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war in europe

Victor Chernomyrdin

how it was fought
ethnic cleansing
for moral values?

photo of victor chernomyrdin
In mid-April 1999, President Yeltsin named former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to be his special envoy to the Balkans. Chernomyrdin's appointment signaled Russia's desire to salvage its relationship with the West and to chart a new course in the Balkans. After a series of marathon negotiations with Strobe Talbott, Chernomyrdin and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari traveled to Belgrade where they won Milosevic's acceptance of NATO's demands on June 3, 1999.
Viktor Stepanovich, first of all I thank you for meeting us. The question is why president Yeltsin chose you to help to solve Kosovo crisis.

Well, I think Mr. Yeltsin could give precise answer. I have worked for long time in the government and as Prime Minister more than 5 years. I met and know presidents and prime ministers of many states and governments personally; ... probably it was the main reason why Yeltsin chose me to solve the crisis. He told me: "Viktor Stepanovich, you know a lot of important people. It will be easier for you to talk, to convince people and you have more confidence."

You've been several times in Belgrade and met Milosevic. You talk to him and convinced him. Could you give a picture of him? How was your personal impression? How were your meetings?

I met Milosevic five times. Five times I flew out to Belgrade. But only last time, fifth time, I've been there with Ahtisaari. I was always on my own before. Milosevic made great impression on me in the beginning of my first meeting, which was a bit unusual. He was calm and purposeful. He was confident in that he was right, he would win, NATO would lose and his nation was supporting him, which was true at that time. There was no opposition. Everybody was in harmony. We had long nonstop dialogue for 8 or 9 hours. I was convincing him: why he was not right, what could happen, what will happen and how will be all end up. The fact is when someone talks about those events or regulation of the process or stopping war; then, everybody emphasizes that it was Milosevic who gave up. It wasn't like that. The both sides settled by compromise: both Milosevic and NATO. The compromise was from both sides. When I was convincing Milosevic, I convinced USA and the other countries' leaders the same time. So they came to decision and we could stop this war all together as a result.

You've been in a very difficult position to serve two masters. You had to serve the interest of your country and same time convince West to understand. How was it to serve two masters?

You noticed very well. Really, it was like that. To be honest, I served the interest of my country - Russia. Russia was acted towards in not polite way. First time since the Second World War, the Alliance invaded the independent country. Russia was against. China was against. If you remember, Security Council didn't approve. Two countries out of five were against. It happened first time in postwar history. We know it was a humiliation of my country. It was sacred to me to stand up for my country, first. Second, I knew that there were many people who wanted Russia to join this conflict. Who wanted? Well, first of all Milosevic. He tried very hard to join us this conflict, to defend Serbs. He proposed to set up union: Yugoslavia, Belorussia and Russia. I asked him: "Where have you been before? Why didn't you put forward before war? Union is good, we can set up it. But first what we need now is to stop the war, which is going on between NATO and Yugoslavia." My second aim was, as you said, to serve my second master. I had to start everything from the beginning again and convince West that we are going towards the third world war if we wouldn't stop it now. I think I could switch on alarm and make the USA leaders understand .

When did you first met President Ahtisaari? What was your personal impression of him and did you find it to work together?

I knew Mr. Ahtisaari, President of Finland, long before and met several times. I've been to Finland on my official visit. He's been here. During the discussion with the USA President and USA leaders we came to decision that there must be another peacemaker. That peacemaker had to represent UN. It was very difficult discussion for many hours. Kosovo crisis was out of legality because there was no Security Council approval. So my objective was to try to get back into legality of UN. . . .

Milosevic considered  NATO  an aggressor and  murderer. Killing civilians, innocent people. He was confident he didn't do anything wrong with Kosovo. After the long debate with the USA leaders there was suggestion of Mr. Ahtisaari, President of Finland, and Mrs. Albright asked me: "Are you agree about Mr. Ahtisaari?" Of course I was agree. Actually I was agree about anyone else. But Ahtisaari was very convenient to me: we are neighbors, he is charming person, good politician and it was a pleasure to work with him. I was very delighted that this person was he.

You had discussion for many hours with them trying to convince them to solve the Kosovo crisis. Could you tell more in detail? Were you arguing?

If we were agreed we wouldn't be sitting at the table for long hours and nights. Of course, there was disagreement and we had hot debates. We were convincing each other what decision has to be made. Main disagreement was between Mr. Talbott and me. . . . It wasn't simple at all. That's why I stressed that both sides settled by compromise in solving Kosovo crisis but not Milosevic only. If the question was just to make Milosevic capitulate, there would be no need for Chernomyrdin or Russia to be a peacemaker. The West counted that they could persuade Milosevic to give up. But Milosevic didn't. He would never do that. That's why I brought him around giving an explanation, adducing the facts, why and what have happened, what will happen if he continues persistence and what will be left from Yugoslavia. Can you imagine how uneasy was the discussion for 8, 9 hours? He would jump up, tear the papers, thrust them, go out and come back again. It was hard.

