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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chernomyrdin Named Kosovo Envoy

Viktor Chernomyrdin walked back into the elite of Russian officialdom Wednesday when President Boris Yeltsin named him his personal envoy to deal with the Kosovo conflict.

The ostensible reasoning behind the appointment is that the former prime minister will be able to use his ties with Western leaders to help Russia take the lead in finding a diplomatic solution.

But it also was seen as a move aimed at Russia's domestic political arena, meant to counterbalance the increasing popularity of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst for the INDEM political think tank, expressed doubt that Chernomyrdin could have any success as a peacemaker.

"The question of Kosovo is a question to be solved only between two sides - NATO and [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic. Sending a bottle of vodka [from Russia] as an envoy to the talks would bring as much success as sending Chernomyrdin," Korgunyuk said.

Chernomyrdin, however, jumped right into his new task as peacemaker.

Immediately after the presidential degree appointing him was made public, he met with Primakov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Interfax reported.

Yeltsin's foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko was quoted as saying Chernomyrdin was expected to take up part of the negotiating load now carried by the two government ministers. But he added that the new envoy's exact responsibilities were still to be decided.

But it seemed clear he was stepping onto the foreign and prime ministers' turf.

Primakov, who used to be foreign minister, traveled to Belgrade to meet with Milosevic after the NATO bombings began and has played a prominent role in defining Russian policy. It fell to Ivanov to meet Tuesday in Oslo, Norway, with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Valentin Sergeyev, a Chernomyrdin aide, was quoted by Interfax as saying that in his new capacity as special envoy Chernomyrdin would soon meet officials "at the highest level of those countries that have a relationship to the conflict in the Balkans.

Although Russia has failed to find a political solution to the crisis despite repeated attempts, NATO is hoping Moscow can serve as an intermediary with Belgrade.

But the impact of Chernomyrdin's new job may be greatest inside Russia.

"Chernomyrdin's appointment adds another player to the game," said Sergei Markov, the director of the Institute for Political Studies. He said it clearly was aimed at providing a counterbalance to Primakov.Bringing Chernomyrdin back into the inner circle of the Kremlin fits into Yeltsin's recent attempts to broaden his base of political support, Markov said.

In recent weeks Yeltsin has met a number of Russia's influential politicians, including Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

Oleg Sysuyev, Yeltsin's deputy chief of staff, promised Wednesday that more meetings could be expected.

Markov predicted that Chernomyrdin would wind up with another position even closer to the Kremlin.

After his own meeting with the president last week, Chernomyrdin seemed to be looking ahead to Wednesday's appointment.

In an interview with the newspaper Izvestiya, he declared he was ready to help the country and singled out the Balkan crisis as an area where he felt he could be of use.

"I know all those people by face, and they know me," he was quoted as saying.

As prime minister, Chernomyrdin co-chaired a commission with U.S. Vice President Al Gore to improve cooperation between the two countries, which helped him to build many informal contacts.

Earlier this year Yeltsin sent Chernomyrdin to Washington to lobby for U.S. support in winning new credits from the International Monetary Fund.

Russia's navy said Wednesday that nine warships from the Black Sea fleet were ready to set sail for the Mediterranean Sea, but had not yet received an order to up anchor, Reuters reported.

Turkey's general staff said earlier that Moscow had informed Ankara of the ships' passage through the Bosporus strait in three groups of three vessels over the course of the next week.

Our ships are ready at the base; when they receive the order of the commander they will set off," a spokesman for Russia's naval fleet said by telephone.

A naval analyst said that if the navy said the warships were ready to sail, they had received fuel, which they did not have at an earlier date.

Russia sent its first ship, the Liman, on April 3, in a largely symbolic act of Russia's opposition to the bombings in Yugoslavia.