PITFALLS REMAIN IN BALKANS PEACE PROCESS.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 111
Yesterday’s agreement followed a telephone conversation between the Russian and the U.S. presidents–the second in as many days–in which Washington urged Moscow to approve the draft UN resolution. In Moscow, Yeltsin expressed his “satisfaction” with the draft, though he also demanded an immediate end to NATO’s bombing and launched a few new broadsides at the alliance’s policies in the Balkans. Those last statements may have been made in large part for domestic consumption. There has been speculation that Yeltsin pushed hard for a resolution of the Kosovo conflict–even at the cost of Russian concessions–in order to improve the atmospherics at the upcoming summit of the G-7 countries and Russia, scheduled for June 18-20 in Cologne (Washington Post, June 6; see the Monitor, June 8).
Although yesterday’s agreement undoubtedly boosts the chances for peace in the Balkans, potential pitfalls remain. Russia and the G-7 countries, for example, left unresolved the arrangement under which a contingent of Russian peacekeeping troops will serve in the Kosovo security contingent. Russian officials continued to emphasize that the Russian troops will not serve under NATO’s unified command, and said that a variant along the lines of what was worked out in Bosnia would be unacceptable. In Moscow, Viktor Chernomyrdin and Russian defense officials suggested that the Russian contingent could number between 5,000 and 10,000 men–a claim which Western officials apparently chose not to challenge yesterday. Moscow’s options may, in the end, be limited by financial considerations. Russian officials admitted that the expenses of maintaining a large peacekeeping contingent would be considerable, and suggested that the size of Moscow’s contribution to the security force could hinge on financing decisions taken by the UN Security Council (Russian agencies, June 8).
Another area of potential conflict concerns the sequencing of events in Kosovo. In a Western concession, the United States agreed yesterday that a halt to the NATO bombing campaign might precede Security Council adoption of a plan imposing a settlement. That suggested that the sequence of events now envisioned in the West is, first, a verification that the Serb military withdrawal has begun, second, a halt to the NATO bombing, and, third, adoption of the UN resolution. Russia and China have repeatedly called for a cessation of the bombing campaign before passage of a UN resolution on Kosovo. China, meanwhile, indicated yesterday that it had trouble with several points in yesterday’s draft resolution, including the timing of the bombing halt (International Herald Tribune, June 9; Reuters, AP, June 8).
Russia’s agreement yesterday to the draft, finally, does not guarantee that the terms envisioned will be agreed to–or fulfilled–by Belgrade. Although President Slobodan Milosevic has continued to insist over the past two days that Yugoslavia will meet its obligations under the agreement presented to Belgrade last week by Chernomyrdin and EU envoy Martti Ahtisaari, there is more than a little skepticism on that score in the West.
In an effort to restart the peace process, talks between senior NATO and Yugoslav military officials resumed last night in Kumanovo, a French military installation in Macedonia. Belgrade’s decision on June 7 to break off those talks had precipitated the latest crisis over Kosovo. But last night’s talks reportedly did not get off to an auspicious beginning. Although NATO officials had said that they expected quick agreement by the Yugoslav generals to terms for the withdrawal of Belgrade’s forces from Kosovo, three hours of discussion apparently ended inconclusively. The Yugoslav contingent departed to confer with higher authorities, and returned an hour later for further talks. Talks resume again later this morning. NATO officials are said to be “cautiously optimistic” that the draft resolution might be signed during today’s session (AP, Reuters, June 8, 9).
RUSSIAN LAWMAKERS TAKE AIM AT CHERNOMYRDIN.