Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 93

The already complicated task of negotiating a settlement of the Kosovo conflict became downright messy yesterday in the wake of Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s decision to dismiss Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Although officials throughout the West were quick to say officially that they expected no change in Moscow’s role as a mediator of the conflict, recent developments in Moscow and elsewhere have hardly been encouraging. This is particularly true in light of Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin’s claim earlier this week that Moscow now backs China’s calls for an end to NATO bombing in Yugoslavia as a precondition for the start of peace talks. Yeltsin himself appeared to punctuate Chernomyrdin’s claim yesterday when he warned Western leaders that their continued failure to take Russian proposals for the Kosovo conflict seriously could compel Moscow to renounce its role as a mediator.

Indeed, at present it is difficult to determine precisely what Russia’s position is vis-a-vis negotiations for ending the crisis. Moscow appeared to join the West last week when it–with the Group of Seven countries–co-sponsored a package of principles aimed at promoting a political settlement of the Balkans crisis. However, the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy by NATO forces, Chernomyrdin’s subsequent trip to Beijing, and the possible emergence of a joint Russian-Chinese position on Kosovo appear to have raised some questions over whether Moscow still intends to adhere to the G-7 formula.

In essence, Moscow appears now to have significant differences with the West on four key points related to the settlement. Two of these have been openly admitted by both sides and are the subjects of current negotiations: the composition and status of a post-conflict international security force in Kosovo, and the extent to which Belgrade will be compelled to pull its own military and police forces out of the war-torn province. On the first, NATO continues to insist on a security force which is militarily robust and which contains–at a minimum–a strong NATO presence. Moscow continues, apparently, to lean toward Belgrade’s preference for a smaller force of lightly armed observers drawn from countries not participating in the current NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia. On the second point, NATO is insisting on a rapid and full Serb military withdrawal from Kosovo; Moscow has apparently not embraced that formula.

But Moscow and the West may now also be divided on the question of whether NATO air strikes must stop before peace talks–or consideration of the Kosovo issue by the UN Security Council–can begin. This was not a condition laid down during the Russian-G-7 meeting last week, though it is something on which many Russian officials had insisted prior to the G-7 meeting. Yeltsin’s complaint yesterday that the West is ignoring Russia’s proposals vis-a-vis Kosovo appeared to focus on precisely this point–that diplomatic progress on Kosovo cannot be made until the NATO air strikes are halted. Needless to say, Western leaders have strongly rejected that condition (Western and Russian agencies, May 12).

Russia and the West also appear to be divided on the question of Kosovo’s post-conflict political status. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters earlier this week that Russia would oppose a European Union plan for an international protectorate over Kosovo. “Any kind of provisional administration tantamount to an international protectorate is impracticable and short sighted,” he said (Washington Post, May 12).