Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 76

Yeltsin’s focus yesterday on Kosovo came less than a week after he appointed former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin as the Kremlin’s special envoy for the Kosovo crisis. The Kremlin explained that unexpected appointment as part of a move aimed at strengthening Moscow’s diplomatic efforts to broker a settlement of the Kosovo conflict. Yeltsin repeated the point yesterday, in saying that he was counting on Chernomyrdin to work out a solution to the crisis: “My hopes are on Viktor Chernomyrdin. He has already started work and is actively getting on with the job” (Itar-Tass, April 19).

But yesterday’s government meeting on Kosovo–the first Chernomyrdin attended in his new capacity–was oddly anticlimactic in that regard. Since his appointment last week, Chernomyrdin has reportedly been consulting with a host of Russian and foreign officials on the Kosovo crisis. It had been suggested that he would present his conclusions–and presumably his policy recommendations–during today’s Kremlin meeting. News reports yesterday indicated, however, that the meeting had lasted a scant thirty minutes (Itar-Tass, April 19). Further, there was little to suggest that anything of real substance or significance had come out of it. Today’s announcement that Chernomyrdin is off on a shuttle mission to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine did little to offset the impression that Russia’s policymaking process is beset with problems (Itar-Tass, April 20).

Indeed, the meeting’s participants appeared most concerned, not to outline the contours of any new Russian diplomatic initiative in the Balkans, but to deny widespread speculation that Chernomyrdin’s appointment as envoy represents a political setback for Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Chernomyrdin had said earlier that his appointment would not diminish the role of either Primakov or the Foreign Ministry in diplomatic efforts related to Kosovo. He repeated that message yesterday. Yeltsin said much the same thing in denying any tensions between Primakov and Chernomyrdin over the Kosovo policymaking.

Ivanov, however, seemed particularly anxious to dispel speculation that the Foreign Ministry is being bypassed on the Kosovo conflict. He said that the ministry would remain in “constant contact on all issues” with Chernomyrdin and underscored the fact that any policies related to Kosovo–no matter who advanced them–would be consistent with a single, Yeltsin-endorsed, government one. He went out of his way to emphasize that Yeltsin had not annulled an earlier decree which entrusted the Foreign Ministry with the task of coordinating all of Russia’s Kosovo peace efforts (Russian agencies, April 19).

Ivanov’s disclaimers seemed only to highlight the fact that Russian policy toward Kosovo has become even more politicized with the appointment of Chernomyrdin as envoy. Neither Ivanov nor his predecessor and mentor, Primakov, have enjoyed any success in their efforts–either to deter the West from moving militarily against Yugoslavia, or to win concessions from the Yugoslav leadership that might have headed off the NATO attacks. Those failures, moreover, have left Russia diplomatically isolated at a particularly painful time. Any success Chernomyrdin might achieve on the diplomatic front would probably weaken Primakov politically. This is particularly true insofar as Primakov’s political authority is built, in large part, on the perceived success which he enjoyed as a “defender of Russian national interests” while serving as foreign minister from January of 1996 until September of last year.