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Yugoslavia: Russia Moving Closer To NATO On Kosovo

  • Ben Partridge

London, 30 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said yesterday that Russia's position on the Kosovo conflict has progressed over the past two or three weeks and is moving closer to NATO's shared objectives.

Cook spoke at a news briefing in London following further NATO air strikes on targets in Serbia and Montenegro. Cook's remarks coincided with a new round of diplomacy aimed at securing peace in Kosovo:

-- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan held talks in Moscow this week with President Boris Yeltsin and Russia's special Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin.

-- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott will brief Cook in London later yesterday about his own talks in Moscow with Chernomyrdin.

-- And Chernomyrdin himself was in Bonn yesterday for talks on Kosovo with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

At yesterday's briefing, Cook talked about what he said have been changes in Russia's attitude toward Kosovo during the past few weeks:

"What is interesting is that Russia has moved its position progressively over the last two or three weeks and is every day becoming closer to our shared objectives. When Igor Ivanov met with Madeleine Albright in Oslo two weeks ago, they found a lot of common ground, but they still could not -- at that point -- get Russia to agree for the need for an international military presence. Russia has now accepted the need for that international presence to be military. The discussion now is about the composition of that international military presence. There are other areas of dialogue; they're not areas of dispute, but they are areas of dialogue and discussion. For instance, on the rate of withdrawal of the Serb forces and also the nature of the international administration which would run Kosovo for an interim period."

Cook said he welcomes what he called the "clear intent" of Russia to be part of the solution to the Kosovo crisis, not an obstacle.

Cook yesterday also repeated NATO's objectives in the air campaign, including the return of the refugees who have poured into Albania and Macedonia, an end to the killing in Kosovo, the withdrawal of Serb troops, and the deployment of an international military force in Kosovo.

Cook has floated the concept of an international administration for Kosovo for an interim period. But he said there has been no change in the international community's position on the sovereignty of Kosovo.

He said: "We would wish to see a solution which kept the integrity of Yugoslavia, and enabled Kosovo to have its autonomy, but without necessarily breaking the integrity of Yugoslavia." He added: "That is of considerable importance to the countries of the neighborhood."

Bulgaria and Romania have said there should be no redrawing of Balkan borders under any Kosovo peace deal.

Also at yesterday's briefing, British military spokesman Air Marshal John Day said NATO pilots hit a number of bridges in Serbia over the past 24 hours:

"Further attacks have been made against Serbian infrastructure, including a number of bridges, and this will hinder [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's ability to move around his military and special police units, and to resupply them. A number of fuel storage facilities and refinery capabilities were also targeted, as well as communications facilities across Kosovo and Serbia, including in Belgrade."

Day said that NATO planes had also hit an airfield in Montenegro, the smaller of the two republics that make up federal Yugoslavia. NATO has sought to limit its air attacks on Montenegro, fearing this could draw the small republic -- which has sought to stay neutral -- into the conflict.

Day said the airfield in Podgorica was targeted on Wednesday because it has been operating aircraft posing a threat to the Kosovo refugees. A number of Serb aircraft were destroyed.

Within Kosovo, Day said, NATO pilots hit an airfield at the provincial capital, Pristina, and Serbian army and police units, including tanks and helicopters. All NATO planes returned safely to base.

At yesterday's NATO briefing in Brussels, alliance spokesman Jamie Shea acknowledged that a missiles fired by a NATO aircraft went astray late yesterday and hit a house near the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, some 60 km from the border with Yugoslavia.

Shea said the missile was fired after Serbian radar illuminated a NATO plane and the radar-seeking missile went astray when the Serbian radar was turned off.

There were no reports of injuries from the incident.