Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 183

Reports that the United States may be easing its opposition to independence for Kosovo appeared to be behind a warning yesterday that Russia could withdraw its military contingent from the peacekeeping contingent in Kosovo. The warning, attributed to unnamed Russian diplomatic sources, suggested that Moscow was growing increasingly concerned by hints from some Western officials that independence for Kosovo may be on the horizon. The sources described a possible withdrawal of Russian troops as an “extreme measure” and suggested it is a move that Moscow is reluctant to make. But the Russian diplomats warned that acquiescence by the West to Kosovo’s drive for independence could carry “exceptionally difficult consequences for the region and Europe as a whole.” If Moscow is not able to reach a satisfactory understanding with the West on this issue, the sources said, “the Russian side will have no option but to cease taking part in the peacekeeping operation” (Reuters, Russian agencies, October 4).

Russia has threatened on several previous occasions to withdraw its troops from the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo, but this warning appears to be a bit different. The earlier threats came from the Russian Defense Ministry, and on at least two occasions from the notorious hardline head of the ministry’s international cooperation department, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov. The most recent of those threats, however, which was made on September 14, was publicly rebuffed by Igor Ivanov, Russia’s foreign minister. Ivanov said that the Russian general’s statements had not been approved by the Kremlin, and suggested that they carried no weight (see the Monitor, September 17).

The Russian Foreign Ministry yesterday offered no formal acknowledgment of the warnings issued to reporters by the unnamed diplomats, but did not disown the remarks either. This suggests that Moscow may be growing genuinely alarmed by a series of recent developments in Kosovo, including the transformation of the Kosovo Liberation Army into a Kosovo Protection Corps. Other moves initiated by KFOR and the UN administration in Kosovo which have disturbed Moscow include the circulating of Western currency in the province and the establishment of a customs service–one without customs officials from Serbia.

Moscow is apparently not alone in its objections to these policies. In fact, the remarks by the Russian diplomats yesterday may also be intended to exploit growing tensions among NATO member states themselves over the course of events in Kosovo. Although the Russian officials did not specifically direct their comments at any one country, they are undoubtedly a response to recent reports indicating that an easing of the Clinton administration’s opposition to independence for Kosovo is the driving force behind the policies that Moscow finds so objectionable. Several key European governments, moreover, are reported also to be uncomfortable with what they perceive to be Washington’s new views on Kosovo. Like Moscow, they are warning that a failure to rein in Kosovo Albanian nationalists could have a destabilizing effect on the region as a whole (Washington Post, September 25; International Herald Tribune, October 1).

The commonality of Russian and European views on these issues–however preliminary–could over time undermine the relative solidarity which has up to now characterized the West’s approach to the Kosovo peace settlement. Such a development would further complicate the peacekeeping effort there, and might conceivably strengthen not only Russia’s diplomatic position vis-a-vis the Kosovo settlement, but also that of Belgrade.