Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 114

At separate meetings in London and Brussels over the weekend, Russia joined with its Western partners in urging a stop to the escalating violence in the Serbian province of Kosovo. But Moscow likewise made clear its continuing opposition to any NATO military intervention in the region. In addition, Russian officials indicated that Russian forces would not take part in NATO air exercises–to be conducted in Albania and Macedonia–that were approved by Alliance defense ministers late last week.

Those negative messages from Moscow were conveyed both by Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov during a meeting in London of the six-nation Contact Group, and by Defense Minister Igor Sergeev during talks with NATO defense chiefs in Brussels. Sergeev reportedly told his NATO counterparts that it was necessary to give diplomacy a chance to work in Yugoslavia. He also warned that proposed NATO military actions there could play into the hands of Kosovo rebels by putting too much pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Sergeev reportedly restated Moscow’s view that the current violence is primarily the fault of “terrorists” from the Kosovo Liberation Army. On the issue of NATO’s military exercises in Albania and Macedonia, Sergeev said that, if overly aggressive, the military show of strength could violate the spirit of the NATO Partnership for Peace agreements with Albania and Macedonia. (Reuter, AP, June 12)

The focal point for much of both discussions between Western and Russian officials was clearly the talks between Milosevic and Russian President Boris Yeltsin that are scheduled to begin in Moscow today. Following his consultations with Sergeev, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said he was confident that Milosevic would get a “strong and unambiguous message” from Yeltsin that Belgrade must call off its forces in Kosovo and negotiate with Kosovar Albanians over autonomy for the province. Cohen also warned that “time is of the essence” when dealing with so much potential bloodshed, and he warned that “Russia may be isolated from the world community if it doesn’t do all its can” to stop the fighting in Kosovo.

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel expressed similar concerns about Russia’s role in the current Balkan crisis. Speaking on June 12 following his talks with Primakov in London, Kinkel said that the “problem is that Russia rejects any mandate whatsoever for intervention in Kosovo. If Russia sticks to this position, that would complicate things.” (Reuter, AP, June 12)

Such dissonance between Russia and the West on policy toward Yugoslavia could come to a head at the UN. Russia continued to insist over the weekend that any NATO military action in Yugoslavia would require approval by the UN Security Council. But U.S. officials, at least, indicated over the weekend that, while Washington would prefer UN approval for NATO intervention, it does not believe it to be a requirement for action.