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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Hails Return to Diplomacy Stage




President Boris Yeltsin's foreign-policy aides greeted the new framework for peace in Kosovo with a hint of pleasure at their return to the diplomatic spotlight and a determination that the country not appear to be merely a tool of the West.


Yeltsin's domestic advisers could not help but regard it as a small but significant victory for the president, who has struggled to control Russia's policy on Yugoslavia in the face of ever more militant - and popular - anti-Western oratory by Communists and nationalists.


In statements after the agreement was made public, Yeltsin's envoy to the United Nations, Sergei Lavrov, and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov were quick to emphasize that they believed Western intransigence was the major roadblock to peace talks and an end to the crisis.


Lavrov said the West had only now agreed to terms for peace negotiations that Russia had been proposing for weeks. Ivanov used the announcement for renewed strenuous criticism of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia.


The statements echoed the increasingly hostile attacks on the West in general, and the United States in particular, that have come from the Kremlin in the last few weeks. Yeltsin has steadily edged Russia's policy on the Kosovo situation from moderate criticism of the West to threats of a diplomatic breach and war, as many average Russians have come to regard NATO as the agent of a new, anti-Russian Western empire.


Even Thursday, hours before the agreement was announced, Yeltsin accused NATO of "naked aggression'' against Yugoslavia and warned that "the shadow of war is hanging over Europe.'' His criticism was part of a statement marking the 55th anniversary of Soviet liberation of the Ukrainian seaport of Sevastopol from Nazi troops.


The practical effect of the attacks has been to steal some of the thunder of the Communists and nationalists who control the State Duma, and who have demanded that Russia give Serbia weapons and its own forces to battle NATO jets.


But whatever Yeltsin's oratory, Russia's actual involvement in the Kosovo situation has been directed not by hard-liners, but by former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, a Yeltsin ally who is a familiar and moderate face in dealings with the United States and Europe.


Chernomyrdin's brokering of Thursday's agreement on a framework for peace talks gives Yeltsin an increasingly rare political and diplomatic victory.


Yeltsin's critics have asserted for weeks that Chernomyrdin was destined to become a stooge for the West, delivering NATO ultimatums to Serbia rather than negotiating a peace.


The newspaper Izvestia suggested this week that the United States was merely paying lip service to Chernomyrdin's efforts as a cost-free way to demonstrate good will toward Moscow. In reality, the newspaper asserted, Washington was using Chernomyrdin to divide Russia and Yugoslavia.


But parts of Thursday's pact appeared to mirror what Chernomyrdin and other Russian officials have been publicly proposing in the last two weeks. Chernomyrdin said Sunday, for example, that Serbia would agree to the placement of armed peacekeepers in Kosovo.


Yeltsin's defense minister, Igor Sergeyev, said during a visit to Norway this week that the Yugoslavia crisis could not be solved without an international military presence in Kosovo, and proposed using the armed forces of those Scandinavian countries that are not in NATO.