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Collision

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Collision
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NATO, Russia, and Kosovo

JOHN NORRIS
FOREWORD BY STROBE TALBOTT

PRAEGER Westport, Connecticut


London
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Norris, John.
Collision course : NATO, Russia, and Kosovo / John Norris ; foreword by
Strobe Talbott.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-275-98753-1 (alk. paper)
1. North Atlantic Treaty OrganizationArmed ForcesSerbia and Montenegro
Kosovo (Serbia) 2. Bombing, AerialSerbia and MontenegroSerbia.
3. Operation Allied Force, 1999. 4. Kosovo (Serbia)HistoryCivil War,
1998-1999Participation, Foreign. I. Talbott, Strobe. II. Title.
DR2087.5.N67 2005
949.703dc22 2005002147

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available.

Copyright 2005 by John Norris


All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be
reproduced, by any process or technique, without the
express written consent of the publisher.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2005002147
ISBN: 0-275-98753-1
First published in 2005

Praeger Publishers, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881


An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.
www.praeger.com

Printed in the United States of America

@r
The paper used in this book complies with the
Permanent Paper Standard issued by the National
Information Standards Organization (Z39.48-1984).

10 9 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To my nieces and nephews:
Ben, Caitlin, Joe, Adam,
Anna, Joe IV, and James

And to my love, Brenda


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Contents

Foreword by Strobe Talbott ix


Preface XV

Introduction xix

k Misadventure 1
2 Picking Up the Pieces 25
a The Shuttle Begins 57
*^ The Dog Days of Spring 83
5 An Empty Chair, Nothing Off the Table 121
S On the Mountain 151
i Belgrade 181
H Breaking Through 207
S Deception and Confrontation 237
20 A Creeping Coup? 269
11 The Aftermath 289
X2 Conclusion: Hard Lessons 303

Bibliography 323
Index 327

Vll
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Foreword
by Strobe Talbott

The seventy-eight-day bombing campaign against Serbia in the spring and


early summer of 1999 was the last major international conflict in the bloodi-
est of all centuries. It was also a first in several respectsthe first time in fifty
years of existence that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization went to war,
the first time that a coalition of countries attacked a regime to end its brutal-
ization of a national minority, the first time airpower alone was enough to
ensure victory, and the first time that U.S. armed forces conducted a sus-
tained military operation without suffering a single combat fatality.
These distinctions of Operation Allied Force gave us a glimpse of a new
feature of world politics and a new form of warfare. Slobodan Milosevic may
be in the dock at the UN International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague,
but his species of predatory tyrant is not extinct. War will continue to be
necessary from time to time as part of the larger effort to reverse aggression,
stop the depredations of dictators, re-impose order on chaos, and more gen-
erally, defend the interests and enforce the norms of an abstraction that is
trying to become a realitythe international community.
To the extent that there is such a thing as an international community,
it owes much to NATO. The alliance was founded for the sole purpose of
deterringand if necessary, defeatingthe Soviet Union and the Warsaw
Pact if they ever attacked the West. Yet by 1999, that country and that alli-
ance no longer existed. Many commentators and some political leaders were
asking whether NATO, having served its original purpose, should go into
honorable retirement.
The conflict in the Balkans was a reminder that the end of the cold war

IX
x * FOREWORD

did not mean the end of instability in Europe. Quite the contrary: the col-
lapse of communist statesgiant ones like the USSR and smaller ones like
Yugoslaviawas accompanied by the increased danger of chaos and vio-
lence. The post-Soviet states were fortunate in that the leader of Russia, Pres-
ident Boris Yeltsin, was determined to resist the temptations of irredentism.
He insisted on converting inter-republic boundaries into new international
ones, even though that meant leaving millions of ethnic Russians in what
were now independent states. The post-Yugoslav states were cursed in that
their leaders, particularly Milosevic, saw an opportunity to redraw the map
in blood, along ethnic and religious lines.
NATO was slow in rising to the challenge but did so in 1995 by using
diplomacy backed by force to impose peace in Bosnia. The United States
and its allies had to bomb the Bosnian Serbs in order to get Milosevic and
his henchmen to the negotiating table in Daytonand they then deployed
thousands of NATO troops to enforce the settlement achieved there.
In 1998 Milosevic turned his brutality against those citizens of Serbia who
happened to be ethnic Albanians living in the southern province of Kosovo.
Once again, the West, with some support from Russia, tried diplomacy
backed by the threat of force. This time it proved inadequate, so in 1999 the
formula was reversed: NATO applied force backed by diplomacy.
NATO would have launched the bombing campaign with the blessing of
the UN Security Council if the Russian Federation had not threatened a
veto. Yet even though the war began over the vigorous objections of the Rus-
sians, it ended in large measure because President Yeltsin and his special
envoy, Victor Chernomyrdin, threw Russia's weight behind what were es-
sentially American terms, endorsed by NATO, for stopping the bombing. In
that respect, the war was both the most severe crisis in the first decade of
post-cold war U.S.-Russian relations and the most dramatic instance of U.S.-
Russian diplomatic collaboration in that period.
By going to war against Milosevic, the West was reiterating a principle
that had been taking shape for several years: the sovereignty of individual
states is not absolute; a national government that systematically and mas-
sively abuses its own citizens loses its right to govern; it is subject either to
being put out of business altogether or having its authority suspended in that
area of the country where it is running amok.
The U.S.-led invasion of Haiti in 1994 was an early assertion of this prin-
ciple and therefore a precedent for what NATO did in Kosovo five years
FOREWORD * xi

later. A military junta that had carried out a coup against Haiti's first demo-
cratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was using terror and
murder as instruments for controlling an increasingly desperate and restive
population. Thousands of Haitians sought asylum in the United States by
taking to the seas in rickety boats. In order to end a human-rights outrage
and a humanitarian crisis occurring off its shores, the United States spon-
sored a resolution in the UN Security Council that made the restoration of
democracy a goal justifying the use of force. With the support of the UN
and the Organization of American States, the United States assembled a
broad-based coalition, invaded Haiti, threw out the junta and reinstated
Aristide.
In the years that followed, Aristide abused his mandate, misruled and
alienated his people. When he was driven into exile by a popular uprising in
the spring of 2004, American troops and those from other countries returned
to patrol the streets of Port-au-Prince and disperse around the country. Their
presence, while a sobering epilogue to the U.S.-led invasion a decade earlier,
did not negate its validity or change a grim but inescapable fact of interna-
tional life: since there will continue to be states that are either a menace to
their own people or to their neighbors, other states must, in concert, be pre-
pared to step in and change the regime. In Haiti in 1994, that meant throw-
ing out the junta and bringing back Aristide; in Kosovo in 1999, it meant
ending Belgrade's rule in the province; in Afghanistan in 2001, it meant
driving the Taliban from Kabul into the mountains; in Iraq in 2003, it
meant toppling Saddam Hussein and replacing him with an American pro-
consul.
The cases of Afghanistan and Iraq were complicated by the Bush adminis-
tration's reluctance to cast its own policies in terms of continuity with its
predecessors, especially its immediate predecessor, the Clinton administra-
tion. President Bush and his principal colleagues do not talk much about the
ongoing obligation of the United States in Bosnia and Kosovo, since they
campaigned against both in 2000 as examples of what they disparaged as the
foolish business of nation-building. However, now that they are engaged in
precisely that activity in Afghanistan and Iraq, Kosovo looks more like a
model for what they may end up putting in place in those other states that
American-led armies liberated from heinous regimes.
Afghanistan came into the cross hairs of American military might because
it was the base of operations for terrorists who attacked the U.S. homeland
xii * FOREWORD

on September 11, while Iraq became a target because the Bush administra-
tion accused Saddam of possessing large, illicit, and usable stores of weapons
of mass destruction. As that pretext for the invasion has come under sharp
questioning and as the United States seeks more help from the UN and
NATO in providing security and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq,
President Bush increasingly invokes the same rationale that President Clin-
ton used for regime-change in Haiti and Kosovo: the defense of freedom,
democracy, and decent governance.
All the more reason, therefore, to study Kosovo for the lessons it offers for
future such exertions of force.
Among the standards that should be applied are: whether peaceful means
of ending violence have been exhausted and therefore politics by other, vio-
lent means is justified; whether military action makes maximum use of re-
gional and global institutions and derives maximum legitimacy from treaties
and international law; whether it enlists as much participation in the war as
possible from allies and ad hoc partners in order to ensure their participation
in the reconstruction that will follow; whether it makes the best use of tech-
nology, not just for killing enemy leaders and soldiers but for not killing
civilians; whether it is conducted in a fashion designed to reduce the danger
of conflict spreading; whether the prosecution of the war is synchronized
with diplomatic efforts to end the fighting; whether the terms of the surren-
der imposed on the defeated power are conducive to a stable and sustainable
peace; and finally, whether the war makers-turned-peacekeepers are prepared
to remain on the ground, in the region, and on the case for what will, almost
always, be a very long time.
By that checklist, the Kosovo war was far from perfect, but overall, it gets
a passing grade (although by the last criterionstaying powerit gets an
incomplete, since five years does not qualify as a long time).
Kosovo, today, is a virtual trusteeship, a ward of the UN and NATO. It's
a mess, but a manageable one, and nothing like the cauldron of ethnic
cleansing and blood-feuding that it became in the nineties. Serbia, too, is far
from a mature modern state, but it is staggering and lurching in the right
directiontoward a functioning democracy and toward Europe.
For all these reasons, the war in Kosovo deserves careful and continuing
scrutiny, not just by military historians but by students of current events and
anyone thinking about the future of war and peace. They will wonder how
events looked and felt at the time to those of us who were involved. Thanks
FOREWORD * xiii

to John Norris, they will know. The account he offers has an immediacy that
can be provided only by someone who was an eyewitness to much of the
action, who interviewed at length and in depth many of the participants
while their memories were still fresh, and who has had access to much of the
diplomatic record.
All of us who had some role in the story told here have some reason for
satisfaction as we look back, hope as we look forward, and gratitude to John
for being part of the team and for writing this book.
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Preface

The man from the CIA was a thin, edgy fellow, desperate for a cigarette after
more than nine hours on the plane. His prognosis was grim; he conspiratorially
declared that NATO's damage estimates were grossly inflated and that the guer-
rilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was being decimated. European political
support for the air campaign was diminishing, Yugoslav President Slobodan
Milosevic was hanging tough, and the war in Kosovo would end badly.
It was a brilliantly sunny day at 29,000 feet in May 1999 as the pale blue
and white U.S. Air Force jet shuttled us toward Moscow for another round
of talks with the Russians on day sixty-three of NATO's war. My boss, U.S.
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, was the lead American negotiator
in the three-way talks attempting to strike a peace deal to end the war, and
he headed a small team made up from the National Security Council, the
Pentagon, and the State Department. I served as Talbott's director of com-
munications, fielding a steady stream of requests from reporters eager for
insight into the high-stakes diplomacy. Although one of the most junior
members of the traveling team, I enjoyed a front-row seat for what would
prove to be a climactic military and diplomatic showdown.
The CIA analyst had plenty of reasons for pessimism. The better part of
a million refugees had already been driven out of Kosovo, and more streamed
toward Macedonia and Albania by the day. Serb forces continued to pillage
Kosovo with seeming impunity. NATO had bombed the Chinese embassy
in Belgrade, and the Russian government was on the edge of collapse. Wan-
ing public support for the war and sharp internal splits threatened to end
NATO's first sustained combat operation in embarrassing failure.
Running his fingers through thinning hair, the CIA analyst leaned for-
ward, not wanting his comments to be overheard by the rest of the team.
With the morosely satisfied expression of someone that had predicted the

