The assurances contained in the bland, March 15 Russian-NATO council statement notwithstanding, there has been little to suggest in recent weeks that Moscow and the West are working harmoniously toward a resolution of tensions in Kosovo. Given Moscow’s long, unwavering and virtually uncritical support for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, this is no surprise. But Moscow now seems more determined than ever to exploit the worsening conditions faced on the ground in Kosovo by both the NATO-led peacekeeping forces–KFOR–and the UN civil administration. Russian officials have in recent weeks stepped up their denunciations of KFOR and of Bernard Kouchner, head of the UN Interim Administration Mission (UNIAM) in Kosovo, accusing both of promoting Kosovo independence and of failing to protect ethnic Serbs living in the war-torn province.
Russian concerns have been expressed most recently both at the UN and in testimony by top government officials before Russian lawmakers. In the first case, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov last week reportedly sent a letter to foreign ministers of the Group of Seven countries–the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada–warning that increasing tensions in southern Serbia could erupt in a new war. That was hardly news to the recipients. But according to Russia’s UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, Ivanov also proposed that the Group of Eight–that is, the G-7 countries plus Russia–involve itself anew in the Kosovo conflict because it had been involved in drafting the current ceasefire agreement in the province. In addition, Lavrov warned that Kosovo is “drifting toward independence”–in violation of last year’s UN resolution on the issue. He also accused UN and NATO officials both of implementing the UN resolution in ways “which strengthen the position of extremists and separatists who want nothing but independence” and of refusing to consult with Yugoslav officials (AP, UPI, March 14). Moscow has repeatedly criticized Western efforts to isolate Milosevic and has pressed hard for Belgrade to be included both in the administration of Kosovo and in plans to rebuild the province.
Ivanov and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev expressed similar themes during their testimony to the State Duma on March 17. Ivanov described the international peacekeeping mission in Kosovo as “far from satisfactory” and told lawmakers that Acting President Vladimir Putin is keeping a close eye on developments in the region. And though he repeated the charge that the situation in Kosovo is growing worse and could “lead to new armed clashes,” he appeared to reject warnings voiced recently by other Russian officials that Moscow might choose to withdraw its 3,600-strong military force from Kosovo unilaterally. Without elaborating, Ivanov also admitted that Russia often finds itself isolated on the UN Security Council over Kosovo. He said, however, that Chinese support has begun to change that situation.
The Russian defense minister was reportedly harsher than Ivanov in criticizing the international peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Indeed, Sergeev engaged in the sort of scare-mongering which has now become typical of Russian military leaders in talking about the West’s alleged machinations. The Russian defense chief warned that “the United States and its closer allies in NATO are continuing to implement plans to strengthen their military and political presence in Kosovo and the Balkans as a whole.” More ominously, he spoke vaguely of Western plans aimed at drawing Russian troops in Kosovo into armed conflicts. Without elaborating, Sergeev told lawmakers that Russian military leaders “have prepared [their] own plans to counter a possible escalation of the situation in the Balkans.”
The Russian Duma took a similarly constructive approach to the problems in Kosovo. It formed a committee tasked both with helping Belgrade authorities surmount the consequences of NATO’s “aggression” in Kosovo and with investigating the “crimes” committed by NATO forces in that aggression. Russia’s last Duma also occupied itself with investigating NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia and, among other things, wound up accusing then NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and other NATO leaders of having committed “war crimes” in Yugoslavia. In an additional move on March 17, the Duma released a statement calling on Acting President Vladimir Putin to expand commercial relations with Yugoslavia, including the resumption of “military-technological” cooperation between Russia and Yugoslavia. It also praised the idea of accepting Yugoslavia into the Russia-Belarus Union (Russian agencies, March 17).
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