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Russia: Chernomyrdin Criticized Over Kosovo Peace Deal

Prague, 9 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - As Kosovo peace talks enter a possibly contentious stage over the composition and command of an international peacekeeping force for the province, Russia's Bakans envoy has come under pressure for having allegedly sacrificed Russian interests.

Communist deputies in the State Duma today are considering a draft resolution calling on President Boris Yeltsin to release the envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, from his duties.

Some Duma deputies describe as a "capitulation" an agreement hammered out between the former Russian prime minister and western officials and presented to Belgrade last week. Belgrade relented and signed on. The agreement then formed the basis of a draft UN resolution agreed yesterday by the foreign ministers of the G7 states plus Russia.

The Duma critics say the resulting plan is "at variance with Russia's national interests" and that Yeltsin should investigate whether Chernomyrdin violated instructions given to him for the talks.

There are widespread reports that criticism of Chernomyrdin has also come from top Russian military officials and from the foreign ministry. Some commentators are going so far as to say that Chernomyrdin's efforts may effectively end his political career.

Many in Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, oppose the draft for two reasons.

One is that the text calls for a total withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo before only a small contingent is allowed to return. Russian leaders in the past have said Serbia should be allowed to maintain substantial forces in the province.

The second and possibly more important point is the command structure of the international peacekeeping force to be deployed in Kosovo and the prominent role NATO is now to play.

The draft leaves open the question of whether the Russian troops will take orders from NATO commanders. It says only that the security force will have a "substantial" NATO participation and a unified command.

NATO says this wording means that the alliance will form the core of the force, a condition it insists on. Russian officials say the UN, not NATO, will lead the force and that Russian troops will not serve under NATO commanders.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea yesterday underscored NATO's dominant role. He told reporters in Brussels that Russia's participation will depend on that country's willingness to cooperate with NATO:

"The force that will enter Kosovo will be a force with a very strong NATO component, nothing has been watered down. It's going to have all of the same robust rules of engagement and command structure that we always designed. That point is now acknowledged. As far as Russia's contribution is concerned, well, we hope in the next few days, it will depend on Russia, but that we will be able to sit down at the working technical level, military commander to military commander, and start discussing practical modalities to associate Russia with the force."

Yeltsin, for his part, cautiously welcomed yesterday's agreement, which was worked out by the eight foreign ministers, including Russia's Igor Ivanov. Yeltsin, though, has said little in public about the composition and command of the peace force.

Chernomyrdin, in today's Komsomolskaya Pravda, defended his role in the Kosovo negotiations. He told the newspaper he hadn't deviated "by an inch" from orders given to him by Yeltsin.

He also says that any Russian peacekeepers in Kosovo would remain under Russian command.

U.S. and Russian military officials meet tomorrow in Moscow to discuss details of the peacekeeping force. U.S. President Bill Clinton has also dispatched Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to Moscow for political talks. It is not known whether Chernomyrdin will take part in those discussions.

Correspondents say Russia is likely to press for control of one of the sectors in post-war Kosovo, probably in the northwest of the province.

Interfax quotes an unnamed defense official as saying Russia would welcome troops from other former Soviet republics in the sector but not from NATO countries that participated in the bombing.

NATO for its part is reportedly considering a plan to divide Kosovo into five zones, each to be administered by a NATO-member country. NATO says it has ruled out anything that could result in a partitioning of the province.
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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.