xv
xvi it PREFACE

worst and was being proven prescient, he insisted that the agency had
warned from the beginning that bombing alone would not force President
Milosevic back to the bargaining table to resolve the status of the rebellious
province of Kosovo. The analyst felt that arming the KLA as part of a proxy
war against Belgrade was the only viable option. It had worked in Afghani-
stan against the Soviets; it could work in Kosovo against the Yugoslavs. I
disagreed, but soon we touched down on the tarmac in Moscow. The team
grabbed their belongings and a motorcade sped us downtown and back
toward another set of marathon negotiations with our Russian and Finnish
counterparts. One of my colleagues concisely summed up his opinion of the
CIA analyst as we climbed into the motorcade: "Jackass."
This book tells the inside story of the 1999 war in Kosovo, offering a be-
hind-the-scenes portrait of the tumultuous events that took place from the first
day of NATO bombing to the insertion of peacekeepers into the province less
than three months later. These seventy-eight days were filled with Byzantine
political, military, and diplomatic maneuvering between NATO, Yugoslavia,
and Russia, much of which has yet to be made public. For example, this ac-
count details Washington's shadowy plans to open a direct negotiating channel
to Belgrade and Milosevic at the height of the conflict and the conversations
held between senior U.S. policy-makers and Yugoslav officials in that regard.
During the bombing campaign, intensive talks among Russian, American,
and Finnish negotiators repeatedly threatened to break down as deeply con-
troversial planning within NATO to launch a ground war against Yugoslavia
steadily gained momentum. Against this dramatic landscape, a secret Russian
plan to push its forces into Kosovo took Western leaders by surprise and
triggered a furious debate among NATO military officials about potentially
intercepting these forces. Speculation that President Yeltsin had lost control
of Russia's large and dangerous military machine was rampant, and the
United States and Russia came closer to exchanging fire than any other time
since the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Ultimately, the events chronicled here nearly led to a ground war and culmi-
nated in an uneasy peace agreement, the deployment of some 50,000 NATO-
led peacekeepers, and international stewardship of a fiercely contested piece of
Balkan landscape. With nations fighting a war while hamstrung by the awk-
ward confines of alliance politics, the crisis quickly snowballed from a persistent
diplomatic nuisance into a test of will for the world's most powerful military
alliance. Similarly, as both the United States and Russia have sought to redefine
PREFACE ir xv ii

their relationship in the wake of the Cold War, the harrowing events of Kosovo
demonstrate that the two nations remain in uncharted waters. As the two coun-
tries try to reconcile uneasy partnership and periodic opposition, Kosovo well
illuminates both the importance and difficulty of this struggle.
The account offered in these pages is built, first and foremost, on my per-
sonal recollections as I traveled with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott
during his negotiations with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and former
Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. These unusual three-way talks
were held amid a grueling pace of shuttle diplomacy in Helsinki, Moscow,
Bonn, and Washington in an effort to forge the terms that Milosevic would
have to accept to end the conflict/The opinions and characterizations in this
book are those of the author and do not necessarily represent official positions
of the U.S. government. I have augmented my personal insights with extensive
interviews of senior White House, NATO, State Department, Pentagon, and
other international officials central to decision-making during the conflict, as
well as the considerable written record detailing the conflict.
It would be impossible to fully credit all those who have offered assistance
and welcome moral support in writing this book. A number of individuals
deserve special recognition. Both John Bass and Phil Goldberg offered excel-
lent insight and were wonderful coworkers during my tenure at the Depart-
ment of State. Similarly, Toria Nuland was great help in piecing together the
initial timeline of the hectic negotiations. John, Phil, and Toria represent the
highest ideals of the U.S. Foreign Service. Mark Ramee of the State Depart-
ment was of tremendous assistance in helping, with good humor, shepherd
the book through the laborious interagency clearance process, and I could
not have done it without him. My agents, Leona and Jerry Schecter, offered
great guidance and steady encouragement when I needed it the most. I am
eternally indebted to Strobe Talbott on fronts too numerous too count. He
has been a terrific mentor and friend. Strobe has brought an abiding sense
of graciousness, intellect, and compassion to all his endeavors. I also owe
deep gratitude to Derek Chollet and his wife, Heather Hostetter. Derek
waded through the roughest of drafts, offered a wealth of strikingly good
advice, and consistently helped improve the text. I am lucky to have both
him and Heather as such good friends. I would also like to thank Jason For-
rester, John Raho, James Lares, and others who have always been such good
editors, friends, and active members of the peanut gallery. Lastly, I would
like to thank my family for all of their support over the years, and to thank
Brenda Bradberry who has become such a special part of my life.
Introduction

Kosovo offers important lessons in how limited wars can burn out of control.
Having decided to launch military action, NATO quickly found that faulty
intelligence, personality conflicts, competing national interests, accidents,
and the fog of war could quickly push events to a breaking point. Ideas that
made sense on paper and in foreign ministries quickly dissolved into a
harsher reality. Slobodan Milosevic, like any modern tyrant facing the collec-
tive might of Western power, felt no obligation to be constrained by the
traditional rules of war. NATO soon found itself frustrated. Despite having
the ability to crush all of Yugoslavia militarily, total war was not an option.
The Alliance would have to survive a more treacherous landscape with a
combination of force and diplomacy. NATO would not only have to carry
the conflict on the ground; it would also need to win the broader court of
public opinion.

Origins of War
While many of the disputes in the Balkans have been mislabeled as "ancient
ethnic hatreds," Kosovo probably comes closest to living up to the title. Dis-
putes between Serbs and Albanians over control of the territory stretch back
centuries. The region has deep symbolic importance to both ethnic commu-
nities, and the twentieth century was marked by a disturbing series of violent
ethnic expulsions and counterexpulsions by both Serbs and Albanians in an
effort to demographically dominate the region. These tensions also often
took on religious overtones, with the majority of Serbs being Orthodox
Christian and the majority of Kosovar Albanians being Muslim.

xix
xx * INTRODUCT I O N

Under Yugoslavia's 1974 constitution, Kosovo had been made an autono-


mous province within Serbia and was given broad political authority nearly
on a par with Yugoslavia's six republics. However, ethnic Albanians contin-
ued to push for more extensive political rights, and Belgrade brutally put
down student demonstrations in 1981. Relations between Serbs and Alba-
nians in Kosovo continued to erode with the rise of Slobodan Milosevic on
the Yugoslav political scene. Indeed, Milosevic's extreme nationalist rhetoric,
often directly targeted at Kosovar Albanians, propelled him to tremendous
popularity in Serbia. Between 1989 and 1990, the Serb government further
curtailed ethnic Albanian rights in the province, culminating with revoking
Kosovo's autonomous status in July 1990. Despite such pressures, Kosovar
Albanians largely practiced nonviolent resistance amid growing calls for in-
dependence, despite making up 90 percent of the province's population.
With Yugoslavia splintering into smaller and smaller pieces at the end of
the Cold War, Kosovo became destabilized. After watching the horrors in
Bosnia, many Kosovar Albanians were convinced that nonviolence would
not loosen Belgrade's tight grip. By the mid-1990s, a poorly organized mili-
tant guerrilla movement began to spring up in the Kosovar Albanian com-
munity. The most important of these groups, the KLA, was small and led
by a motley collection of nationalists, clans, and criminals. The collapse of
the government of neighboring Albania in 1997 then flooded Kosovo with
cheap weapons and triggered harsh crackdowns by Serb police and paramili-
tary forces. Both sides continued to radicalize throughout 1998 with a steady
stream of hit-and-run attacks by the KLA and Serb security forces.
Against a backdrop of escalating violence, the United Nations (UN) reim-
posed an international arms embargo on Yugoslavia, and Kosovo became the
subject of intense diplomatic discussions by the United Nations and a Con-
tact Group consisting of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the
United States. In September of 1998, a UN Security Council resolution
called for a cease-fire and a drawdown in the number of Yugoslav forces in
Kosovo. This plea fell on deaf ears, and fighting between Yugoslav forces and
the KLA intensified.
In October 1998, NATO authorized air strikes if Yugoslav security forces
were not pulled back from Kosovo, and U.S. Ambassador Richard C. Hol-
brooke launched a diplomatic mission to Belgrade in an effort to end the
crisis. After a flurry of negotiations with Yugoslav President Milosevic, Bel-
grade agreed to have international civilian monitors deployed in Kosovo and
INTRODUCTION * xxi

to pull back about one-third of its troops. NATO declared that air strikes
would be launched if Milosevic broke the agreement, and the KLA was ex-
pected to cease its attacks as well. While Belgrade initially lived up to the
terms of the October accords, the KLA quickly exploited the agreement and
took control of military positions abandoned by the Serbs. In December
1998 and January 1999, a series of high-profile killingsby both Serbs and
Kosovar Albaniansmade clear that peace was not at hand.
During February 6-17, 1999, the Contact Group convened peace negoti-
ations at Rambouillet, France, hoping to bring both Milosevic and the dispa-
rate Kosovar Albanian factions to terms. The Contact Group pushed to
restore Kosovo's autonomous status, deploy an armed international peace-
keeping presence under NATO's direction, and eventually hold a nonbind-
ing referendum on Kosovo's political status. Unfortunately, the Rambouillet
talksbilled by some as a European version of the U.S.-led Dayton peace
accords that ended the war in Bosniawere doomed to failure. There was
plenty of blame to go around. President Milosevic did not participate di-
rectly in the negotiations, and the delegation he sent to Rambouillet had
little authority. Milosevic balked at serious talks as long as the Contact
Group continued to demand that NATO peacekeepers be put on the
ground. Despite the absence of MilosevicYugoslavia's key decision-
makerthe Contact Group made the questionable decision to forge ahead
with the peace conference.
Cohosted by the British and French governments in an opulent chateau
in the French countryside, the Rambouillet talks verged on farce. The Koso-
var Albanian delegation was sharply divided, mutually distrustful, and reluc-
tant to accept the demands which the Western powers assumed the
delegation would wholeheartedly embrace. The low-powered Yugoslav dele-
gation drank heavily. The French spent a great deal of time and energy trying
to keep NATO's own military brass out of the talks. The Clinton administra-
tion, facing a skeptical Congress, remained reluctant to commit U.S. ground
troops to support a peace agreementeven though policy-makers knew
American forces would have to be the backbone of an effective peacekeeping
operation. NATO itself was divided on a range of issues (including potential
UN control of peacekeeping) that were not resolved until well into the talks.
Added to this, Russian negotiators hoped the talks would simply collapse,
freeing them from worries that NATO would march into a country they
considered in their sphere of influence.
xxii * INTRODUCTION

In short, Rambouillet was a disaster. The talks were conducted appallingly


poorly. While much of the difficulties stemmed from a decade's worth of
mismanaged Balkans policy by the Bush and Clinton administrations work-
ing with their European allies, the dynamics at Rambouillet contributed di-
rectly to the failure of the talks. Western negotiators should have either kept
the parties at the table until a deal was struck or backed their threats with a
far more robust commitment to use force. The situation on the ground in
Kosovo was out of control, and the major NATO powers should not have
staged a high-profile peace conference without a better plan if the parties did
not reach agreement. If Kosovo was as central to the security and stability of
Europe as NATO would subsequently claim, the Alliance had done an abys-
mal job managing its last best hope for peace.
Despite efforts to directly engage with Milosevic toward the end of the
talks, Yugoslavia refused to sign the Rambouillet accords. It took heavy arm-
twisting before Kosovar Albanian representatives signed on March 18. Ulti-
mately, Rambouillet could only be considered a success in one respect: There
was now agreement among the Allies that they should launch air strikes
against Yugoslavia.

