Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 81

The Kremlin’s special Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin’s recent visit to Belgrade will also undoubtedly be on the agenda during today’s Russian-U.S. talks in Moscow. Chernomyrdin’s apparent inability to win any key concessions from Milosevic–particularly with regard to the deployment of a NATO-led peacekeeping contingent in Kosovo–led Western leaders to quickly reject an agreement which Chernomyrdin and the Yugoslav leader signed on April 22. Chernomyrdin has continued to insist, however, that the West will like the results of his visit better once it learns of them in more detail.

Chernomyrdin and other Russian officials also suggested yesterday that Moscow, in preparation for Talbott’s visit, has come up with a few new ideas for resolving the Kosovo conflict. But Chernomyrdin did not elaborate, saying only that Russia has “defined a position to assume at talk with NATO countries.” He added, however, that the Kremlin saw no need to make Russia’s proposals public now (Russian agencies, April 26).

Those proposals reportedly came up for discussion yesterday during the latest in what have now become regular Kremlin meetings devoted to the Balkans crisis. Neither President Boris Yeltsin nor Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov were present at yesterday’s consultations. The meeting was chaired by Aleksandr Voloshin, the head of the presidential administration. In addition to Chernomyrdin, the meeting was also attended–as has generally been the case–by a host of high-ranking foreign affairs, military and intelligence officials. These included Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Foreign Intelligence Service director Vyacheslav Trubnikov, General Staff chief Anatoly Kvashnin and the head of the General Staff’s main intelligence directorate, Valentin Korabelnikov. Yeltsin’s foreign policy aide, Serge Prikhodko, was also present. Chernomyrdin met after the meeting with Primakov (Russian agencies, April 26).

During a television interview on April 25, Primakov had warned that a NATO decision to use ground forces in Kosovo would cause Russia to revise its relations with the alliance. He also said that Russia might respond by increasing defense spending–or at least by paying “more attention to defense” (Itar-Tass, April 26). Those remarks, in fact, appeared to represent something of a retreat. Russia has already severed most of its ties with NATO, and had earlier warned that were NATO to continue its air war against Yugoslavia, Moscow might reconsider its relations with the alliance more generally. Much the same is true of defense spending, which several Russian officials had warned earlier would increase due to NATO’s decision to launch strikes on Yugoslavia.

In effect, Primakov appeared to be threatening NATO with the same consequences over a ground war in Kosovo as Moscow had earlier threatened over NATO’s air campaign. His reference to defense spending, moreover, suggested that the Russian government is in no position to devote considerably more resources to its armed forces–whatever NATO might do in the Balkans.