Why Russia Was Miffed at Nato

Newsweek International, July 26, 1999 | Go to article overview

Why Russia Was Miffed at Nato


Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov has a reputation for being friendly and easygoing--except, perhaps, when it comes to the subject of Kosovo. He was a fierce critic of the NATO air war against Serbia, during which he declared that NATO's leaders should be tried for war crimes. Yet when Russian troops got the jump on NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo last month by seizing the airport in Pristina, Ivanov called the Russian ploy "a mistake." A former ambassador to Spain, and Russia's representative at the 1995 Dayton meetings that ended the war in Bosnia, Ivanov, 53, became foreign minister last September. In his first lengthy interview since the end of the war in Kosovo, he spoke with NEWSWEEK's Bill Powell in Moscow. Excerpts:

POWELL: You've said that you believe there was a way to avoid the NATO air campaign and to find a diplomatic solution even after the Rambouillet talks fell apart. Why?

IVANOV: I don't believe the story starts in Rambouillet. The story starts in London in late January when, at Russia's initiative, the Contact Group [the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia] convened and decided that after several months of shuttle diplomacy... it was time to proceed with direct negotiations... between Belgrade and Pristina with the... participation of the troika: Russia, the U.S. and the European Union. At the same time, and I would like to emphasize this, there was an agreement to work out a political document for the settlement. No military aspects were discussed. I made a statement [then] that Russia would support only a political settlement and that it strongly opposed the use of force in solving the problem. And that's what we agreed upon.

So what went wrong?

Negotiations in Rambouillet started, but there were never any direct talks between the delegations. During this procedure, to my surprise, the American representative, Ambassador Christopher Hill, presented two additional documents. One was on unleashing a NATO military operation and the second was on the deployment of police forces [in Kosovo.] And they were to be appendices to the main [political] document. Neither the first nor the second document had ever been discussed with us. Based on how thorough those documents were, it was obvious that it had taken several months to prepare them. And [NATO commander] Gen. [Wesley] Clark admitted at a recent hearing in Congress that the preparation for the military operation began at least in June 1998. …

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