The Players and Their Perspectives

For Western powers, the Kosovo crisis was fueled by frustration with Milo-
sevic and the legitimate fear that instability and conflict might spread further
in the region. The evolving political aims of the Alliance and the changing
nature of the transatlantic community also played a role. In that vein, it is
useful to more broadly consider how NATO and Yugoslavia came to be
locked in conflict over a scrap of strategically insignificant territory. In years
past, Europe probably would have largely ignored the retrograde civil war
that periodically flared in the small province. Yet, the very nature of Europe
is rapidly changing, and the impact of that evolution is far reaching.
NATO's large membership and consensus style may cause endless head-
aches for military planners, but it is also why joining NATO is appealing to
nations across Central and Eastern Europe. Nations from Albania to Ukraine
want in the Western club. The gravitational pull of the community of West-
ern democracies highlights why Milosevic's Yugoslavia had become such an
anachronism. As nations throughout the region strove to reform their econo-
INTRODUCTION * xxi ii

mies, mitigate ethnic tensions, and broaden civil society, Belgrade seemed to
delight in continually moving in the opposite direction. It is small wonder
NATO and Yugoslavia ended up on a collision course. It was Yugoslavia's
resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reformnot the
plight of Kosovar Albaniansthat best explains NATO's war. Milosevic had
been a burr in the side of the transatlantic community for so long that the
United States felt that he would only respond to military pressure. Slobodan
Milosevic's repeated transgressions ran directly counter to the vision of a Eu-
rope "whole and free," and challenged the very value of NATO's continued
existence.
Many outsiders accuse Western countries of selective intervention in Ko-
sovofighting on a hair-trigger in the Balkans while ignoring the Sudans
and Rwandas of the world. This was hardly the case. Only a decade of death,
destruction, and Milosevic brinkmanship pushed NATO to act when the
Rambouillet talks collapsed. Most of the leaders of NATO's major powers
were proponents of "third way" politics and headed socially progressive, eco-
nomically centrist governments. None of these men were particularly hawk-
ish, and Milosevic did not allow them the political breathing room to look
past his abuses.
Through predatory opportunism, Milosevic had repeatedly exploited the
weakest instincts of European and North American powers alike. Time and
again, he had preserved his political power because nations mightier than his
own lacked the political resolve to bring him to heel. His record was ulti-
mately one of ruin, particularly for the Serbs, as Yugoslavia dwindled into a
smaller and smaller state verging on collapse. It was precisely because Milo-
sevic had been so adroit at outmaneuvering the West that NATO came to
view the ever-escalating use of force as its only option. No one should be
surprised that Milosevic eventually goaded the sleeping giant out of repose.
NATO went to war in Kosovo because its political and diplomatic leaders
had enough of Milosevic and saw his actions disrupting plans to bring a
wider stable of nations into the transatlantic community. Kosovo would only
offer Western leaders more humiliation and frustration if they did not force-
fully respond. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's view of Milosevic
was probably best revealed when she said that, at a certain stage at Rambouil-
let, it was evident that Milosevic "was jerking us around." In early June of
1999, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer rather angrily responded to
those who questioned NATO's motives. Fisher observed that he had initially
xxiv * INTRODUCTION

resisted military action, but that his views had changed, "step by step, from
mass murder to mass murder."
Russia's perspective on Kosovo was drastically different, and tensions over
Balkans policy well illustrate the often-manic nature of the Russian Federa-
tion during its struggle to redefine its place in the world. Torn between the
demands of being a modern state and past habits, Russia continued to main-
tain an awkward posture between leftover Soviet practices and genuine re-
form. Deeply humbled by the painful dislocations of the post-Soviet period,
Russia wanted to be respected but often resorted to simple, stubborn opposi-
tion to the West's agenda out of frustration and resentment.
The Kosovo crisis came at a time of profound weariness in relations be-
tween the Russia and the United States. Russia had found the process of
reform from the Soviet state far more demanding, painful, and sporadic than
it could have imagined when the Berlin Wall fell. The economic crash of
August 1998 had seemed yet another dismal sign of the corruption and weak
institutions that had turned Russia into a second-rate power that seemed to
be rotting from within. President Yeltsin's star was incredibly tarnished, and
relations between Moscow and Washington had frayed like that of a couple
thinking out loud about divorce.
Much of Russia's anger during Kosovo stemmed from the fact that Russia
enjoys religious and historical ties to the people of Serbia and from the ability
of hard-line opponents of President Yeltsin to effectively exploit those links.
However, Russia did little during the 1990s to help the people of Serbia
shrug off the burdens of the repressive, kleptocratic leadership that drove the
rump Yugoslavia further and further into despair. In reality, what Russia
wanted most during the Kosovo crisis was to make itself heard. Long accus-
tomed to being a great power, Moscow expected to still be treated as one.
When NATO made clear that it would use force no matter what Russia
thought, it cut national pride to the quick and fuelled intense public resent-
ment.
Given Russia's many internal troubles and the often-fragile nature of its
newly redefined state, it is understandable why Moscow was deeply con-
cerned by the precedent of Kosovo. Indeed, one need only to look at Chech-
nya to understand that there are "many Kosovos in Russia," as Russian
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov argued. If NATO could bomb Kosovo, it
might signal a future willingness by the Alliance to involve itself in Russia's
internal affairs without a UN mandate. Yet, even given that understanding,
INTRODUCTION * xx v

Russia did not take the necessary steps that would have allowed NATO to
avoid having to use force. In many ways, the Russian decision to not put
more pressure on Milosevic to take a deal at Rambouillet was a blunder.
Russia should have either stayed away from Rambouillet completely or put
more pressure on Milosevic to take a deal. Ultimately the breakdown in talks
led NATO to use force and came to undermine the influence of the UN
Security Councilone of Russia's few major trump cards in today's world.
Through their fear of setting precedent for outside intervention in sovereign
matters, the Russians actually created a situation where Kosovo became
something of a model for such intervention.
However, the Russian dimension was not handled well in the months
running up to the war. Too often, NATO became fixated on disputes within
the Alliance and expected the Russians to sign on the bottom line when its
members emerged from a smoke-filled room. If NATO had gotten the Rus-
sians more engaged in designing the contours of Rambouillet, it might have
avoided the split at the end of that process. Instead, NATO was fed up with
Milosevic, Milosevic saw the West as a paper tiger, and Moscow was deter-
mined to make its presence felt. The table was set.
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1
CHAPTER

Misadventure

The Green Light


On March 23, 1999, the wheels were in motion for NATO to begin bomb-
ing Yugoslavia. Alliance military and diplomatic officials worked feverishly
behind the scenes to finalize plans for a limited series of aerial attacks de-
signed to bring Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic back to the negotiat-
ing table. Few realized that this course of action would propel the world's
most powerful military alliance down a dangerously treacherous path. Over
the next turbulent three months, more than 800,000 refugees would be scat-
tered across southeastern Europe, planning for a NATO ground war would
reach a crescendo, and Russia and the United States would drift perilously
toward a direct military clash.
Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, the outspoken and hard-charging en-
gineer of the Dayton peace accords, traveled to Belgrade on March 22 in an
effort to broker an eleventh-hour peace deal with Yugoslav President Milo-
sevic. Talks continued on the morning of March 23, and in an unfortunate
bit of diplomatic timing, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was si-
multaneously jetting toward Washington for a long-planned meeting with
U.S. Vice President Albert Gore. Primakov was increasing in both power
and popularity in Moscow, and it was widely assumed that he would succeed
the ailing Boris Yeltsin in the Russian presidency. Primakov already exerted

1
2 * COLLISION COURSE

considerable influence, and Moscow's worldview appeared to be hewing


steadily to the right under the guidance of the flinty former Soviet intelli-
gence chief.
Around nine-thirty in the morning of March 23 in Washington, Vice
President Gore called Primakov as his plane made a refueling stop in Shan-
non, Ireland. Gore was pessimistic that Holbrooke could secure a break-
through, and suggested that it might be better for Primakov to remain in
Ireland, since the situation "did not look good." Despite Gore's entreaties,
the plane refueled and Primakov continued toward Washington.
In Belgrade, Ambassador Holbrookehis considerable diplomatic skills
asidewas deeply frustrated. Milosevic was unwilling to engage in serious
discussion. Holbrooke, as he has often repeated since, informed the Yugoslav
president that NATO's bombing campaign would be "swift, severe, and sus-
tained." Unfortunately, it was not a threat either man fully believed, and
Milosevic had every reason to assume that attacks would be neither sustained
nor severe.
Three months earlier, U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq in Decem-
ber of 1998Operation Desert Foxhad amounted to little more than two
days of bombing with little impact. Milosevic had studied Desert Fox, had
met with Iraqi officials, and was convinced that attacks against Yugoslavia
would be similar. Milosevic had also been leaked plans from a French mili-
tary operative at NATO headquarters that made clear Operation Allied Force
would be of limited scope. Even before the first U.S. cruise missile had been
launched, Milosevic was sure that he could ride out any military campaign
that the often-divided allies could mount. "I was disturbed by my briefings
on targeting," Holbrooke observed, "As I said at the time, very loudly and
clearly, the targets were not commensurate with the situation and the stake."
In Holbrooke's words, "The initial targeting list was disgracefully weak."
Around midday in Washington on March 23, the White House learned
that Holbrooke's six hours of talks with Milosevic had not produced an
agreement. While Holbrooke maintained his prospects for success as slim
from the start, "10 percent or less," he pleaded to be allowed to continue
the talks, but the White House directed him to pull out of Belgrade.
In a discussion with National Security Advisor Samuel "Sandy" Berger
after he left Belgrade, Holbrooke grimly observed, "I told you it wouldn't
happen."
MISADVENTURE * 3

"Dick, we thought you were just low-balling the estimate because you
always pulled out these miracles," Berger said.
Holbrooke took Berger's response to represent "a very high degree of mis-
understanding in Washington as to what we had done. Ten percent turned
out to be high. There was no chance that Milosevic could have accepted our
ultimatum at that point because of the way the negotiations had unfolded in
France."
With Holbrooke's ill-fated mission complete, Vice President Gore called
Russian Prime Minister Primakov as his jet neared the Canadian coast. In
even tones, Gore informed Primakov that NATO bombing of Belgrade
would in all likelihood commence during his visit to Washington. The vice
president emphasized that the Alliance had no choice but to act because Mi-
losevic was slaughtering innocent men, women, and children with blood
"dripping from his hands." Primakov responded calmly and with a distinct
air of resignation, insisting that ultimately it would be NATO with blood on
its hands, not the Yugoslavs. He claimed air strikes would cause needless
death and destruction while devastating relations between Moscow and
Washington. While Gore was supportive of Russian diplomatic efforts, he
also made clear that he wanted Primakov to postpone his visit rather than
break the trip off after arriving in Washington.
"Well, I understand that is what you are going to do, and I think it is best
that I not come," declared Primakov. The Russian plane promptly executed
a U-turn a few hundred miles northeast of Newfoundland, and journalists
everywhere had a convenient metaphor for the growing rift between Russia
and the United States. According to Vice President Gore's national security
advisor, Leon Fuerth, "Primakov understood that Vice President Gore was
giving him a head's up at the earliest feasible time for us. The discussion did
preserve a sense that we were aware of the Russians' circumstances and mind-
ful of themeven though we were going to go ahead and do what we had
to."
The White House received a letter from President Yeltsin the same day,
stating, "It is not a secret that if Kosovo explodes in flames, it could spread
to the entire region." In writing to his old friend "Bill," the Russian presi-
dent seemed equally angry and bewildered, "On what basis does NATO take
it upon itself to decide the fates of peoples in sovereign states? Who gave it
the right to act in the role of the guardian of order?" Saying that the situation
4 * COLLISION COURSE

could lead "to the edge of a large-scale war," Yeltsin implored Clinton "to
weigh all the consequences" before making a "fateful decision."
Around eleven in the evening in Brussels, NATO's secretary-general, the
lean and affable Spaniard Javier Solana, woke four-star U.S. Gen. Wesley
Clark, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, to give him the green
light to initiate air operations against Yugoslavia under the cover of darkness
the next evening, March 24. Crucially, the mandate given to General Clark
by the NATO ambassadors was open-ended; there would not have to be for-
mal votes to subsequently intensify the air campaign.
On the morning of March 24, President William Jefferson Clinton spoke
with President Boris Yeltsin on the telephone. The two had developed a gen-
uine bond over their seven years of working together, and that personal link
had seen the United States and Russia through some difficult moments.
However, the last time the two had spoken about Kosovo, during a phone
conversation on October 5, 1998, Yeltsin had repeatedly and strongly in-
sisted that any use of force against Yugoslavia would be "forbidden." Yeltsin
had grown so frustrated that he eventually hung up on Clinton.
With NATO poised to begin its air assault against Yugoslavia only hours
later, their conversation was again rocky. The aging and hard-drinking Rus-
sian president had a notoriously volcanic temper and was recovering from a
bleeding ulcer. Communists in the Russian Duma were mounting an im-
peachment effort against him on a variety of largely political charges only six
weeks after Clinton had emerged from his own impeachment drama. NATO
bombing would only offer Russian hard-liners more weakness to exploit.
"Remember, winters are bad for Yeltsin," a senior NATO official recalled,
"and he starts to pay attention and always get better in March and April. So
Yeltsin wakes up to Kosovo, and he is on the verge of a major split with the
West . . . everything that he rooted his presidency ongetting the major
benefits of Western cooperation with minimal humiliationwas about to go
out the window."
Clinton began the conversation by appealing to Yeltsin's personal com-
mitment to closer ties with the West, maintaining that a "communist dicta-
tor" like Milosevic should never come between them. Clinton was adamant
that Milosevic had been given every opportunity, and that there was simply
no alternative to bombing. The U.S. president suggested that once Milosevic
came to his senses, the United States and Russia could renew diplomatic
efforts. Yeltsin was not impressed, blustering in reply, "We can't let hundreds
MISADVENTURE * 5

