Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 82

Lengthy talks in Moscow yesterday on Kosovo between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and a pair of top Russian officials–former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and current Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov–appeared to produce meager results. Both sides did proclaim that Russia and the United States share a number of positions on the crisis and will continue to work in concert. But the hastily arranged consultations in the Russian capital apparently failed to narrow differences on two key issues: the composition of a possible peacekeeping contingent to be deployed in Kosovo and the question of whether a pullback of Serbian troops from Kosovo–or a halt to the NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia–must serve as the first step in a broader peace process. The two sides apparently also failed to reach common ground on a proposed NATO oil embargo on Yugoslavia.

Yesterday’s seeming lack of progress came despite a long telephone conversation between the Russian and U.S. presidents on April 25 which was said to be the reason for Talbott’s unexpected dispatch to Moscow. The meager results also came despite a concession from Washington–namely, that NATO might consider a pause in its air operations against Yugoslavia if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic were to begin a withdrawal of his troops and security forces from Kosovo. The Russian side had itself floated that proposal earlier, but had been rebuffed by the West. Yesterday’s seeming deadlock also came despite reports suggesting that Russia had come up with some new ideas aimed at jumpstarting peace talks over Kosovo. There was no immediate evidence of any new Russian ideas in reports of yesterday’s consultations.

Indeed, while there were few details available on yesterday’s closed-door talks, comments by Russian officials suggested little change in Moscow’s position. Russia is apparently still insisting on an end to NATO airstrikes as a precondition for the cessation of military operations by Serb forces in Kosovo and the start of peace talks. That is also Belgrade’s position. Chernomyrdin did suggest that Yugoslavia is prepared to compromise on the question of a peacekeeping force in Kosovo, but he provided no details as to what that might mean. During a visit to Belgrade last week, Chernomyrdin reportedly won a commitment from Milosevic to accept an “international presence” in Kosovo. But that force would apparently be unarmed, would serve under the auspices of the UN or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and would be made up of personnel from Russia and other non-NATO countries. For Western leaders those conditions are unacceptable (Western and Russian agencies, April 27).