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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Plays It Safe on Kosovo Peace Plan




President Boris Yeltsin by Monday still had not commented on the Kosovo peace plan negotiated last week in part by his own envoy - and he appeared to be hedging his bets and waiting to see how things would play out both in Russia and the Balkans.


The Kosovo plan, criticized by many in Russia as a capitulation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has put presidential envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin under fire. Communist and nationalist deputies in the State Duma are calling for his dismissal.


The plan itself is looking shaky after high-level Yugoslav-NATO talks on working out military details of the Serb withdrawal from Kosovo and the arrival of international peacekeepers broke down Sunday.


Since the accord was accepted Thursday by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, it has occupied the attention of politicians in Russia and the West. But Yeltsin has not yet publicly weighed in.


He spoke with Chernomyrdin on Friday, and the only reports came from Chernomyrdin's spokesman. The president met Saturday with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, but still little was said.


"The president is closely following the situation. He assigned Ivanov to deal with the matter in Bonn. Right now he is waiting for the results of the meeting there," an official from the presidential press office said Monday.


Ivanov was meeting with foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrial countries in Bonn, Germany, to draft a resolution for a peace plan in Kosovo that could be endorsed by the UN Security Council.


Yeltsin spoke Monday by telephone with President Bill Clinton, and they agreed to instruct their foreign ministers "to work quickly to resolve any remaining issues," U.S. National Security Council spokesman David Leavy said, Reuters reported.


Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov has labeled the Kosovo plan a "Balkan Khasavyurt," referring to a Russian-Chechen cease-fire in 1996 that he also saw as a sell-out.


Whatever the differences in the two peace deals, Yeltsin's behavior after both was strikingly similar. In August 1996, Alexander Lebed, the chief of Yeltsin's Security Council at the time, signed a peace accord with Chechnya in the town of Khasavyurt. The accord was a virtual recognition of Russia's defeat and was widely criticized in the Duma.


Yeltsin distanced himself from the accord signed with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, and there was no reaction whatsoever from the Kremlin for weeks.


Yeltsin gave his backing only when it was clear the cease-fire would hold and public support seemed assured.


Lebed, who gained huge popularity as the man who had the courage to end the unpopular war, was promptly dismissed. The glory then went to Chernomyrdin, who signed another agreement with Chechnya later in 1996.


On Monday, however, the attacks on Chernomyrdin continued. The Duma, parliament's lower house, drafted documents calling for his dismissal from his duties as envoy.


"Thanks to Chernomyrdin's efforts, Russia has become an accomplice to the tragedy in Yugoslavia," Zyuganov was quoted by Interfax as saying.


Chernomyrdin indicated Monday that he is planning to continue his efforts to resolve the conflict in Yugoslavia. The final word, however, is likely to be left with the president.


Sergei Markov, the head of the Institute for Political Studies, said the mystery surrounding Yeltsin's reaction to the Kosovo agreement will clear up as soon as Yeltsin decides what to do with Chernomyrdin himself.


"Whatever the decision is going to be, it would have to be radical - either to stick by Chernomyrdin and thus turn against many others, or even the whole nation, or to apply sanctions against Chernomyrdin himself," Markov said.


"And, besides, for as long as the final solution to the Balkan crisis has not been found, Yeltsin has all the time he needs to think."