of thousands of people die to control the words and actions of one man."
Yeltsin also poured on the guilt, saying that the bombing would undermine
efforts to "turn my people toward the West." President Clinton looked
pained as Yeltsin's remarks were translated. Clinton was deeply concerned
about the situation in Russia and, "taking a lot of crap from a lot of people,"
as one of his colleagues confided. Yet, while Clinton was sympathetic, he
patiently spelled out how NATO had held off from using force for more
than twelve months, and there was no longer any alternative. "Well," said
President Yeltsin, "I've obviously failed to persuade the president of the
United States. Goodbye." With that, Yeltsin hung up on Clinton during a
Kosovo conversation for the second time in a row.
After his talk with Clinton, Yeltsin released an official statement declaring,
"in the event that the military conflict worsens, Russia retains the right to
take adequate measures, including military ones, to defend itself and the
overall security of Europe."
NATO unleashed the first of its air strikes against Serb air defenses and
other targets just after eight in the evening on March 24. NATO jets and
cruise missiles struck some forty military targets and shot down three Yugo-
slav planes in the first night of Operation Allied Force. Using precision
weaponry, the Alliance concentrated on Yugoslav air defenses while painstak-
ingly limiting the risk to its own pilots. Indeed, the campaign was designed
to limit potential NATO casualties to almost zero.
In Brussels, General Clark addressed reporters. Clark had long advocated
vigorous military steps against Belgrade, and the razor-thin, hyper-intense
general declared that NATO would "systematically attack, disrupt, degrade,
and devastate" the Yugoslav military. Behind the scenes, Clark, who had
graduated first in his class at West Point and received a Silver Star for hero-
ism in Vietnam, expressed little such bravado. He felt limited strikes would
not turn Milosevic around and he wanted broader latitude to bomb key stra-
tegic targets. NATO's political leadership continued to restrain Clark, and
the French government particularly was uncomfortable with high profile tar-
gets in Belgrade. While the French opposed going after key pieces of infra-
structure, it must also be said that neither Clinton nor British Prime
Minister Tony Blair were willing to spend much political capital to loosen
the shackles on Clark.
General Clark later telephoned Ambassador Holbrookewho had trav-
eled to Budapest after stopping at NATO headquartersto complain that
6 * COLLISION COURSE

he had been given "an impossible assignment." Clark was distressed when
Holbrooke inquired about the possibility of a quick pause in bombing, lead-
ing the NATO commander to counter that there was "no need for a pause
for diplomatic purposes" and that he would need at least five to seven more
days before he could inflict any lasting damage. Clark railed that the bomb-
ing campaign was "pathetic" and would have no effect. Holbrooke insisted
that immediately after the conversation he telephoned Washington to ask,
"What the hell is going on?" but "they seemed oblivious to how weak the
bombing was."
While NATO's initial military strategy was modest, Milosevic's was any-
thing but. As early as January 1999, the U.S. government had received indi-
cations from various sources in the region that the Yugoslavs were preparing
for a major military thrustcodenamed Operation Horseshoeagainst the
Kosovar Albanians. The most extreme of the reports suggested that the goal
of the operation would be to create a veritable tidal wave of refugees by ex-
pelling upwards of 800,000 Kosovar Albanians from the province. To their
later chagrin, U.S. government analysts had dismissed these warnings as un-
realistic. However, by mid-March it was clear that a large-scale Yugoslav
troop deployment was underway in Kosovo and that Belgrade was posi-
tioned to launch an intensive ethnic cleansing operation if NATO began
bombing. With the onset of NATO military operations on March 24, Yugo-
slav army, police, and paramilitary forces accelerated Operation Horseshoe
with a ferocity that would catch the world flat-footed.

Limited Means

At 2:15 in the afternoon on March 24, President Clinton spoke from the
White House briefing room, announcing that NATO had "commenced air
strikes against Serbian military targets in the former Yugoslavia." Having just
emerged from the national ordeal of his impeachment controversy, Clinton
argued that NATO's military action was necessary to stem a growing conflict
and humanitarian tragedy in Kosovo. Clinton said of Milosevic:

He has rejected the balanced and fair peace accords that our Allies and part-
ners, including Russia, proposed last montha peace agreement that Ko-
sovo's ethnic Albanians courageously accepted. Instead, his forces have
MISADVENTURE * 7

intensified their attacks, burning down Kosovar Albanian villages and murder-
ing civilians. As I speak, more Serb forces are moving into Kosovo, and more
people are fleeing their homes. . . . Kosovo's crisis now is full blown, and if
we do not act, clearly it will get even worse.

The U.S. president suggested a series of amorphous objectives for the


campaign: demonstrating the seriousness of NATO's opposition to aggres-
sion; deterring President Milosevic from continuing his attacks on helpless
civilians; and damaging Serbia's capacity to wage war against Kosovo. These
highly subjective benchmarks were designed to allow NATO flexibility so
that it could presumably cease bombing after Milosevic made a commitment
to return to peace talks.
In an address to the nation later that evening, President Clinton's speech
was made most memorable by a single line, "I do not intend to put our
troops in Kosovo to fight a war." The phrase dismissing the potential use of
American ground troops was included by National Security Advisor Sandy
Berger, who put the line in after consultation with the presidentwho did
not object. However, there was little discussion about the formulation of the
language, and the phrase was included primarily to ease congressional con-
cerns about the operation.
Sandy Berger explained the strategy:

The initial decision to pursue this as an air campaign derives from two factors.
One, we would not have gotten a plane off the groundfiguratively and liter-
allyany other way. Two, I always believed that the air campaign stood a very
good chance of working. We had a thousand-to-one advantage over Milosevic
from the air once we took out his air defenses. It took us a while to ramp up,
and NATO was a machine that had not been taken out of the garage for fifty
years. But once we took out his air defenses, we could pound him every day.

Berger added, "I honestly think that if we had not put that issue of ground
troops to the side of the table at the beginning of the conflict, we would have
had a divisive and disabling debate here."
Secretary of Defense William Cohen added his perspective, "I saw no
consensus in NATO for a ground operation. I saw no consensus or support
for it in Congress. It was hard enough going up to the Hill even talking
about a peacekeeping mission at the time." Conservative Republican Senator
Don Nickles (R-OK) reportedly went so far as to tell President Clinton in a
8 * COLLISION COURSE

face-to-face meeting prior to the bombing that it might be better to "wait


until after the massacres had started before we do anything."
Clinton's national security team was convinced that air power would
work. Further, the State Department, the Pentagon, and the Central Intelli-
gence Agency all concurreddespite their later and frequent protestations
to the contrarythat a brief campaign would likely compel Milosevic to
return to negotiations. As Secretary Albright declared on the first day of the
war, "I don't see this as a long-term operation."
The Clinton administration's faith in air power reflected the American
public's ambivalence toward the war. While most Americans found Milo-
sevic despicable, they were less certain dealing with him should fall to the
United States. President Clinton read such public sentiment as tacit approval
for a military campaign built around air power and an absolute minimum of
casualties. Clinton's approach was measured, incremental, and fundamen-
tally cautious. As a senior State Department official described, "The Clinton
administration gets blamed for being untruthful about these things, or not
having the courage of their convictions, but the fact of the matter is that this
is a president that was coming off an impeachment trial, had very bad rela-
tions with Congress, and was still on very thin ice."
However, Leon Fuerth later acknowledged, "There was certainly private
recognition that in declaring publicly that ground troops were not an option,
we had made a misstep." Similarly, Deputy National Security Advisor James
Steinberg maintained, "I certainly understand the motivation for Berger's
decision, and I don't disagree with his objective: to avoid making day one of
the bombing a domestic debate about ground troops. But I think it is clear
in retrospect that it was not done as artfully as it could have been."
While Clinton administration officials were largely united in claiming
that the fallout from the president's impeachment battle was not a distrac-
tion, Clinton's political travails did detract from his ability to marshal do-
mestic and international support for putting a firm military threat on the
table in the fall of 1998 and the first part of 1999. "It was inconceivable to
the folks around the president that he was going to have a ground campaign
in the run up to the war," one senior foreign policy official observed, empha-
sizing that some would have been quick to charge Clinton with using Kosovo
to distract the public form his own scandals. This same official noted, "All
through 1998, there was no way Clinton could make the case for the strate-
MISADVENTURE * 9

gic importance of the Balkans. . . . No one cared. AH they wanted to hear


about was sex with an intern."
While most administration officials realized that they should have created
more ambiguity about the ground option, almost no one imagined that it
would be needed. General Clark was virtually the lone voice to promote
ground planning in March of 1999, and his views were so hawkish that his
political superiors dismissed them. Between nervous Allies and a contentious
U.S. Congress, most administration officials agreed that the political traffic
simply could not bear even the threat of a ground invasion. This produced
a dangerous dynamic: the reputation of the world's most important security
alliance was now inexorably linked to a cause for which it was not sure it was
worth fighting.
Politics within NATO played a major role. The European members of
NATO were deeply divided about the necessity and scope of military ac-
tionnot to mention the preferred outcome of an operation. The bulk of
the European Allies keenly distrusted the motives of the Kosovar Albanians,
or as General Clark put it, "There was a sense among some that NATO was
fighting on the wrong side" in a conflict between Muslims and Christians.
French officials, in particular, were aggrieved by attacks against their tradi-
tional Serb allies. There was little consensus within NATO about how to
deal with Milosevic. Divisions on everything from targeting to diplomatic
initiatives threatened to unravel Alliance unity on a daily basis.
Both the Italian and Greek governments faced intense domestic opposi-
tion to military strikes, a situation exacerbated because more than a quarter
of the Alliance's sorties were launched from the U.S. air base at Aviano, Italy.
The Greeks shared Orthodox heritage with the Serbs, and polls showed more
than 95 percent of the population against bombing. While the newly elected
German government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder expressed its resolve
as a point of national pride, it was equally clear that German public opinion
was not primed for an extended conflict. British Prime Minister Tony Blair,
enjoying a comfortable parliamentary majority, was the most resolute of the
Alliance's political leaders, and he repeatedly maintained that thwarting Mi-
losevic was a fundamental test for Europe. This led wags in the Clinton ad-
ministration to joke that Blair was "willing to fight to the last American
soldier."
Given such strikingly different positions within NATO, it was evident
that the war's outcome would hinge on the Alliance's cohesion. "There was
10 * COLLISION COURSE

only one way that Milosevic could have prevailed," argued Sandy Berger,
"and that would have been to break the unity of NATO." Given the way
the Alliance stumbled through the first week of the war, it was no surprise
that Milosevic saw this as a realistic goal.
Much of the anxiety within the Alliance stemmed from the fact that the
war, from its very onset, bore the hallmarks of misadventure. NATO mem-
bers were deeply torn between rapidly escalating the bombing and quickly
returning to talks with Milosevic. Cracks in NATO's facade appeared imme-
diately. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou called for a moratorium
on bombing on March 25only the second day of air strikesand Italian
Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema declared, "The scenario is opening up for
initiatives to return to the political track." Trying to put out the brushfire
of political dissent at NATO headquarters, NATO Secretary-General Javier
Solana insisted that Alliance solidarity was "total and absolute." No one be-
lieved him.
Making matters worse, other than downing a number of Yugoslav planes,
NATO's military achievements were modest as rain and fog hampered
fighters. Yugoslav planners had artfully concealed important military assets,
and a collective gasp ran through the U.S. national security team as a sophis-
ticated F-l 17 stealth fighter was downed over Serbia on the night of March
27. Fortunately, an elite U.S. special operations team whisked the pilot to
safety before he could be captured. Footage of Serb civilians gleefully danc-
ing on the plane's wreckage only added to the public perception of a half-
baked military campaign and harkened back to the disastrous scenes of sol-
diers being dragged through the streets of Somalia in 1993. Large rock con-
certs were held in the streets of Belgrade to demonstrate Yugoslav solidarity
in the face of bombing, and doubts about President Clinton's ability to work
with the military again rushed to the fore.
Even more troubling were the scope of the Yugoslav offensive in Kosovo
and reports of massive ethnic cleansing. NATO had badly underestimated
the scope of Operation Horseshoe. Within days, tens of thousands of Koso-
vars were being forced to march to Macedonia and Albania. Before the first
week of bombing was over, Kosovar Albanians were fleeing into Albania at
an astounding rate of 2,000 an hour. Having tiptoed into a military cam-
paign of carefully circumscribed political and military aims, NATO seemed
bewildered by the ruthlessness of Serb operations.
MISADVENTURE * 1 1

The diplomatic effort to hold NATO together during these initial mis-
steps was crucial. Sandy Berger noted:

During the early part of the bombing, the president made the circuit of his
fellow leaders continuously every dayhe talked to British Prime Minister
Blair, he talked to Italian Prime Minister D'Alema, he talked to Greek Prime
Minister [Costas] Simitis, he talked to German Chancellor Schroeder. He
spoke with D'Alema and Simitis a great deal, and they were the most coura-
geous in standing up to enormous popular sentiment opposed to the air cam-
paign.

