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Yeltsin Orders Top Russian Aides To Try to Stop Conflict in Kosovo

By David Hoffman and William Drozdiak
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin Monday ordered his top government ministers to Belgrade to hold urgent talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in the first major political initiative to end the Kosovo crisis since NATO launched its bombing campaign six days ago.

Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, accompanied by his foreign, defense and intelligence chiefs, is expected to meet with Milosevic Tuesday to explore the possibility of a cease-fire with its longtime ally. Russian officials said Primakov would aim to halt the escalating violence and revive peace negotiations, but they provided no details about his proposal.

“We are going to Belgrade not to save somebody’s face but to stop the aggression, to return to the negotiating table,” Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters. The purpose of the trip is to “reverse the negative dynamic of events,” he said.

He did not specify any requests that the group might make of Milosevic but said “the aggression was launched by NATO, and it is up to NATO to stop it.”

The United States and its allies warily welcomed the Russian initiative, emphasizing that they hoped Primakov would focus on ending the crackdown in Kosovo and accepting a proposed peace deal providing autonomy to the Serbian province.

“If the Russians can persuade Milosevic to stop the slaughter in Kosovo, that would be great,” a senior U.S. policy-maker said. “But if he offers only hollow concessions that seek to drive a wedge into allied solidarity over the airstrikes, then this mission could be extremely counterproductive.”

NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said Primakov would be “totally safe” flying to Belgrade even though allied military commanders have warned civilian aircraft to stay out of Yugoslav airspace. “I know his diplomatic skills, and I hope he will be able to convince Milosevic to stop the killings,” Solana said.