Is Russia About to Pull the Plug on Negotiations?

May 27, 1999

Comment: #276

Discussion Thread:  #s 275


[1] Viktor Chernomyrdin, "Impossible To Talk Peace With Bombs Falling," Washington Post, May 27, 1999, Pg. 39.

Timelines are now driving strategy in the Serbo-NATO War. Given the time it takes to build up forces, a decision to invade Kosovo must be made a few weeks, if it is not already too late. Given the time it takes to clear areas of unexploded ordnance and mines and to repair the destruction within Kosovo, it is now clear that a substantial number of refugees will not be able to return to Kosovo until next year at the earliest, even if the war were to end today. Therefore, decisions need to be made about building semi-permanent winter quarters in Albania, Macedonia, and perhaps Kosovo. Today's indictment of Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes creates an additional complications with as yet unknowable consequences as far as a settlement goes.

One thing is clear, however. The compressing timelines lines and growing confusion conflict with a bombing strategy that is working more slowly than predicted. While no one can predict the future, the Victory Through Air Power Alone strategy probably needs more than a few more weeks to work, if it can ever be made to work.

The Russians are aware of the squeeze on NATO, and not surprisingly, they are increasing the pressure for a cease fire and negotiated settlement on their terms.

In the reference, Victor Chernomyrdin, Russia's chief negotiator in the Serbo-NATO War, turns up the temperature by laying his rebuttal of President Clinton's war aims as stated in his 23 May 99 Op-Ed in the New York Times ["A Just and Necessary War," Reference #3 to Comment #275].

Chernomyrdin concludes his critique of NATO's policies and aims by issuing what appears to be an ultimatum: UNLESS the bombing of Serbia stops soon, he will advise his masters in Russia to (1) suspend Russian participation in the negotiating process, (2) put an end to all military-technological cooperation with the United States and Western Europe, (3) put off the ratification of START II and (4) use Russia's veto as the United Nations debates a resolution on Yugoslavia.

The seriousness of Chernomyrdin's apparent 'ultimatum' is hard to evaluate. On the one hand, it may be simply a negotiating ploy (The SALT II threat, for example, lacks weight, given the fact that Russia's financial problems are impeding modernization and may cause a force decline in any event.) On the other hand, Chernomyrdin is not known for making reckless threats and his direct words may be painting him (and Russia?) into a corner.

The prospect of Russia being cornered raises the paralyzing possibility of everyone war criminals, bombers, and brokers being cornered by strategies that are not working. Those who doubt strategic paralysis is a real possibility in war should review operations on the Western Front in 1916.

Chuck Spinney

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