It took almost constant pressure from Washington and London to keep some
of the smaller allies on board. Both Paris and Bonn were still supportive, and
NATO's cohesion, while wobbly, was holding.
Maintaining support for the bombing was a full-time job for NATO Sec-
retary-General Javier Solana, Secretary Albright, and British Foreign Secre-
tary Robin Cook. Secretary Albright and her fellow foreign ministers were
in almost daily contact. Telephone conversations between the major NATO
foreign ministersAlbright, Cook, French Foreign Minister Hubert Ve-
drine, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and Italian Foreign Minis-
ter Lamberto Dinitook place with such regularity they were simply
referred to as "quint" calls.
Jim O'Brien, a young, thoughtful, and slightly mop-topped senior Bal-
kans advisor to Albright, argued that while the secretary's efforts with the
other foreign ministers were critical, "the number of dogs that didn't bark
during the war was the real story." He added that while the other ministers
were not that interested initially in daily discussions, "that would have been
disastrous in a war like this, because we were trying to shape public opinion.
To have a two- or three-day dispute over an issue would have amplified the
sense that this was a war without objective." The foreign ministers spent a
good deal of their time debating ways in which military decisions, including
the selection of specific targets, would affect public support.
While Milosevic was confident he could weather the bombing, he made
his displeasure with the attacks well known. Still in Budapest, Ambassador
Richard Holbrooke received a call from President Milosevic's chief of staff
and foreign policy adviser, Bojan Bugarcic. Holbrooke had known Bugarcic
for a number of years, and the Yugoslav was shaken and furious as he quickly
12 * COLLISION COURSE

launched into a personalized tirade. He declared that the NATO bombing


was "an attempt to wipe our nation from the face of the earth." With Hol-
brooke barely getting in a word, Bugarcic was adamant that Belgrade would
never abandon Kosovo: "You should be ashamed; my children are now in
an air raid shelter." Holbrooke countered that since Milosevic continued to
deny the ethnic cleansing campaign, there was an "air of unreality to the
conversation." He indicated that the bombing would continue until Yugo-
slavia instituted a cease-fire and accepted the deployment of international
peacekeepers, dubbed "KFOR" or Kosovo Force. He added that bombing
would "get much worse until you agree," but softened the blow by maintain-
ing, "Kosovo would remain part of Serbia." Bugarcic exploded; NATO's at-
tacks were "genocide, ruthless, cold-blooded murder. While bombs may
continue to fall, NATO will have to occupy Yugoslavia to get its way. Serbs
will throw bottles and rocks at the invading troops if that is all we have left."
Holbrooke insisted that an invasion was not in the picture, but further
bombing was. Bugarcic and Holbrooke have not spoken since.
Bad news continued to roll in for NATO. On March 31, Yugoslav forces
captured three U.S. soldiers along the Kosovo-Macedonia border, giving the
Clinton administration a hostage crisis to add to its faltering military cam-
paign. The bruised and beaten soldiers were soon transported to Belgrade
and paraded before television cameras. Serb forces continued to drive virtu-
ally unopposed through Kosovo, with more than 120,000 Kosovar Alba-
nians pouring into neighboring countries in less than a week. Not only was
Slobodan Milosevic trying to rid himself of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian major-
ity, he was effectively dropping a "population bomb" on Macedonia and
Albania, fragile states in danger of being swamped by a sea of refugees.

Rage in Moscow
During the early stages of the bombing, much of the diplomacy between
Russia and the United States was conducted directly between Russian For-
eign Minister Igor Ivanov and Secretary of State Albright. Ivanov was a wily
survivor of the Russian political scene and had been Moscow's diplomatic
representative at the Dayton peace talks. The stout, bald-pated diplomat had
risen steadily through the ranks, having served a tour of duty early in his
MISADVENTURE * 13

career in Cuba, and later having been posted as the Russian Ambassador in
Madrid in the early 1990s. Capable of delivering an icy glare, Ivanov was a
protege of Prime Minister Primakov, so much so that Yeltsin viewed the two
as having "an iron alliance." He was known for an approach that was more
bureaucratic than political, but like many of the officials in Moscow, Ivanov
was tacking steadily to the right to better position himself if Primakov as-
cended to the presidency. NATO attacks on Kosovo, coming just three
months after the U.S. and British bombing of Iraq, enraged Moscow's for-
eign policy community, which saw the strikes as geopolitical muscle flexing.
For Albright, the scrappy, first-woman secretary of state, Milosevic's cam-
paign of ethnic terror was an affront to the very notion of a civilized Europe
at the end of the twentieth century and brought back echoes of World War
II and her own family's flight as refugees from Czechoslovakia to Yugoslavia.
Albright had a visceral antipathy to Milosevic and had been one of the most
vocal advocates for using force against him. She described the war in stark
terms to her colleagues, calling it a "fight between good and evil," akin to
"defending the Holy Grail." Having built her reputation on an image of
toughness, backing down before Milosevic would have been both a personal
and professional humiliation. She was convinced that Milosevic, like a ste-
reotypical bully, would back off after a sharp punch in the nose. But Al-
bright's diplomacy was not fully thought through, and she had received little
help from a Pentagon that viewed Balkan endeavors with extreme wariness.
While Albright was fundamentally wrong in her initial assessment of Milo-
sevic, she was willing to prosecute the war fully until he capitulated.
On March 25, day two of the bombing, Ivanov and Albright spoke on
the telephone, with the Russian foreign minister bemoaning, "Yugoslav
forces killed 300 Albanians in Kosovo over the last year, and NATO has
killed 50 people in one night of air strikes." Albright took sharp exception,
insisting that Milosevic had "killed over 2,000 Kosovar Albanians in the last
year, and displaced 250,000 people." As a senior State Department official
observed, Ivanov was initially in denial: "There is no Serb offensive. There
are no troops. There are no dead Albanians. The Albanians are not moving
out. The bombing is driving them out." The Yugoslavs would even go so far
later as to maintain that many of the ethnic Albanian refugees were paid
"actors" who repeatedly departed and reentered Kosovo.
Ivanov complained, "Milosevic will never say yes to negotiations under
the current conditions. How can Russia stand by and watch NATO destroy
14 * COLLISION COURSE

a sovereign nation? The only option is for strikes to end and talks to begin."
The Russian foreign minister felt that Milosevic could never agree to a peace
deal with "airplanes flying over his residence." Albright was firm: Bombing
would not stop until Milosevic halted his offensive.
After meeting with his top ministers at the Kremlin that same day, Presi-
dent Yeltsin declared, "Russia has a number of extreme measures in store,
but we decided not to use them so far." Claiming to be morally "above
America," the Russian president called for an urgent UN Security Council
vote to stop NATO air strikes. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annanunder
heavy pressure from the members of NATO to stay out of the frayquickly
distanced the United Nations, and his organization would have no immedi-
ate role in bringing the war to an end. Annan declared that the six-nation
Contact Groupconsisting of the United States, France, Italy, Britain, Ger-
many, and Russiawould be in the lead with regard to any talks. The Rus-
sian effort to introduce a UN resolution condemning the bombing was
quickly turned back by a twelve to three vote, with only China and Namibia
supporting Moscow.
Russia moved quickly to curtail its official cooperation with NATO, re-
calling its ranking military liaison at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Gen.
Viktor Zavarzin. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, while making clear
that Russia had no immediate plans to become embroiled in the conflict,
placed Russian forces on higher alert and told reporters that Yugoslavia
would be a "Second Vietnam." Senior Russian officials also hinted they
might provide arms to the Serbs, saying that the NATO attacks potentially
voided the existing UN arms embargo against Yugoslavia. In an uncharacter-
istically emotional outburst at a March 26 news conference, Foreign Minis-
ter Ivanov savaged the air strikes as "unconcealed genocide."
Relations between Moscow and Washington were deteriorating rapidly.
Much diplomacy in the preceding months had been focused not on the Bal-
kans but on Iraq. Because the Clinton administration had expected bombing
to be over quickly, decision-makers reasoned that disagreements with Mos-
cow could be quickly patched up. More could have been done before the
talks at Rambouillet to bring the Russians on board with a solution, but the
United States had become bogged down with internal NATO debates. As
one senior official complained, NATO expected "the Russians to sign up
when we came out of the smoke-filled room."
The Russians also made their share of mistakes, failing to anticipate that
MISADVENTURE * 15

the collapse of the Rambouillet talks would lead to a protracted military con-
frontation. The Russians had approached the Rambouillet talks with a Cold
War mind-set, hoping to pit the Allies against each other to produce a stale-
mate. Prime Minister Primakov had whipped up the military, intelligence,
and foreign policy elites in Moscow for a showdown between Milosevic and
the West rather than brokering a reasonable deal. A White House official
bemoaned Moscow's approach, "The Russian foreign ministry was chroni-
cally nonconstructive. . . . They were just incredibly hostile toward whatever
we were for."
All of Russia's worst strategic fears converged in Kosovo. NATO, their old
and recently expanded nemesis, was bombing orthodox Serbs in the Balkans,
an area that Russia had once firmly dominated. NATO had gone forward
with its air strikes without a UN Security Council resolution. NATO mili-
tary superiority was vast and it was using sophisticated high-tech weapons
while incurring zero casualties. Russia was already weak and dependent on
Western financial aid. Russia's political system was in disarray, the army and
intelligence services were shells of their former feared selves, and the Russian
people were filled with searing bitterness from painful years of transition.
From the Kremlin, the air war looked like American expansionism plain and
simple.
The view from Russiaand many other quarterswas that the United
States and its allies were now committed to an ambitious new program of
humanitarian intervention with NATO serving as the world's policeman.
There were fears that the Pentagon would intercede everywhere from Chech-
nya to Tibet. In a poll shortly after the war began, about 90 percent of
Russians felt that NATO had no right to launch attacks without UN autho-
rization. A subsequent survey also spoke volumes: Close to 80 percent of
respondents believed that it was only a matter of time before NATO attacked
Russia. As Prime Minister Primakov had bluntly told Western diplomats, if
they "accepted the Kosovo model, sooner or later we'll have this in Russia."
Neither a seat on the UN Security Council nor its nascent links to NATO
gave Moscow a veto over Western military operations.
Few Russians believed that NATO would become militarily entangled in
a place as strategically unimportant as Kosovo unless it was part of some
grand scheme. In Moscow, that scheme was invariably directed against Rus-
sia, and the local press was rife with conspiracy theories: NATO was fighting
the war to test new weapons systems; Washington was bombing to prop up
16 * COLLISION COURSE

the strength of the U.S. dollar; NATO was using depleted uranium to poison
Slavic genes. There was certain unintended humor in the conspiracy theo-
ries. As the rest of the world watched Kosovo for precedent, NATO leaders
were gripped by a single thought: How the hell do we get out of this?
In Moscow, one of the quiet champions of United States-Russian diplo-
macyRussian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedovcalled upon
U.S. Ambassador James Collins for a "private moment" on March 27.
Mamedov was a fifty-two-year-old diplomat noted for his intelligence, tough
negotiating skills, and shrewd understanding of America, having served sev-
eral tours of duty in the Russian embassy in Washington. Indeed, Mamedov
was probably the foremost Americanist in the Russian foreign ministry.
Mamedov had often served as a one-man political early-warning system for
both Moscow and Washington, working diligently as a behind-the-scenes
conduit to find win-win solutions.
Mamedov's slightly doughy physique, disheveled appearance, and thick
glasses belied a sharp mind well suited to navigate the treacherous waters of
Russian bureaucracy. Mamedov warned Ambassador Collins, a burly, per-
sonable, and gravel-throated career diplomat near the end of a distinguished
career, that the attacks against Yugoslavia were creating a dangerous political
backlash in Russia. Pressure from the Russian Duma was growing intense to
pull Russian forces out of the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia and initiate
substantial military assistance to Yugoslavia at a time when Yeltsin's im-
peachment proceedings continued to grind forward. Mamedov stressed that
even President Yeltsin might react in "unpredictable ways" given such bur-
dens. Russian officials had also suggested that a neutral figure like Pope John
Paul II could be brought into talks to end the conflict. The call for involving
Rome never gained traction, but the idea of involving a third party would.
Underscoring the volatility of the situation in Moscow, unidentified at-
tackers botched an attempt to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at the U.S.
embassy before engaging in a brief gun battle with guards on March 28.
Several thousand people had gathered outside the embassy when bombing
had started, throwing rocks, eggs, and beer bottles at the compound. In a
surreal moment, a man in armor mounted on horseback fired arrows at the
embassy.
Albright and Ivanov spoke on the telephone on March 28. Albright was
incensed by Ivanov's comments that those responsible for the NATO bomb-
ing campaign should be "tried for war crimes," grumbling that she hoped
MISADVENTURE * 17

