Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 118

Despite the expressions of optimism, there were also indications yesterday that the two sides might be digging in their heels. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters that Washington is continuing to make “[it] quite clear that there would not be a separate Russian sector” in Kosovo (AP, June 17). Russian President Boris Yeltsin, meanwhile, said in comments broadcast by Russian television that Moscow will not drop its demand for a sector of its own in Kosovo. He criticized the West for its “unwillingness to give Russia a sector,” and said that he had advised Sergeev to tell the American delegation that the “Russian president categorically disagrees” with this approach (Itar-Tass, June 17). Yeltsin had spoken earlier by telephone with Sergeev.

That the talks yesterday may have come close to breaking down–or at least breaking off without a result–was suggested by a Russian report saying that Sergeev and Ivanov had canceled last night’s late negotiating session and planned instead to return to Moscow. The report quoted a member of the Russian delegation as saying that the U.S. side had rejected all the options offered by the Russian delegation (Itar-Tass, June 17).

The arduousness of the talks in Helsinki is reminiscent of two previous rounds of negotiations over Kosovo: those between Russian, EU and US envoys which eventually produced the Kosovo peace agreement itself, and those which occurred last week when Russian and U.S. delegations also discussed Moscow’s peacekeeping role in Kosovo. What remains unclear is which model the Russian side will follow on this occasion. In the first case, Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin adhered to a hard line right up to the last minute of negotiations, then seemed suddenly to capitulate on several key points and to give NATO much of what it wanted in a Kosovo settlement.

Perhaps because of that conclusion, which was much criticized in Moscow, the second set of negotiations ended very differently. As the Russian-U.S. talks proceeded inconclusively last week in Moscow, military leaders there unexpectedly and unilaterally dispatched 200 paratroopers to Kosovo. That move on the ground stunned the West, changed the terms of the negotiations and set the stage for this latest round of talks. Whether Moscow capitulates once again this time around may depend not only on the steadfastness of the West’s negotiators and their ability to couch Russian concessions in the appropriate language. Moscow’s willingness to deal may depend also on the degree to which Yeltsin wants an agreement as a set up for his appearance on Sunday at the G-7 summit in Cologne. If, for domestic political reasons, the Russian president is willing to forego the summit, as some Russian commentators are suggesting, then he may veto a peacekeeping agreement that does not satisfy Moscow’s stated goals. While that option seems unlikely, it could conceivably precipitate new Russian actions on the ground in Kosovo.