Moscow, 10 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott has ruled out the possibility of Russian soldiers occupying a zone separate from NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo when an
international force of about 50,000 troops moves into the southern Serbian province. Arriving in Moscow early this morning, Talbott emphasized that all of Kosovo should be under one unified command.The first elements of the force are due to move into Kosovo once NATO has verified that Serbia has begun a substantial withdrawal of its forces. After five days of talks, NATO and Yugoslav military officials yesterday reached an accord on the withdrawal.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that he believed Yugoslav troops would start pulling out of Kosovo later today. But in Brussels, NATO said it cannot yet verify that the Serbian pullout has begun.
In Moscow, Talbott is heading a delegation of military experts who will meet with their Russian counterparts to try to work out an accord on Russia's role in the peacekeeping force. Russia insists that its troops not be placed under NATO's command, but the U.S. says the alliance must play the leading role in the peace force.
Talbott is also due to meet today with Russian Balkan envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin and tomorrow with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. An official (unnamed) at the U.S. embassy in Moscow said Talbott would probably also have an introductory meeting with Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin.
The commander of a Russian paratroop brigade (Colonel-General Georgii Shpak) said today that he had received what he called "a preliminary order" to prepare for participation in the international force in Kosovo. Earlier this week, Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said the military would present several options to President Boris Yeltsin for a troop force ranging from 2,500 to 10,000 soldiers.
Some 1,700 U.S. troops due to form part of the vanguard of the international force have moved from Albania to Macedonia. Additional support will come from 2,300 U.S. Marines who began disembarking in Greece today on their way to neighboring Macedonia.
In New York, the United Nations Security Council is due to meet within hours to vote on a Kosovo peace plan drafted by the G-7 industrialized nations and Russia earlier this week. But it will not vote until NATO formally announces the end of its three-month air campaign against Yugoslavia.
Reports from Belgrade said that for the first time since the campaign began on 24 March, there were no attacks anywhere in Yugoslavia.