the remarks were for "domestic consumption." Ivanov insisted that Moscow
and Washington had to find a way to immediately stop the bombing, or else
the United States would likely face a "worldwide terrorist problem." The
two quickly fell into a familiar patter, debating with some irritation about
who was responsible for the violence in Kosovo. "The Milosevics of the
world come and go," Ivanov declared; "they should not get in the way of
the relationship between Russia and the United States." Albright countered
that as long as Milosevic thought Russia would protect him, he had no rea-
son to halt ethnic cleansing, "The way to get the bombing stopped is simple,
Igor. Milosevic has to stop his military offensive, pull back military and se-
curity forces to preoffensive positions, and agree to negotiations based on the
Rambouillet text." Ivanov did not think such a proposal was simple at all
and again insisted that time was running out. He also made clear that he
could potentially lose his job because of his inability to stop the bombing.
"You won't like my successor," he intoned.
The two spoke again the next day, March 29. President Yeltsin had an-
nounced that he was dispatching an unusually high-level team to visit Bel-
grade: Prime Minister Primakov, Defense Minister Sergeyev, Foreign
Minister Ivanov, and the head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, Vy-
acheslav Trubnikov. The group would spend several hours in Belgrade, and
then Primakov would travel to Bonn to meet with German Chancellor
Schroeder. Ivanov said his meeting with Milosevic was built around two
goals: "to stop the air strikes and to get the peace process started." The U.S.
secretary of state underscored that it would be "very regrettable if the Rus-
sian trip to Belgrade was handled in a way that gave the impression Moscow
was taking Milosevic's side."
"Russia is not taking sides, we are pursuing our interests. Do you want
us to just watch the NATO bombing continue without doing anything?"
complained an exasperated Ivanov.
Albright reiterated that there would be no talks or bombing pauses while
the killing continued in Kosovo. Ivanov claimed that the reports of tens of
thousands of people fleeing Kosovo were overdramatized and stressed that
he would push for the return of international monitors to Kosovo, a reduc-
tion in the Serb military presence, and a return to negotiations. Albright
questioned the timing of the trip, leading Ivanov to protest that Washington
was "only interested in continuing the bombing." Albright countered that
18 * COLLISION COURSE

Russia should spend more time getting "Milosevic to stop his aggression"
and less "pressuring NATO to stop the air strikes."
The dynamic between the two foreign ministers was difficult. Albright
was engulfed in a political and diplomatic firestorm in Washington, as her
handling of the Kosovo crisis was being greeted by a withering crossfire of
criticism from fellow administration officials, the military, the Allies, and the
press. If anything, this made Albright dig her heels in further. She made little
effort to cast her arguments in a way that would help the Russians get out of
the political corner into which they had painted themselves. For his part,
Foreign Minister Ivanov had limited authority to make decisions and was
determined to look tough. The result: Their discussions quickly became like
"an old comedy routine," as a senior State Department official observed,
with Ivanov playing "the hen-pecked husband saying, 'Madeleine, Made-
leine, but Madeleine,' as she kept hitting him over the head."

Primakov Visits Belgrade

On March 30, Primakov, Sergeyev, Trubnikov, and Ivanov traveled to Bel-


grade to meet with President Milosevic. Russia was trying to seize the diplo-
matic initiative, a move that set off a frenzy of discussion within the Alliance
and triggered great concern that the Russians would emerge from Belgrade
with minor concessions and quickly call for a bombing pause. Primakov was
trying to exploit growing international appeals for NATO to initiate an Eas-
ter break in air strikes, either the Western holiday falling on April 4 or the
Orthodox Christian Easter on April 11. The fact that the Russian defense
minister and the head of the intelligence services were included in the delega-
tion raised the troubling possibility that Moscow was also contemplating di-
rect intelligence and military assistance to Belgrade if peace overtures fell
through.
Albright and her fellow foreign ministers dedicated a great deal of time to
handling the Easter issue, and in the process it became obvious that NATO
needed to better define its political objectives. The Italians and Greeks both
wanted to halt air strikes for one of the Easter holidays. Italy's chief of de-
fense had warned General Clark that the Italian government might only be
able to sustain bombing for several more days. Adding further pressure, Pope
John Paul II, American evangelist Pat Robertson, and the heads of the Or-
MISADVENTURE * 19

thodox Church called for a break in air attacks around the holiday. The
French had also raised the matter, but French Foreign Minister Vedrine had
been forthright in acknowledging the downsides of such an approach. Both
the United States and Great Britain were adamantly opposed to any let up,
and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger explained why: "We were afraid
of a pause. Based on the Bosnia experience we knew that once there was a
pause, even if there was an automatic snap back, it would be very difficult
to get planes back up in the air." His deputy, Jim Steinberg, echoed those
sentiments. "A lot of the strategy during the early part of the war revolved
around shoring people up and trying to figure out how not to make Easter
an artificial brake on the campaign's momentum."
The issue of a pause came up again and again in the conversations be-
tween the core NATO foreign ministers. Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto
Dini, stressing the religious significance of the holiday, repeatedly champi-
oned an Easter respite. Finally, according to Western diplomatic officials,
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said pointedly, "You know, Lam-
berto, it would be an odd kind of Christianity that would pause bombing
for several days so that other Christians could kill Muslims." With that tren-
chant analysis, the issue of a bombing pause was temporarily pushed to a
back burner.
During six hours of talks with the Russians in Belgrade, Milosevic ex-
pressed confidence the NATO offensive would soon crumble under its own
weight. Primakov emerged from the session with a modest token from Milo-
sevic. The Yugoslav president had agreed to pull back "some" of his forces
and would guarantee the rights of Kosovar Albanians if bombing was stopped.
Upon meeting with German Chancellor Schroeder in Bonn, Primakov de-
clared that Milosevic was "ready, after the cessation of attacks, to find a politi-
cal solution to all problems." Primakov added that Milosevic was willing to
enter a dialogue with Kosovar Albanians and "create the conditions for the
return of all peaceful refugees." Chancellor Schroeder held firm, saying that
the proposals from Milosevic provided "no basis" for progress and calling the
Serbian offensive in Kosovo genocide.
Ivanov, speaking again with Albright after returning to Moscow, said he
was "disillusioned" by the response from the Western powers. "Does NATO
want to continue fighting and occupy Kosovo and separate it from Yugosla-
via? You tell us to find a solution, and then you make harsher demands."
Albright claimed that NATO did not want Kosovo's independence but also
20 * COLLISION COURS E

said, "NATO cannot stop the bombing until Milosevic stops ethnic cleans-
ing, withdraws his forces, and agrees to international monitoring forces."
"Milosevic claimed to be unsure who was killing the Albanians while the
bombs fall," suggested Ivanov.
"Do you think the Albanians are killing themselves?" fired back Albright.
Since the Russians had announced the day before that they would be dis-
patching at least one, and perhaps several, military reconnaissance ships to
the Aegean to monitor the conflict, Albright warned that there would be
grave fallout if the Russians shared intelligence information with the Yugo-
slavs. Ivanov maintained that the ships would only be gathering information,
not sharing it with the Serbs. However, Izvestiya reported that the Russian
government was studying the possibility of sending air defense experts and
military advisors to Yugoslavia in "the near future."
In an April 1 letter to Clinton, Yeltsin suggested that NATO's actions
threatened "to grow into a great calamity, and not only for the Europeans."
Yeltsin instructed Foreign Minister Ivanov to seek to convene an emergency
meeting of the G-8 foreign ministers. The Clinton administration was ner-
vous about the prospect of such a meeting, and Albright told Ivanov that
any such session would have to "deliver a meaningful and productive out-
come." The United States did not want to convene a meeting to debate the
merits of the air campaign. Albright also took pains to point out that Russia
had supported many of the elements of NATO's current demands during
the run-up to the conflict, such as full access for humanitarian organizations,
free movement of refugees, and a progressive withdrawal of Serb forces from
Kosovo.
Ivanov observed that total withdrawal of Serb forces was "the most diffi-
cult of those questions. If all the military units from one side are removed,
only the KLA will remain. This amounts to saying goodbye to Kosovo." The
Russian foreign minister wanted the KLA disarmed and said progress would
be difficult while Belgrade feared a NATO ground invasion. Albright argued
that an international peacekeeping force could ensure that neither Milosev-
ic's forces nor the KLA took advantage of the situation on the ground. She
assured Ivanov, "The president has no intention of introducing ground
forces into Kosovo."
"While there might not be any intention at present, there is no telling
what the mood will be in the future about ground troops, so it is difficult to
persuade Milosevic to withdraw," replied Ivanov.
MISADVENTURE * 21

At NATO headquarters, the United States and Great Britain were having
difficulty getting France and Germany to agree to streamlined targeting pro-
cedures for General Clark, much less planning for a ground war. German
Foreign Minister Fischer lamented to his colleagues that many Germans felt
"NATO was bombing without any political initiative," while the Russians
were trying to find peace. Fischer also noted that most Germans wanted a
clarification of the Alliance's political goals. With the refugee situation grow-
ing increasingly severethere were 200,000 people on the border by April
2 and between 100,000 and 200,000 more headed in that directionthe
Germans made it clear that they would have a hard time saying no to the
Russian proposal for a G-8 meeting. Fischer wanted the Alliance to forge a
coordinated strategy for talks with the Russians and firmly establish NATO's
bottom line.
It was not until April 2ten days into the bombing campaignthat
NATO attacked its first targets in the heart of Belgrade, destroying the
largely deserted ministry of interior headquarters. The decision to "go down-
town" came only after intensive deliberations in Washington among that
national security team and discussions between President Clinton, Prime
Minister Blair, and French President Jacques Chirac. The uneasy consensus:
Bombing had to be ramped up in an effort to get Milosevic to sue for peace.
Yugoslavia's oil refineries, bridges, and trains were now fair game as NATO
dispatched more ships, planes, and weapons. General Clark was realizing
how difficult getting target approval would become. As he put it, "Every
targetheadquarters buildings, communications towers, ammunition stor-
age sites, and military maintenance facilitieswas, in one way or the other,
likely to become controversial."
General Clark complained that the first week of NATO bombing was
marked by twenty-four-hour days, constant arguments, and repeated calls by
officials at NATO and in Washington eager to stop the bombing. Clark's
frustration was stark as he decried trying to manage a war with "no guidance,
no leadership, and no direction to speak of." Clark was told by a senior offi-
cer at the Pentagon, "I don't know where this is going, to tell you the truth,
Wes. They're looking for a way out back here." Clark added, "I was asking
for Apache helicopters, I was asking for ATACMs missiles, I was asking for
more aircraft, I was asking for approval to strike targets. I wasn't getting
anything." Clark was being asked to meet four separate, and sometimes con-
tradictory, objectives: slowing Serb forces in the field, minimizing collateral
22 * COLLISION COURSE

damage, maintaining alliance cohesion, and incurring almost no casualties.


