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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Leads Diplomatic Push to End Kosovo Crisis

Russia pushed ahead Monday with diplomatic efforts to try to bring an end to the conflict over Kosovo: A Russian diplomat met with a moderate Kosovo Albanian leader, the State Duma speaker announced plans to travel to Belgrade for talks, and Russia appeared successful in getting the Contact Group to meet.

Also Monday, the Defense Ministry distanced itself from remarks made over the weekend by a senior military commander who said he was ready to head a Russian volunteer force in Serbia to fight NATO.

"It was Colonel General Viktor Chechevatov's personal view, not the ministry's," a ministry spokesman said. Chechevatov is commander of the Far East military district.

Moscow froze relations with NATO over the Yugoslav bombings and has used strong, Cold War-style language to denounce the action, but it has also made clear that it rules out military intervention.

It sent an unarmed military reconnaissance ship to the Adriatic Sea, largely seen as a symbol of its opposition to NATO's military operation.

The Liman reached the Mediterranean on Monday and is expected to enter the Adriatic by Wednesday morning, Black Sea Fleet headquarters said.

President Boris Yeltsin's government has been lobbying NATO members for a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations and Russia on halting the NATO attacks.

The initial U.S. response was negative, but over the weekend Italy, France and Germany expressed support for a conference of the world's major powers.

Itar-Tass, citing a Foreign Ministry source, reported Monday that the Contact Group - Russia and NATO members Germany, France, Italy, Britain and the United States - would meet Wednesday in Brussels at the level of heads of political departments.

The report, which could not be confirmed, said Russia would be represented by special envoy Boris Mayorsky. He was Russia's main representative during the peace talks at Rambouillet, in France, between Belgrade and separatist ethnic Albanian leaders from Kosovo.

Italy said Saturday the Contact Group would meet this week to discuss the conflict in Yugoslavia and that the meeting would be followed by a session of Russia and the G-7, which also includes Canada and Japan. It did not say when the meeting would be.

On Monday, Serbian state media said moderate Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova met the Russian ambassador in Kosovo and called for an end to airstrikes. Rugova became the subject of intense controversy last week when television pictures showed him in a meeting with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic apparently calling for an end to NATO air operations.

On Sunday, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said the pictures might have been taken two years previously and that the text of Rugova's comments had been altered to distort his message.

Shea said Rugova's house was permanently occupied by Serbian security forces and that he had no freedom of movement.

The Yugoslav official news agency Tanjug addressed Shea's comments directly. "The Russian ambassador to Belgrade ... confirmed [Rugova] is safe and alive, that he is free to move and that his house is not damaged."

Gennady Seleznyov, the speaker of the Duma, parliament's lower house, told journalists he was heading a Russian delegation due to arrive Tuesday evening in Belgrade. They expected to meet with Milosevic and others, he said.