On August 7, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai Afanasevsky, in Yugoslavia for talks with Serbian and ethnic Albanian leaders, strongly reiterated Moscow’s opposition to a proposed NATO military intervention in Kosovo. “We believe there is no military solution here,” Afanasevsky was quoted as saying after a meeting with Ibrahim Rugova, the moderate Kosovo Albanian leader. The Russian envoy also said that a military intervention by NATO would do no good. “The problem is the mutual mistrust, mutual fear and mutual hatred here,” he said. Afanasevsky also met with Chris Hill, U.S. special envoy to the region. (Reuter, Itar-Tass, August 7)
The Russian diplomat’s remarks came as a brutal Serb crackdown against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian population last week led NATO leaders to warn anew that the alliance was prepared to take military action to halt the violence by Serb forces in Kosovo. As Moscow has done in the past, however, Afanasevsky largely absolved the Serbian side of blame for these latest developments. Following talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on August 6, Afanasevsky said that the Serbian forces were displaying great reserve to maintain safety for civilians. He also claimed that Milosevic had confirmed Belgrade’s resolve to do everything possible to resettle ethnic Albanian refugees in Kosovo. (RIA, August 6) Neither of those judgments was shared by Western observers.
Russia’s opposition to these NATO actions was also the subject of talks between U.S. President Bill Clinton and French President Jacques Chirac over the weekend. During a telephone conversation on August 8–reportedly devoted almost entirely to the Kosovo conflict–the two leaders agreed to ask NATO to continue its preparations for possible strikes in Kosovo. But the two also reportedly agreed that the strikes could not be launched without Russian support. Chirac also told Clinton that NATO military actions could not be launched in Kosovo without approval by the UN Security Council, and that “this presupposes an agreement with Russia.” (Reuter, August 8) The United States has said that, while it would prefer that NATO operate with the support of the Security Council in this area, such support was not necessary for the alliance to launch operations in Kosovo.
Russia and the West may also have been running at cross-purposes with regard to Kosovo Albanian representation at any peace talks with Yugoslav authorities. The United States and other Western countries have been trying to force some consensus among disparate Kosovo Albanian groups in order to bring representatives of both moderate Albanian leader Rugova and of the more radical Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to the negotiating table. Moscow had previously appeared to agree that a place should be made in the negotiations for the KLA, which has emerged as an increasingly powerful political force among Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians. Afanasevsky appeared to reverse that position on August 7, however. He said that Belgrade remained “very negative” toward the idea of KLA representation, and, in another of Moscow’s references to Kosovo Albanian “terrorists,” said that Russia “has been and is against attempts to legalize groups which resort to terrorism.” He indirectly criticized other members of the Contact Group for trying to draw the KLA into the talks. (Itar-Tass, August 7)
RUSSIAN SECURITY CHIEF IN ISRAEL.