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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Russia and Nato talking again

US-Russian relations: Sharing a cigarette in Kosovo

By Russian Affairs Analyst, Stephen Dalziel

Russia and Nato are officially talking again. On Friday morning, the Nato-Russia Permanent Joint Council met in Brussels for the first time since the start of Nato's bombing of Yugoslavia.

Nato leaders can be in no doubt as to the strength of Russia's opposition to the alliance's policy of bombing Yugoslavia to persuade Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to stop his persecution of the Kosovo Albanians.

[ image: When Nato acted on Yugoslavia, the Russian reaction was swift]
When Nato acted on Yugoslavia, the Russian reaction was swift
When the Kremlin was informed that Nato felt it had exhausted all the diplomatic options in dealing with Mr Milosevic, and that bombing was to commence, the Russians acted immediately.

The Nato office in Moscow was closed down, and Nato personnel expelled.

Russia withdrew its mission at Nato headquarters in Brussels, and a plane carrying the then Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, to Washington turned back mid-flight.

Russia's protests were interpreted in the West as support for Mr Milosevic. But although Russia has never attempted to hide its close historical and cultural links with the Serbs, Russia's actions were prompted by more than just this.

Rift between ministries

The accepted wisdom in the Russian Foreign Ministry is that conflicts should not be settled by force. This was dismissed in the West as hypocrisy, given the Soviet Union's almost 10-year involvement in the war in Afghanistan, and, more recently, the Russian Army's deployment in Chechnya.

But what these conflicts serve to illustrate is that, firstly, some of Russia's decision-makers have learned the lesson that the use of force is not worth the cost; and, secondly, there are rifts in Moscow between the Foreign and Defence Ministries.

[ image: Some Russians have backed the Defence Ministry's reluctance on Nato deployment]
Some Russians have backed the Defence Ministry's reluctance on Nato deployment
In recent weeks, these rifts have become more apparent. The taking of Pristina Airport by Russian troops in June, just ahead of Nato forces, is believed to have been carried out with the blessing of the Defence Ministry, but without the Foreign Ministry knowing anything about it.

It was significant that just four days later, it was announced that the co-ordination of all of Russia's actions over Kosovo was being put in the hands of the Foreign Ministry.

Mixed messages

And yet the Defence Ministry has continued to show its disapproval of what it regards as an overly-friendly policy towards Nato by the Kremlin.

Last week, Russia's envoy to Nato, General Viktor Zavarzin, publicly announced in Moscow that Russia had no intention of re-establishing ties with the alliance, something which Friday's meeting clearly contradicts.

The session had originally been scheduled for Tuesday, but was postponed after the two sides announced that they needed more time to prepare.

It seems likely that one reason for the delay was continuing disagreements in Moscow between the two ministries.

The fact that the meeting has gone ahead suggests that the Foreign Ministry has, for now, got the upper hand.

Nato has said all along that it wants Russia to be involved in any settlement of the Kosovo issue.

Nato leaders will be hoping that, having sat down again with the Russians, they will be able to maintain the dialogue.

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