Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev arrived in Brussels yesterday, where he began talks with Belgian leaders and is scheduled, on June 12, to take part in the second of a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers. Sergeev’s arrival coincided with a period of frenetic diplomatic activity aimed at heading off increased bloodshed in the Serbian province of Kosovo. On the eve of the defense ministers’ meeting, NATO officials were said to be busy planning possible options for military action. Those include air strikes and establishing a no-fly zone over the region in an effort to persuade Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw troops from Kosovo. Western leaders also seek to convince Milosevic to open talks with Kosovar Albanians under international mediation, and to hold elections. They raised the possibility of introducing NATO troops as peacekeepers into the region should a peaceful settlement be reached. (Reuter, AP, June 10)
The activities in Brussels were mirrored in Paris, where senior diplomats from the six Contact Group countries–the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy–yesterday proposed setting a deadline for Milosevic to end the violence in Kosovo. The date of the deadline was not specified, but a French diplomat said “it will not be very long.” He also said that the contact group countries were holding Milosevic as primarily responsible for the bloodshed there. He also said that the proposals worked out by the diplomats in Paris yesterday would be submitted to a meeting of foreign ministers from the contact group countries, which is scheduled to be held tomorrow in London. If Belgrade does not fulfill the measures proposed by the contact group by the deadline, the French diplomat said, the contact group would meet again to decide on a plan of action. All options would be considered at that time, he said–meaning that a military response would not be excluded. (Reuter, June 10)
It is unclear precisely where Russia stood during yesterday’s proceedings in Paris. Moscow is the most staunch defender of Belgrade in the Contact Group, and Russian political leaders and diplomats have repeatedly warned against foreign military intervention to resolve the conflict. They have also tended to blame Kosovo Albanian separatists for the violence in the province. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin reiterated Moscow’s standard position yesterday. He told reporters that “any use of NATO force outside the alliance’s sphere is possible only with the sanction of the UN Security Council.” (Russian agencies, June 10) The remark suggests that Moscow might countenance NATO military actions in Yugoslavia–if they are first presented for consideration to the UN, where Russia has a veto. Britain has led an effort at the UN to win Security Council approval for a resolution authorizing “all necessary means” to deal with the situation in Kosovo. British Prime Minister Tony Blair on June 7 reportedly appealed for Moscow’s support in a telephone conversation with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. (Reuter, June 7; AP, June 10)
LEBED LEAPS IN PRESIDENTIAL POLL.