Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 209

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Sergei Lavrov, held talks in Belgrade yesterday with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic. His arrival in the Yugoslav capital followed a controversial two-day visit to Kosovo, during which Lavrov met with Serb and Albanian officials, and with top personnel from both the UN administration and the NATO-led KFOR command. Lavrov’s visit came amid rising levels of violence in Kosovo and only a few days after the UN had issued a security alert to all its Slav international staff members in Kosovo. Members of the UN administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) had reportedly advised the Russian diplomat against making the trip on the grounds that it could further exacerbate tensions in the region while increasing hostility toward UNMIK among ethnic Albanians. Lavrov arrived on November 7 at the Slatina airport in Kosovo, where a contingent of Russian troops is stationed. Security was said to be tight for Lavrov’s visit, and he traveled about the province in a helicopter guarded by UN police. He is the highest-ranking Russian civilian official to have visited Kosovo since Serb forces withdrew from the province.

Moscow has been the international community’s most vocal backer of the federal authorities in Belgrade, and Russia has used its place on the UN Security Council to criticize KFOR and UN peace operations in Kosovo. There was little question, moreover, that Lavrov’s visit this week was intended to highlight what both Moscow and Belgrade claim has been the failure of those organizations either to bring stability to Kosovo or to protect the rights and lives of the province’s non-Albanian minorities. Indeed, Lavrov used Russia’s month-long presidency of the Security Council in October in an effort to focus international attention on precisely those issues.

Lavrov’s visit to Kosovo, moreover, was clearly coordinated with Serb leaders in Belgrade. Shortly before his scheduled departure, the Yugoslav government sent a memorandum to the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan complaining about the failure of KFOR and UNMIK to implement properly Resolution 1244–the document setting out the terms of the peace settlement in Kosovo. Among other things, the memorandum demanded cancellation of the agreement which transformed the Kosovo Liberation Army into the Kosovo Protection Force; the institution of criminal proceedings against ethnic Albanians guilty of “mass crimes and ethnic cleansing;” the return of some Serbian police and Yugoslav servicemen to Kosovo; and the extension of UN guarantees for the safe return of refugees and displaced persons to their places of permanent residence in Kosovo. Throughout his stay in the region, Lavrov made the same demands. He also backed Belgrade’s parallel demand that Yugoslav authorities be given a voice in the administration and governance of Kosovo. He called for a quick resolution of Kosovo’s political status, and urged that talks begin “as soon as possible” between Belgrade and the Kosovo communities (AP, November 8-9; Reuters, November 8; Russian agencies, November 7-9).