Three of his four benchmarks were defensive, not offensive, in nature.
The European and U.S. military officers charged with carrying out the air
campaign were acutely discomfited. The deliberative and risk-averse ap-
proach foisted on them by civilian authorities was counter to their best in-
stincts of how to wage war. Although NATO had overwhelming military
superiority, its officers found they could bring little of this advantage to bear.
Milosevic's police and army were adept at dispersing their forces and using
civilians as shields. Although NATO controlled the skies, it remained reluc-
tant to unleash the sorts of wholesale bombing that commanders thought
would force Milosevic to yield. The Pentagon had again been propelled into
a nether-war, where neither all-out combat nor total victory was on the table.
With the Russian push for a G-8 meeting, as well as continuing calls for
a bombing pause, NATO was vulnerable in one important respect: the con-
ditions for ending the bombing were still up in the air. Indeed, the Alliance's
objectives were remarkably ill defined. "There had been a lot of work but
the demands had never been crystallized," Jim O'Brien observed. Milosevic
seemed unlikely to accept the Rambouillet agreement as a whole, and the
agreement itself was no longer relevant given the scale of violence and expul-
sions in Kosovo. In addition, a simple cease-fire would not effectively address
the situation on the ground and would leave Milosevic in a better position
than when the war began.
During the first ten days of bombing, NATO issued a series of conflicting
and poorly coordinated statements regarding its demands. There was talk of
returning civilian monitors to the province, calling for a cease-fire, and put-
ting a no-fly zone into place. However, as the immensity of the refugee crisis
became clear, it was obvious that the nature of any international peacekeep-
ing force in Kosovo would have to be far more robust than previously
planned. It would no longer be a matter of deploying lightly armed monitors
to keep an eye on two feuding groups. International peacekeepers would
have to create sufficient security that refugees would actually feel safe return-
ing. If refugees did not return, Milosevic would have won the battle of Ko-
sovo. This hard reality dictated an approach quite different than embodied
in the failed Rambouillet accords.
The daily conversations between Paris, Bonn, London, Rome, and Wash-
ington were instrumental in helping forge NATO's central demands. Again,
the Germans played a key role. Jim O'Brien explained, "It was through these
MISADVENTURE k 23

conversations that German Foreign Minister Fischer first proposed the for-
mulaSerbs out, NATO in, the refugees allowed to returnthat became
the core of the objectives." On April 3, the five foreign ministers finally re-
leased a statement spelling out NATO's demands. Saying they wanted to
ensure a "peaceful, multi-ethnic Kosovo in which all its people live in secur-
ity," the ministers stressed that this could only be achieved by the "return of
all refugees and therefore the deployment of an international security force,
the withdrawal of Serb military, police, and paramilitary forces, and putting
in place a political framework for Kosovo on the basis of the Rambouillet
accords." NATO was now committed to securing these goals and had ac-
cepted that there should not be a let up in bombing until they were achieved,
a crucial step in maintaining Alliance solidarity. While lacking nuance, the
demands were blessedly straightforward.
Though this was a welcome and overdue step to clarify NATO's aims,
many quickly accused the Alliance of going soft, mainly because the state-
ment did not demand that NATO lead the peacekeeping efforteven
though the ministers themselves widely recognized that only a NATO-led
force would be effective. Further, many were concerned that NATO was no
longer insisting that Milosevic sign on to the full text of the Rambouillet
accords. However, the complex administrative arrangements of the Ram-
bouillet accords were irrelevant as tens of thousands of Kosovar Albanians
were forced from their homes every day. A maelstrom of rape, arson, and
murder raged across Kosovo, and NATO was finally circling the wagons.
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2
CHAPTER

Picking Up the Pieces

Blame to Go Around
During the first several weeks of the war, there was a general sense that the
State Department had blown it and that nobody should trust its judgment.
With military operations off to a shaky start, the Clinton administration
wisely avoided public finger-pointing, but the situation behind the scenes
was bruising. "I am getting killed in these meetings," confided Secretary Al-
bright to an associate. Fellow administration officials were telling the hawk-
ish secretary of state, "You misjudged this. You said Milosevic would take
the deal; he won't take the deal. You thought he would bow down; he won't
bow down. Now we have this humanitarian crisis." The mood among the
national security team was grim, and nobody wanted to take the fall for a
war that was threatening to end in disaster.
In a steady stream of competing newspaper leaks, the Pentagon and the
Central Intelligence Agency sought to pin the blame firmly on the State De-
partment, leading one official to complain, "Basically every colonel and GS-
13 analyst claimed to have known exactly what was going to happen with
the diplomatic end game and the expulsion of the Albanians. So I went back
and read everything and there was nothing to suggest that it was true." The
State Department was slow to defend itself and soon found itself being

25
26 * COLLISION COURSE

squeezed out of the policy process. There were steady grumblings among
U.S. military officers: It was easy for Albright to be tough when they had to
take the risks.
The State Department had not been alone in blowing it. The Joint Chiefs
of Staff, despite whatever reservations they may have later professed, had
unanimously agreed to initiate air strikes. The intelligence community, while
noting that Milosevic would likely step up counterinsurgency efforts against
the KLA, had not predicted that Milosevic would stand firm against an esca-
lating air campaign. One agency assessment from January 1999, made public
in April of that year, concluded of Milosevic, "After enough of a defense to
sustain his honor and assuage his backers, he will quickly sue for peace."
Most of the national security team assumed that since Milosevic had been
willing to bargain after military pressure in October of 1998, he would do
so again. In a brilliant piece of press backgrounding, some of the other agen-
cies had even begun to refer to the bombing as "Albright's war." It was a tag
that stuck.
The intense internal jockeying was mild compared to the savage condem-
nation that was quickly unleashed by the press and other critics. Richard
Perle, a fiercely conservative former Reagan administration official, argued
that President Clinton had assembled "the worst foreign policy team since
the Second World War." Lewis MacKenzie, the Canadian general who had
been in charge of UN troops in Bosnia in 1992, argued that NATO's strat-
egy in Kosovo would "be used for generations as an example of how not to
wage a war." Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger groused, "The for-
mative experiences of the Clinton administration's key personnel were either
in the trenches of the Vietnam protest movement, or in presidential cam-
paignsor both." He continued, "Suspicious of the role of power in foreign
policy, they use it ineffectively and without conviction." Kissinger insisted
there was no clear national interest in Kosovo but maintained that since
NATO had placed its credibility on the line, it had to prevail.
As TIME Magazine described it, critics saw Albright's war "as the latest
example of an incoherent foreign policy driven by moral impulses and
mushy sentiments, one that hectors and scolds other nations to obey our
sanctimonious dictates and ineffectively bombs or sanctions them if they
don't." Others wondered why the United States was damaging relations with
great powers such as Russia and China at the expense of events in an inconse-
quential corner of the Balkans. British author Hugo Young was almost lyric
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 27

when he suggested that Kosovo represented a "slow disintegration of Ameri-


can purpose."
Some directly blamed NATO for the growing refugee crisis. As Deputy
Secretary of State Strobe Talbott professed:

We felt a little bit as though not only had we underestimated Milosevic's te-
nacity, but his smarts as well. The way in which he launched Operation
Horseshoe was quite clever. He made it appear as if the ethnic cleansing of
Kosovo was a consequence of NATO bombing rather than the cause of
NATO bombing. This was outrageous and wrong of course, but it had a su-
perficial plausibility that made it very good tactics.

For an administration savvy in public relations, the Clinton team was


caught off-balance by the refugee crisis. Yet, the intense public criticism had
an important unanticipated benefit for NATO in that it created recognition
that any outcome short of clear victory would inflict a heavy political toll,
and few understood raw politics better than Bill Clinton. By driving such
large numbers of refugees out of Kosovo, Milosevic had made it far easier to
justify the escalating use of forceeven for those Allies uncomfortable with
coercion. Numerous Alliance officials cite exactly the same imagethat of
refugees being loaded aboard railcars and its stark similarity to the atrocities
of World War IIas the moment when they realized there was no turning
back.
On April 6, the voluble and occasionally fiery-tempered national security
advisor, Sandy Berger, outlined some of the choices President Clinton would
face in the weeks ahead. Perhaps more so than any other member of the
Clinton foreign policy team, Berger was finely attuned to his president's ap-
proach to the world: pragmatic more than ideological, deeply political, and
shaded by a lawyer's careful sense of logic and restraint. Good or bad, Berger
was Clinton's foreign policy alter ego. Berger was concerned that Milosevic
would mount a "peace offensive" by using a partial withdrawal of his forces
or the declaration of a cease-fire in an attempt to secure a bombing pause on
Orthodox Easter. While Berger was pleased that the foreign ministers had
reached agreement on a basic formulaSerb military out, international se-
curity presence in, refugees allowed to return homehe argued that NATO
had to establish a more formal set of demands to protect against pressures to
accept a half-baked deal. The national security advisor also outlined some of
28 * COLLISION COURSE

the steps that would sweeten the pot for Belgrade, including demanding
less than a total withdrawal of its forces from Kosovo, putting off final dis-
cussions of Kosovo's political status to a later date, establishing ethnic can-
tons, or tinkering with the composition of the peacekeeping force while
ensuring that NATO remained "at its core." Having seen the bitter inade-
quacies of a UN peacekeeping force during the worst days of the Bosnia
war, Berger was adamant that the command and control structure for any
peacekeeping effort in Kosovo had to be dominated by NATOnot the
United Nations.
The Clinton administration began looking at its options if the air strategy
did not succeed. They considered a range of alternatives: arming the KLA,
creating a de facto partition of the province, or carving out safe havens in
southern Kosovo. They also considered a long-term containment strategy
where NATO would ratchet down air strikes, impose economic sanctions,
and create a no-fly zone similar to the one in place in Iraq. In addition,
they also considered a ground invasion. The National Security Council staff
churned out innumerable papers that were discussed and presented to the
president. President Clinton's usual response: "We need to hold firm. We
need to stay the current route and see if that succeeds." However, it was also
clear that even seven years into his presidency, Clinton was still uncomfort-
able exercising U.S. military force. The only group that had remained im-
mune to Clinton's charms was the Pentagon. In the end, Berger argued that
the military campaign would only be judged a victory if it met two central
goals: providing a secure environment in Kosovo while allowing the people
of the province substantial self-governance. He insisted that intensifying the
air campaign was the only sound course of action and, by doing so, rejected
the other alternatives.
It did not take long for fears of a peace offensive by Belgrade to crystallize.
On April 6, Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, who had been placed
under house arrest by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo, was strong-armed into re-
leasing an "agreement" with Milosevic. The "joint cease-fire declaration" an-
nounced Belgrade's intentions to unilaterally cease operations against the
KLA in keeping with the "greatest Christian holiday, Easter." Belgrade also
declared that Rugova and the Yugoslav government would begin discussions
on political agreement and Rugova would work with the Red Cross to estab-
lish a program for refugee returns. Many speculated that Milosevic, having
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 29

drained Kosovo of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians, was now


eager to declare victory and return to the negotiating table.
The day before, on April 5, the U.S. defense attache in Dublin had re-
ceived a similar proposal from Yugoslav authorities. The Yugoslavs would
agree to resume negotiations between Milosevic and Rugova with representa-
tives from three neutral countries designated by the UN Security Council.
The Yugoslavs would then commence a cease-fire, allow access for relief
workers, and release the three captured U.S. servicemen to the Vatican. The
Clinton administration quickly rejected both the public and private over-
tures from Belgrade, with NATO calling the offer "absurd" propaganda. The
Alliance's swift response to Milosevic's proposal underscored how important
it was that NATO had reached at least a basic agreement regarding the de-
mands on Belgrade. Bombing would not stop without a troop withdrawal,
the deployment of peacekeepers, and all refugees allowed to return home.
While Berger and many others remained convinced that the air war re-
mained the best way to secure NATO's goals, a small but vocal minority was
emerging in favor of reopening the debate on ground troops. Behind closed
doors, General Clark and British Prime Minister Tony Blair aggressively ad-
vocated that ground troops planning move forward, despite the vociferous
opposition of the Pentagon and any number of European Allies. By April 8,
the senior leadership of the State Department also unanimously weighed in
for going ahead with ground troop planning. Deputy Secretary of State
Strobe Talbott, a former journalist and longtime Russia hand, argued to both
Berger and Albright, "I know how hard it is, including with our allies, who
are praying that we can avoid ground troops . . . but if the choice were be-
tween ground troops and accepting a weaker, more ambiguous, half-a-loaf
outcome, I believe our first principle would argue for ground troops. And by
the way, given a choice between taking over Kosovo and going all the way
to Belgrade, I'm for the latter: get it over with, and get the son of a bitch."
It was an opinion that Secretary Albright shared.
Two of Secretary Albright's other senior advisorsTom Pickering, the
undersecretary for political affairs, and James Dobbins, the department's spe-
cial advisor on Balkan affairsalso advocated moving forward with planning
for a ground war. Pickering, the State Department's highest-ranking career
officer and a seasoned veteran of some of the world's toughest diplomatic
posts, came to the decision reluctantly, while Dobbins did so with enthusi-
asm. Pickering's unease was, in part, a product of his discomfort with the
30 * COLLISION COURSE

possibility that U.S. forces would have to drive all the way to Belgrade. Such
a reality would "alienate many Serbs for a long period, prove costly, and
be divisive among our Allies and others, including the Russians." However,
Pickering ultimately felt that there was "no other certain or near-certain al-
ternative at hand."
Dobbins counseled, "Until we take the plunge on ground troops, any ef-
forts at a negotiated settlement can be no more than delaying or diversionary
tactics, intended to occupy the Allies and placate the Russians. Only once
the threat of a ground force is real can we expect our diplomatic efforts to
produce real movement in Belgrade, Moscow, and New York." Dobbins saw
ground troops as the only strategy under consideration that had a good prob-
ability of achieving NATO's "minimum objectives quickly and cleanly," and
he pushed to have a decision on ground troops made within ten days, so that
the matter could be resolved before a NATO Summit convened later that
month.
At a White House Principals Committee meeting on April 8, Berger sug-
gested that unless NATO was willing to commit to a full-scale ground war
it needed to actively pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis, and he made
clear that this was his preferred option. The war had driven the gruff Berger
to a terrible pace: eighteen-hour days, a bad diet, and a constant stream of
telephone calls from early in the morning until late at night. Close to
400,000 refugees had now been pushed out of Kosovo, and both Macedonia
and Albania were teetering badly.
Secretary Albright noted that it would be difficult, both in terms of diplo-
macy and public opinion, to engage with Milosevic directly, and the core
NATO ministers had agreed two days before to try to secure greater Russian
engagement in the diplomatic efforts. There was a general sense that giving
Moscow a greater diplomatic role would help minimize Russian domestic
outrage and pave the way for the eventual passage of a UN resolution that
imposed a settlement upon Milosevic. Jim Dobbins argued that while Mos-
cow might not be able to deliver Belgrade, it could deliver the Security
Council, and a council resolution embodying NATO's principles for a settle-
ment, even somewhat watered down, could be a deal worth making.

