Russian Kosovo Mediation Will Come at a Price

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MOSCOW: A newly energized Boris Yeltsin is plying his skills to position Russia as a mediator in Kosovo -- but his favors won't come cheap. After sidelining his more hard-line prime minister Yevgeny Primakov and puttting Al Gore buddy Viktor Chernomyrdin in charge of Russian peace efforts, Yeltsin spent an hour on the phone Monday night with President Clinton, who urged him to pressure the Serbs to accept a political solution in Kosovo -- a virtual nonstarter without Russian participation. Then, on Tuesday, Moscow reminded Washington of what Russia may regard as the payback for leaning on the Serbs, announcing a default on $1.3 billion in government bonds that mature next month. "The West pumped money into Russia throughout the Yeltsin era for political reasons," says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. "If Moscow failed to deliver economically, it was at least expected to come through on the geopolitical front." Since the IMF seems to see little economic rationale for further Russia bailouts, Yeltsin may be tempted to remind Western leaders of their political value.

Moscow may expect financial aid for helping NATO out of its Kosovo stalemate, but prospects for maintaining the Yeltsin-era formula of cash for political cooperation have dimmed recently. "The IMF is skeptical over pouring any more good money after bad, and surging anti-Western sentiment following the bombing of Yugoslavia has further diminished the likelihood that pro-Western politicians will prevail in the 2000 elections," says Meier. But with NATO's Kosovo options narrowing, Moscow's cooperation may begin to appear worth the price.