In an effort to transform rhetoric about a “multi-polar” world into some semblance of reality, Russia capped a week of intensive diplomacy over the Kosovo question by dispatching two top diplomats to the Balkans to help engineer a solution to the conflict.

Deputy foreign minister Nikolai Afanasevsky was due to fly to Belgrade for talks with Yugoslav leaders and deputy foreign minister Aleksandr Avdeev was scheduled for talks in Tirana and Skopje, the capitals of Albania and Macedonia. The object in the case of both emissaries was to create the conditions for the Kosovo Albanian leaders to begin negotiations with the Yugoslav authorities.

As the week’s events once again showed, Russia is probably better placed than anyone to persuade the hitherto recalcitrant Yugoslav leaders to make concessions. Russia claims a close relationship to Yugoslavia as a fellow Slav state and when Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic arrived in Moscow for talks June 16, he was received by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksii II, who joined him in rejecting Western reports of brutality by Serb forces in Kosovo.

Milosevic’s talks with Russian leaders produced a joint declaration in which he agreed to the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo and the launching of immediate talks with the Kosovo Albanians. Russian officials hailed the agreement as a breakthrough and Russia made it clear that it places the blame for the continuing violence in Kosovo on Albanian extremists. Boris Yeltsin called on the world community to pressure Kosovar Albanians into stopping violence and terror and Russian foreign minister, Yevgeny Primakov, said in a Russian television interview, that the “ball is now in the Albanians’ court.”

Russia’s fulsome support for the Yugoslavs, however, although it may buttress Russia’s influence in Belgrade, does not–at least for the moment–appear likely to conduce to a peaceful solution in Kosovo.

Milosevic agreed to the immediate withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo but he linked the withdrawal to a halting of terrorist activities in the province, a condition which is unlikely to be met, particularly insofar as the Yugoslavs are likely to define legitimate acts of self defense by the Kosovar Albanians as “terrorism.” He also promised to launch talks with the Kosovo Albanians but Milosevic has made that pledge before and failed to honor it.

The greater likelihood is that the situation in Kosovo will continue to deteriorate bringing a greater risk of war as well as a worsening in NATO-Russian relations. Russia made clear its continuing opposition to any NATO military intervention in Yugoslavia while, amid widespread Western skepticism over Milosevic’s Moscow pledges, preparations by NATO continued for possible military action near Kosovo.