Then I talked to USA group convincing them what they have to undertake to stop the war. It was very complicated. . . .

Is it true story that you pointed at empty chair and said, "Let's imagine Milosevic in this room and sitting on it."

Yes, it is. I even said them to take a plane to see Milosevic and to convince him. It's me who met Milosevic, but not they. I don't need to be convinced. Neither Russia nor me is a participant of war. This is me who had to convince both sides in what will be happen if they wouldn't stop it. I said, "Please imagine Milosevic is here in. Let's propose him to give up." He would never do it. He understands his position as well. He can just pick up a phone and call to any president to say, "I accept it." I told them, "Let's go there." But nobody did! Only when papers were ready and I had convinced Milosevic, Mr. Ahtisaari flied to Belgrade with me.

What was difficult issue of all the conditions to persuade Milosevic?

I think the most difficulty was that Milosevic considered that NATO was an aggressor and murderer. They were killing civilians, innocent people. He was confident that he didn't do anything wrong with Kosovo. He always said that. So when we agreed on the set of conditions, he was afraid. He said, "I don't believe Western Alliance. They wouldn't carry out. I just can't believe. They will occupy Kosovo and drive away Serbs entirely." I told him, "That's why there was condition about presence of Russian troops in regulation there. USA and NATO agreed with it." We, as a participant of agreement, were a guarantor as well. We are not taking part in this war but have to send our troops. What better guarantee might be else? They wouldn't fight with Russia, of course. It was the most difficult decision for him and he thought about very hard.

They tried to persuade me to affect on Milosevic to give up. It is useless. I always said, "Then you can work with Milosevic without me. If you want to persuade Milosevic you have to convince me first." . . . That's why there were such long discussions with Mr. Talbott and other USA leaders. Nobody wanted to be a loser in this war. Everybody wanted to be a winner, Milosevic in particular. How they could justify themselves before own nation?.

Could you tell us the story from the point of Petersburg to Belgrade, to final meeting?

I worked out with Milosevic the first set of conditions, which consisted from eight paragraphs at the very beginning. It was set how Milosevic saw situation how I was agree with the scheme about which we could talk. And in Bonn, after my four visits to Belgrade and long discussions, Mr. Talbott, Mr. Ahtisaari and me spent whole night in this palace. I went to sleep at four or five AM but they stayed until morning. There was extreme tension. Mr. Ahtisaari was very active this time because he was well informed. He knew we have to fly only with those practical conditions that will satisfy Western Alliance and convince Milosevic. It was the most difficult moment. There was a question: should we fly to Belgrade. I could not go. What for? I knew Milosevic what he would accept, what he would never.

We worked throughout night. In the morning spent few hours again to polish the final document and flew off to Belgrade. Mr. Milosevic called all his army officers, officials where we introduced those conditions. Ahtisaari read through eight paragraphs. Milosevic asked to think it out and said he will take the document into the parliament tomorrow and give a result after. We agreed. I stayed there in Belgrade. I've heard Ahtisaari flew off to Budapest. I'm not sure about this. Recently friend of mine told me it. I even didn't know.

We assembled next day again. Milosevic discussed with me once more. I told Milosevic before, "Slobodan Milosevic, try to work out the document. You will discuss in the government and parliament. If you are not agreed with some points you can write it down as a request and supplement it. When SC will discuss this resolution they will study your request."

In the morning there was parliament assembly for about two hours in Belgrade. Parliament adopted the conditions without any statement. I was surprised very much. Why there wasn't any statement or request? I didn't expect it, but it was like that. Either Milosevic or government were agreed with the set of conditions we worked on so hard.

Was it difficult for Milosevic to accept the paragraph that contained stipulation that all troops will be withdrawn from Kosovo?

It was very important moment when Milosevic agreed with the withdrawing all troops. There was a term of 7 or 8 days. They asked more but we agreed on eight and if there will be need we could prolong it. But Milosevic put a question, "Stop bombing." Mr. Talbott doesn't agree with the stopping bombing and wants to carry on but the same time he wants to withdraw troops. There is no logic. So I had to persuade Americans that it can't be like that. They have to stop bombing and Milosevic will withdraw troops. It took me enough time to persuade.

When you returned to Russia you faced personal criticism from Russian people. How do you feel it?

I know who were shouting it, where from was it. It was from the left opposition. In reality they wanted something else. I don't care about it at all. I understand them. But it hurt me when some of officials did so. Their action was incomprehensible. Anyway, it wasn't important indeed. The most important was that we could prevent the third world war. Nobody can realize it yet. We, Russians, could be there. Actually the process was advancing this way. Belgrade extremely wanted Russia to join them. There were too people in Russia who wanted to fight for Serbs. We had such experience previously once in this century. Russians who have common sense understand it what does it mean to fight for Serbs this way. Of course we are not against Serbs or humiliating or hurting them. Just we are absolutely against that kind of conflict that has ethnical or national base. And I'm happy we stopped this crisis, this war.

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