Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 117

Nearly eight hours of talks between the Russian and U.S. defense chiefs in Helsinki yesterday failed to resolve differences over command arrangements for a Russian peacekeeping presence in Kosovo. Neither Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev nor U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen disclosed details of their talks, but both men did suggest that some progress had been made. Sergeev appeared to be especially positive, telling reporters that he and Cohen had “reached an agreement on the structure of command of the peacekeeping operation with the participation of the Russian military contingent.” We have also, he said, “practically agreed on the question of the Slatina airfield.” Russian troops currently control most of the airfield, which is on the outskirts of Pristina and was originally envisioned by NATO as its headquarters for the Kosovo peacekeeping operation.

In his remarks to reporters yesterday Cohen was more cautious than Sergeev. He said that the two sides had achieved some “general understandings of each other’s positions” and “some agreements in some areas.” But he said that “until the entire package as such is resolved there can be no agreement.” He also denied reports that an agreement of some sort had been struck during yesterday’s talks. Military experts from the two sides were expected to work through the night last night, while Cohen and Sergeev were to resume their negotiations today. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov were to join today’s negotiating session.

Any agreement which might be reached during the Russian-U.S. talks would still have to be approved by NATO’s North Atlantic Council. Cohen is scheduled to brief allied officials in Brussels following completion of his talks in Helsinki. There was no NATO representation at yesterday’s meeting, though Cohen reportedly consulted by telephone throughout the talks with NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and top NATO military officers. There have been reports of dissatisfaction at NATO headquarters and among some allied governments over the Clinton administration’s failure to react more forcefully to Moscow’s surprise decision last week to deploy troops in Kosovo. One senior NATO official was quoted yesterday as saying that U.S. officials “do not wish to acknowledge that Russian high officials have been stringing them along all week” in talks on Russia’s role with the Kosovo peacekeeping contingent.

In public remarks which preceded yesterday’s Helsinki talks, Cohen appeared to be maintaining NATO’s insistence that any Russian troops deployed to Kosovo must remain fully integrated with NATO’s command structure there. Sergeev and some Russian officials in Moscow, meanwhile, appeared to hint that Moscow might now be prepared for a compromise solution short of what they had appeared originally to be demanding: something near to an independent Russian military presence in Kosovo, with control over a particular sector of the province. Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, for example, was quoted during a visit to St. Petersburg as saying that Moscow was concerned not so much about “sectors,” but about ensuring itself “sufficiently active participation” in the Kosovo peacekeeping operation. Sergeev, in turn, intimated that most of the differences between Moscow and Washington had already been eliminated prior to yesterday’s talks. He suggested that President Boris Yeltsin wanted an agreement before his appearance at the Group of Seven summit in Cologne on June 20 (Western and Russian agencies, June 16).