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Friday, May 14, 1999 Published at 08:10 GMT 09:10 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Good news for Kosovo?

Yeltsin on Kosovo: His approach is more balanced than Primakov's

By BBC Russian Affairs Specialist Malcolm Haslett

The sacking of the Primakov government in Russia has been greeted with concern by some circles in the West, who fear it may upset Russia's efforts to mediate in the Kosovo conflict.

They point to President Yeltsin's threats to end its mediation efforts if Russia's proposals are not taken more seriously.

Another view in the West, however, is that the sacking of Primakov could help, not hinder, Russia's mediation efforts.

Political in-fighting

The anxious western reaction to Russia's latest crisis in fact illustrates that the West does take Russia's peace efforts seriously.

As if to underline this, the French President, Jacques Chirac, has held talks with Mr Yeltsin. Afterwards, he said said he did not believe Russia would withdraw.

What western governments fear is that the renewed political in-fighting in Moscow will distract Russia's attention away from its mediation efforts.

Aggressive condemnation of Nato

These efforts have won increasing recognition in the West, where it is recognised that Russia is in a unique position to influence Mr Milosevic.

The West has come to accept Russia as a mediator, as President Yeltsin has adopted a more considered approach, balancing condemnation of Nato with criticism of Milosevic's treatment of his Albanian population.

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Those who argue that Mr Primakov's sacking could help Russia's mediation efforts point out that when the Nato attacks started, he joined in a very aggressive condemnation of Nato actions, while failing to say anything about ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

It was only after Yeltsin had effectively sidelined Mr Primakov, appointing Viktor Chernomyrdin as his special negotiator on Kosovo, that Russia's stance moderated.

Rebutting domestic critics

According to this way of thinking, Primakov's sacking will strengthen Russia's position as a peace-maker.

This line of thought argues that Yeltsin's threats to pull out of peace-making efforts - repeated on Thursday in talks with President Chirac - are designed to rebut domestic critics who accuse him of giving too much ground to the West.

Mr Yeltsin, it is argued, can be expected to continue stressing how genuine is his disagreement with the Nato position.

Unfortunately this argument too has its weaknesses.

However genuine Mr Yeltsin's disapproval of Nato may be, his more balanced line will still be attacked by his enemies as "pro-western".

Peace efforts welcomed

And that may weaken Russia's ability to influence the regime in Yugoslavia.

As long as President Milosevic knows he is supported by a sizeable body of opinion in Russia, he may be reluctant to give ground significantly - perhaps hoping that the Russian Parliament will impeach Mr Yeltsin.

President Chirac, for his part, was anxious to impress on Mr Yeltsin that many in the West really do welcome Russia's peace efforts.

He also pointed to the continuing diplomatic efforts of western leaders, like Chancellor Schröder of Germany.

Mr Schröder travelled to Beijing to try to persuade an angry Chinese leadership to go along with the outline of a peace settlement worked out by the G8 countries, including Russia, last week.

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