Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 88

There were new indications yesterday–on the eve of today’s key Group of Seven meeting devoted to the conflict in Kosovo–that Russia and the West have narrowed their differences over how best to seek a political solution to the crisis. Foreign ministers from the G-7 nations and Russia are meeting near Bonn today, their first meeting since NATO launched its air campaign against Yugoslavia on March 24. Russia had repeatedly called for talks with the G-7 nations, but the Western leaders of these leading industrial countries–particularly the Clinton administration–had rebuffed the request. Germany currently holds the chairmanship of the G-7 and is hosting today’s meeting. Six of the seven G-7 countries–the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada–are NATO members; Japan is not.

Diplomats yesterday downplayed the prospects for a major breakthrough but did suggest that enough common ground had been gained that today’s meeting could be worthwhile. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that Moscow and the West had narrowed their differences “both about the facts and in central political positions” relative to the Kosovo crisis. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in turn, was quoted as saying: “We have succeeded in moving closer on many of the main principles of a political settlement” (Reuters, May 5).

The groundwork for today’s meeting was laid in the weeks since NATO’s fiftieth anniversary summit in Washington late last month. At that time, alliance leaders restated their unity over NATO’s policy of air strikes against Yugoslavia. They also resolved to engage Russia in a reinvigorated and parallel diplomatic effort to resolve the crisis through negotiation.

Moscow, which had already taken small steps toward mending fences with the West, was ready for the NATO overture. On April 14 former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was named the Kremlin’s special envoy for Kosovo and immediately adopted a markedly more moderate public position toward the NATO air campaign than that which Yeltsin’s nationalist and communist opposition had assumed. Indeed, Chernomyrdin’s public rhetoric has been considerably more measured than that which had been voiced (and continues to be voiced) by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, not to mention the Russian military leadership. The apparent narrowing of differences between Russia and the West over Kosovo took place during an intense series of consultations between Chernomyrdin and various Western leaders over the past ten days, which culminated with Chernomyrdin’s visit to the United States earlier this week.