarters. Russian parliamentarians, who have regularly denounced NATO actions in the Balkans, targeted Chernomyrdin following a closed-door June 4 meeting devoted to the Kosovo settlement. One lawmaker reportedly said that information from the Defense and Foreign Ministries had convinced him that Chernomyrdin “did not conduct the talks very successfully and made a number of concessions that were not necessary.” Vladimir Lukin, head of the Russian Duma’s International Affairs Committee and a man viewed by some as a moderate, offered much the same assessment. Communists denounced the former prime minister for having sold out on Belgrade (Washington Post, June 5; AP, Russian agencies, June 4).
Chernomyrdin, nevertheless, won an apparent show of support from President Boris Yeltsin. Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in turn, denied that the Russian government was divided over the peace agreement. Stepashin, who held a telephone conversation with U.S. Vice President Al Gore on June 4, was quoted as saying that Russia would live up to the terms of the peace pact; yesterday, however, Stepashin complained that Russia is being squeezed out of the Kosovo peace process and said that Moscow should be playing a more important diplomatic role (AP, June 6). Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, for his part, was a good deal more circumspect than General Ivashov. Sergeev suggested that Chernomyrdin had acted in accordance with the Kremlin’s policies, and said that the Yugoslav parliament’s acceptance of the peace deal meant that the plan would be successfully implemented (Russia TV, June 4).
If Chernomyrdin won no ringing endorsements of his negotiating efforts, he offered a spirited defense of them himself. He charged that developments in the Balkans had left Russia only two options: “either to stop the war by political methods or to fight, to put on our greatcoats and march ahead.” He suggested that the latter option–to get involved militarily in the Kosovo conflict–made no sense for Russia, the jingoist cries of Russian nationalists notwithstanding. He also dismissed allegations that he had sold out to NATO as “extremely stupid.” Chernomyrdin suggested that Moscow had, in fact, gotten most of what it really wanted out of the Kosovo talks: assurances of Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity (meaning no independence for Kosovo), a Kosovo security force which would operate under UN auspices, and (presumably) a halt in the not-too-distant future to the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia (Russian and Western agencies, June 4-5; Washington Post, June 5).
RUSSIAN MEDIA CONTINUE TO SPECULATE ON KREMLIN INNER CIRCLE…