Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 118

Negotiations between Russian and U.S. government officials will drag on into a third day today after the two sides were unable to resolve all their differences during talks in Helsinki yesterday. The negotiations involve the conditions under which Russian troops might serve under the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo. Military delegations led by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen began negotiations on June 17. The two military leaders were joined at the negotiating table yesterday by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Military experts from the two countries are scheduled to work through the night in an effort to resolve the remaining disagreements.

Reports out of Helsinki carried few details of yesterday’s marathon negotiations, but suggested that the two sides had managed to reach agreement on two of the three key issues which had previously divided them. One area of agreement involves joint control by Russian and NATO forces of the Slatina airport outside of Kosovo’s capital city of Pristina. The airport is currently controlled in large part by the 200 Russian paratroopers unexpectedly dispatched there by Moscow late last week. According to U.S. officials, the talks yesterday also yielded an understanding on command of the peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. No details were released, but the officials suggested that the understanding would preserve NATO’s pledge to keep all peacekeeping forces in Kosovo under the alliance’s command.

The two sides have apparently been unable to reach an agreement on Moscow’s demand for a separate sector in Kosovo, one which would be under the control of Russian forces. NATO has reportedly offered Moscow an arrangement by which the Russian forces might have their own “zone of responsibility” in Kosovo. But that zone would lie within one of the five sectors already established by NATO and controlled by five of the NATO member states. Moscow has apparently rejected that option, or at least continues to have objections to it, on the grounds that Russian troops in the zone of responsibility would still be subordinated to forces from a NATO country.

There were, nevertheless, some signs yesterday that the two sides were close to reaching an agreement on all the points under discussion. Sergeev told reporters that “we are on the finish line,” while Cohen said that the two sides had “made great progress… and resolved a lot of outstanding issues.” Speaking to reporters in Paris, where he met with French President Jacques Chirac prior to this weekend’s G-7 summit in Cologne, U.S. President Bill Clinton described the mood in Helsinki as “pretty positive and pretty hopeful,” and predicted a “successful conclusion” to the talks (AP, Reuters, Russian agencies, June 17).