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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Peace Force Divides West And Russia

Prague, 7 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- With foreign ministers of the G-7 industrial countries and Russia meeting yesterday in Germany to discuss Kosovo, differences between the West and Moscow over the conflict persist.

The key difference has been, and after yesterday's talks, appears to remain, the composition and arming of any international peace force for Kosovo.

Russia's Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, who has met with both Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. President Bill Clinton in recent days, has said that Milosevic is willing to accept a UN force in Kosovo -- armed defensively with sidearms -- as part of any peace deal.

Clinton and other NATO leaders, however, have said that any peacekeeping force must have armed NATO troops at its core to safeguard returning refugees -- although he has said that force could include Russians.

After yesterday's G-7 plus Russia talks, the eight foreign ministers released a statement listing conditions for settling the Kosovo crisis, including deployment there of "effective international civil and security presences" in Kosovo. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters after the talks near Bonn that the gap between Russia and NATO on a peace plan for Kosovo had narrowed.

But it seemed clear from her remarks, and from earlier comments by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, that the central disagreement between NATO members and Russia -- and between NATO and Belgrade -- over the make-up of an international force persist.

Albright, at a separate press conference after yesterday's talks, gave the U.S. argument for why NATO troops, and specifically U.S. troops, must be involved.

"Part of what has to happen is that the Kosovar refugees have to be comfortable enough to come home, and they have to be ... demilitarized. And that will not happen if the United States is not part of the operation."

The G-7 plus Russia statement stipulated that the proposed forces must be "endorsed and adopted" by the United Nations. Moscow has repeatedly criticized NATO for beginning its air strikes against Yugoslavia without a mandate from the UN Security Council -- something which it could unilaterally block with its veto on the council.

Yesterday's statement also calls for the eight foreign ministers to "reconvene in due time to review the progress which has been achieved" toward settling the conflict.

Meanwhile, anger over NATO's air strikes continues in Moscow.

Sergey Rogov, the director of the Institute of the USA and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences, speaking on RFE/RL's Russian Service last night, blamed the West for the crisis.

Rogov argued that the lack of progress toward a peace deal was due entirely to Western stubbornness over the question of the peacekeeping force. He reiterated the Yugoslav position, supported by Russia, that an armed NATO force on Yugoslav soil is unacceptable. He went on to say that differences over Kosovo had greatly heightened tension between the U.S. and Russia.

"The fact is that this is the most serious crisis in Russian-U.S. relations since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is not limited to the crisis in Yugoslavia -- there are a number of other problems -- economic and disarmament. All this is very dangerous."

Anti-NATO sentiment is running particularly high among the Communist opposition in Russia. Party leader Gennady Zyuganov likens NATO's air strikes on Yugoslavia with Nazi Germany's bombardment of the Soviet Union during World War Two. Yesterday, Zyuganov characterized the crisis as a struggle between defenseless Yugoslavia and 19 aggressive NATO nations. He also said that the U.S. is using the conflict in an effort to divide Europe.