Moscow Kosovo Envoy Finds Snag in Azerbaijan

BAKU (Reuters)–Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin visited two ex-Soviet republics Tuesday seeking support for Moscow’s stance on Kosovo–but he won only partial backing in Azerbaijan as that country’s leadership cited the Karabakh conflict–overshadowing Chernomyrdin’s mission.

"We’ve been so busy with our own problems in Karabakh that we don’t have any opportunity to pay attention to events in Yugoslavia," Azeri President Haydar Aliyev told Chernomyrdin during an hour of heated talks.

"We have no moral right to give opinion about the Kosovo problem as we can’t resolve our own conflict," he said–referring to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

He said–however–that his country supported Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity but was against ethnic cleansing in Kosovo–which he said was "genocide for the sake of territorial integrity."

"I realize that makes our position contradictory," Aliyev told Chernomyrdin–who was on the second leg of his brief tour to ex-Soviet republics.

Chernomyrdin arrived in Baku after a more successful visit to Georgia–saying he hoped to find "an instrument to resolve the Kosovo crisis" by consulting with "people who have had experience in similar conflicts."

Chernomyrdin met with more support during a meeting with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in the capital Tbilisi.

The special envoy said they had agreed on a common approach to resolve the conflict and he supported a five-point initiative by Shevardnadze to end the conflict in the Balkans.

The five-point plan involves a cease-fire–a pullout of military forces from Kosovo–an international peacekeeping force for the province–the return of refugees and displaced persons and immediate talks to determine Kosovo’s political status within Yugoslavia.

But the plan was not even discussed during Chernomyrdin’s one-hour meeting with Aliyev–who also criticized the international community for doing too little to ease tensions over Karabakh.

Like Shevardnadze–who drew parallels between the Kosovo crisis and his own country’s long struggle with Abkhaz separatists in western Georgia–Aliyev likened the situation in Karabakh to the situation in the Balkans.

"We who have gone through ethnic cleansing in Karabakh can’t agree to what (Serbian President Slobodan) Milosevic has done in Kosovo," Aliyev said.

Observers in Baku say Aliyev’s effort to link the crisis in Kosovo with Karabakh could be an attempt to draw international attention to the stalemate in negotiations over the region’s status and the return of refugees.

Some analysts say Aliyev’s stance reflects his country’s recent flirting with NATO.

Chernomyrdin–who gave Aliyev a letter from Russian President Boris Yeltsin–said Russia only wanted to mediate in the Kosovo conflict. "Russia will act as a mediator–and only as a mediator will we be involved in the conflict in Yugoslavia," said Chernomyrdin.

He went on to Kiev for talks with Ukraine’s President Leonid Kuchma later on Tuesday night.

Russia and most other former Soviet republics have criticized the NATO air strikes and have called for dialogue to end the crisis.

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