Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 106

For all of those reasons, the meeting in Belgrade, when it occurs, is likely to be a difficult one. For one thing, Yugoslav officials yesterday continued to make it clear that they are willing to consider only the terms set out in a peace plan developed by Russia and the Group of Seven (G-7) countries nearly one month ago. That plan was based on the package of demands which NATO has put to Belgrade. But, in order to get Moscow to sign on to it, the Russian-G-7 plan left the wording on several key points deliberately vague. Belgrade, therefore, continues to oppose NATO’s insistence on a strong alliance role in the international security force, and refuses to meet NATO’s demand for a full withdrawal of Yugoslav military and police forces from Kosovo. Yugoslav officials also called yesterday for an immediate halt to the NATO bombing campaign and accused the United States and Britain of deliberately seeking to undermine the peace process by intensifying the air attacks.

Russian negotiators, by all accounts, appeared yesterday to be saying many of the same things–at least while they were still in Moscow. In remarks to reporters prior to his departure for Bonn, Russian special envoy and former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin appeared to warn the West of dire consequences should NATO fail to reach a “concrete decision” to halt its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. “The West should understand,” he said, “what could happen if it does not make a ‘concrete decision'” during the upcoming talks in Bonn. Chernomyrdin did not spell out the consequences, but he has in the past warned that Russia would withdraw from the negotiation process if NATO continued its military campaign against Yugoslavia. Chernomyrdin also announced yesterday that he was taking to Bonn a package of new proposals–“drawn up by the Russian side and approved by Boris Yeltsin.” He did not elaborate (Russian agencies, June 1).

A Russian general who accompanied Chernomyrdin yesterday to Bonn was less reticent. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of a Defense Ministry directorate which oversees contacts with foreign countries, told reporters in Moscow that the Russian delegation would not agree to NATO’s demand that a postconflict Kosovo security force must include U.S. and other NATO troops. He instead backed Belgrade’s call for a UN-led force composed of troops from neutral countries or from NATO countries which have not participated in the air campaign against Yugoslavia. Ivashov also warned–a good deal more bluntly than did Chernomyrdin–that the peace talks could be broken off if Moscow perceived them to be nothing more than a cover for NATO’s goal of forcing a complete capitulation on Belgrade. If Russia sees itself being used as an “instrument” to bring this sort of pressure on Belgrade, he continued, then Moscow would no longer take part in the negotiations (Russian agencies, June 1). Ivashov is a notorious hardliner who has frequently denounced the West, most recently over developments in the Balkans but more generally with regard to other NATO policies displeasing to Moscow.

Such comments suggest that the Russian and Western delegations–the first headed by Chernomyrdin and the second by Ahtisaari–could find themselves working at distinct cross-purposes during the now-delayed talks in Belgrade. That seems especially true given that Western officials appeared to underscore yesterday that they have no intention of compromising–or even of negotiating–with Milosevic over NATO’s core demands. “We will not settle for less,” U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said yesterday, referring to those key demands. Her remarks followed talks in Washington with Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini (Reuters, June 1).