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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Yeltsin Can Help Stop Kosovo War




President Boris Yeltsin's pledge Tuesday to meet personally with Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic to broker a settlement of the war now raging in the Kosovo region will be a positive sign if it means Russia is now committed to a unified program of decisive action to end the war.


The events of the past week have shown that the situation in Kosovo is indeed already a war that threatens to become as bloody as the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia.


The Contact Group, which includes Russia, the United States, Germany, Britain, France and Italy, has sworn not to repeat the mistakes of previous Balkan wars. But there seems little agreement on what those mistakes were.


The situation in Kosovo should be easier to solve in that, from the outset, all sides are agreed on the political settlement they would ultimately like to see.


None of the powers wants to give in to demands from the ethnic Albanians who are now fighting for independence from Serbia. They reject attempts to break up Serbia, both because it would be against international law and because it would threaten instability in other Balkan countries with large Albanian minorities.


But the powers also do not want to abandon the Albanians completely to the Serbs. Instead, they want the Serbs to grant the Albanians generous autonomy but within the Yugoslav federation.


The confusion is over how to achieve these goals. The West has so far responded mostly by threatening sanctions against Serbia if it does not stop its violent suppression of the Albanians.


This one-sided approach will only encourage the Albanians to a rebellion to which the Serbs can only respond with further violence. Russia has proved right in opposing this policy.


Since the powers want a solution that will fully satisfy neither side, they will have to make threats against both sides. The Serbs must be told to stop their tactics of violence and start talking to the Albanians about autonomy. Sanctions and the threat of NATO bombing raids should be used to press the point home.


But the powers must also warn the Albanians very clearly that they do not support independence for them. A NATO deployment may be necessary to close the border between Kosovo and Albania to stop arms getting through to Albanian rebels.


This is an even-handed package of measures that Russia should be able to support. Russia's influence with Serbia has weakened over the past few years, but Yeltsin could have a crucial role to play. But he must act in step with the other powers.