Engaging Russia

Trying to get Moscow to support NATO's demands would be no easy task.


With the military campaign struggling, public dissent rising, and many Alii-
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 3 1

ance members expressing discomfort with the course of the war, Moscow
was in no mood to compromise. Russian hardliners were convinced that the
Alliance had stumbled into a trap.
On April 4, Easter Sunday for Christians in the West, Ivanov sent Al-
bright a letter asking that a meeting of the G-8 foreign ministers be convened
without delay. He argued that without the consent of the Yugoslav leader-
ship, peacekeepers in Kosovo were "out of the question." In reaction to the
Russian call for the emergency G-8 meeting, it was agreed to convene repre-
sentatives from the Contact GroupRussia, the United States, Germany,
Great Britain, France, and Italyin Brussels on April 7. The Russians re-
fused to call it an official Contact Group meeting, saying that such a gather-
ing was impossible while NATO's "aggression" was ongoing. Instead, the
session would only be "a meeting of a group of states." On April 6, Vice
President Gore and Prime Minister Primakov spoke for some forty minutes
in advance of the meeting, with Gore reiterating NATO's bottom lines and
noting that while he did not want bombing to go on any longer than neces-
sary, Milosevic had to give in. Primakov argued that NATO was pushing
Milosevic in the wrong direction.
Gore raised a more pressing matter: The United States had received indi-
cations through a number of channels that Russia was prepared to send mili-
tary equipment and share intelligence with Belgrade. A Russian intelligence-
gathering ship was already headed for the region, and Moscow had an-
nounced on April 5 that that it would be shipping 120 trucks carrying nine
hundred tons of "humanitarian assistance" overland, through Hungary, to
Yugoslavia. While Russia's rhetoric had been hot, its national response to the
bombing had been quite restrained. Direct military assistance to Belgrade
would sharply escalate the conflict and drive a fundamental wedge between
Russia and NATO. Vice President Gore repeatedly asked for assurances that
Moscow would not provide aid to Belgrade, making clear such a move would
devastate the U.S.-Russian relationship. This was basically a threat: the
spigot of Western financial assistance propping up the Russian economy
could easily be cut off. Primakov, never the most communicative, was dis-
turbingly noncommittal on the matter. His resounding silence deeply per-
turbed the U.S. national security team, particularly given that Primakov was
seen as a cold warrior willing to use whatever Machiavellian means he viewed
necessary to blunt U.S. influence in Europe.
On April 7, the Russian Duma adopted a resolution urging President
Yeltsin to supply Belgrade with weapons. The measure passed 279-34a
32 * COLLISION COURSE

powerful demonstration of the general sentiment toward NATO in Moscow.


Yeltsin's presidential spokesman Dimitri Yakushkin responded by insisting
President Yeltsin felt the conflict in Yugoslavia could not be resolved mili-
tarily and that arms shipments would mean "a slow introduction of Russia
into the war," leading to an "inevitable escalation of the conflict." However,
two days later, Yeltsin himself warned that NATO should not push Russia
toward a military response; "Otherwise, there will be a minimum of a Euro-
pean war or maybe even a world war."
The same day, former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais
told U.S. Ambassador Jim Collins in Moscow that if the bombing continued
it could result in "irreversible structural changes in the domestic Russian po-
litical scene," clearly suggesting that the Communists and other reactionary
forces could exploit swelling anti-Americanism. Chubais warned that the in-
troduction of ground troops would have "catastrophic consequences," with
Russia being left no choice but to offer Yugoslavia both "volunteers and
arms." Chubais had repeatedly told Western diplomats, "You're not just
bombing Milosevic, but Russian liberals as well."
Also on April 7, senior foreign ministry officials from the Contact Group
countries met in Brussels for three hours. It was the first real gathering of
Western and Russian diplomats since the collapse of the Rambouillet talks
on March 19. The respective representatives at the Contact Group meeting
were largely the political directors from the countries, but the United States
had sent Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to Brussels, largely so he
could meet with his Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Alek-
sandr Avdeyev, on the margins of the meeting. (Russia has more than one
deputy foreign minister, and Avdeyev was the highest ranking.)
The lean, intellectual, and slightly patrician Talbott had served as the ad-
ministration's leading Russia hand since 1993, and he spoke Russian well.
He had arrived at his post in large part because of a close friendship with
President Clinton dating back to their time as housemates and fellow Rhodes
scholars at Oxford in the late 1960s. Talbott had served as the Washington
Bureau Cheif and foreign affairs columnist at TIME Magazine for more than
twenty years and written a number of books on U.S.-Soviet arms control
before entering government service.
He and Avdeyev, joined by a number of colleagues, sat down for a break-
fast meeting at the Hotel Royal Windsor in Brussels. Avdeyev was an inter-
esting character study. He strived to dress and act like a Western
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 33

diplomatoften sporting a double-breasted Pierre Cardin blazer and Gucci


loafers and usually speaking in soft tones. Yet under his carefully appointed,
almost effete, appearance, lay an unreconstructed Soviet worldview. Avdeyev
was not one to go beyond the talking points issued by Moscow, and he was
not known as a problem-solver. Avdeyev was one of Talbott's least favorite
interlocutors in the Russian government, and the deputy secretary viewed
the Russian as little more than a snake oil salesman. Talbott had on more
than one occasion joked that Avdeyev disproved the theory that "he had
never met a Russian he did not like."
The small breakfast meeting got off to a rough start as one of the Russian
delegates spilled orange juice all over the table as he reached for a croissant.
After some quick clean-up, Talbott began the session by starkly observing,
"Part of the challenge is to see, at the end of this, whether the map of Europe
still contains Yugoslavia." Talbott insisted that any solution had to "protect
the fundamental rights of the Kosovar Albanians" by deploying international
peacekeepers while seeking to preserve the borders of the current Yugoslav
state. From the outset, Talbott was clear that the United States would "not
be party to some sort of cynical partition plan that carves up Kosovo."
Avdeyev was in a doctrinaire mood as he compared Kosovo to Afghani-
stan, saying that NATO should understand "the logic of entering war that
you cannot get out of. Not everything will go as you predicted." In conde-
scending tones Avdeyev suggested that the situation had become "a matter
of face saving," adding, "We know what that's about; we used to be in the
same situation." Avdeyev also claimed that Washington was "giving the
Communists this big gift." In his soft voice and smarmy manner, Avdeyev
tried to tell the Americans that he was going to save them.
Talbott and Avdeyev also laid some more of the groundwork for their
bossesSecretary Albright and Foreign Minister Ivanovwho planned to
meet in Oslo, Norway, to discuss the crisis less than a week later. Avdeyev
pushed for an Orthodox Easter bombing pause as a gesture of goodwill, and
the two discussed some of the mechanics involved in passing an eventual UN
resolution as the means to resolve the conflict. Ignoring some of Avdeyev's
more provocative statements, Talbott reiterated the broad strokes NATO
would demand to end the bombing: withdrawal of Serb forces, deployment
of peacekeepers, refugees allowed to return, and further talks on Kosovo's
political status based on the Rambouillet accords.
The teams then broke off the breakfast to begin the official Contact
34 * COLLISION COURSE

Group session at the German embassy, agreeing to meet again later in the
afternoon. However, Avdeyev did not attend the Contact Group session,
choosing to send a subordinate, Russian Ambassador-at-Large Boris Mayor-
sky. Tensions immediately surfaced. The French delegation was angered
both that Avdeyev was not attending the meeting and that Talbott had met
with him separately. The French were concerned that the United States and
Russia would move discussion on Kosovo to a bilateral basis.
Russian Ambassador Mayorsky presented the Russian position with a
combination of cynicism, biting humor, and periodic flashes of anger. May-
orsky urged NATO to accept a Milosevic cease-fire proposal and suggested
that any international presence in Kosovo would have to be largely humani-
tarian. The tensions at the gathering were only heightened when it became
clear that Talbott was going to slip away from the meeting for an afternoon
discussion with Avdeyev, leaving the French delegation apoplectic. Avdeyev
and Talbott then met in the Russian embassy in Brussels. Avdeyev led off the
session by telling Talbott bluntly, "I have the impression that the package
you outlined earlier will not be accepted by Belgrade. It's not simply an im-
pression; I'm convinced that your proposal won't be accepted. What will you
do then? You're already building up forces. Are you going to bomb infra-
structure, power plants, refineries for one week, two weeks?"
"The core problem remains," Talbott replied.

Russia's position is dictated by what Milosevic will and will not accept, but
Milosevic has long since disqualified himself from being the arbiter of the so-
lution. In fact, it is an open question to us whether we can reach a negotiated
solution with Milosevic, but we are prepared to try. But we must do so on the
basis of the conditions laid out by NATO. If Moscow insists that NATO
bombing stop as a precondition for Milosevic meeting the demands, the proc-
ess will go nowhere.

As the meeting concluded, Talbott also delivered a clear warning regard-


ing Russian military assistance to the Yugoslavs: "Alexander, this is an issue
of life and death, especially for the United States and Allied personnel flying
over Yugoslavia. As I've said before, this issue has the potential to ruin irre-
versibly the relations between us, as well as whatever chance we have to turn
this situation to the benefit of the U.S.-Russian partnership." Avdeyev in-
sisted that there was "no basis for suspecting cooperation," despite the direct
evidence to the contrary.
PICKING UP THE PI ECES * 35

After the sessions, Talbott characterized Avdeyev's and Mayorsky's posi-


tion to Washington in colorful terms:

You crazy, short-sighted Americans have done it again. This is a new Vietnam.
It's your Afghanistan. You don't have an exit strategy. We told you this was
going to happen. You've created exactly what you said you wanted to deter.
You've also acted in shameless disregard to Russia. You didn't take seriously
our warnings that that your bombing the Serbs would stir up the ugliest and
most dangerous passions inside Russia. Now in addition to having to worry
about your military rampaging in the skies over Belgrade, we have to worry
about our military going crazy and Zhirinovsky recruiting volunteers to go
fight for our brother Slavs. U.S.-Russian relations, to say nothing of N A T O -
Russian relations, will never be the same. But we are as wise and forbearing
and foresighted as you are foolish and impetuous and shortsighted; we are
prepared to help you save face, to show you a way out of the dead-end where
you've gotten yourselves stuck.

While the N A T O and Russian positions remained far apart, there were
growing efforts to forge a consensus between Russia and the West. T h e Ger-
mans had drafted potential language for a U N Security Council resolution,
and Talbott felt that if the Russians could be persuaded to sign on to such a
text and military pressure was maintained, Belgrade might accept an out-
come that left Kosovo constitutionally inside Yugoslavia "while taking it ad-
ministratively out from under Belgrade's control and puts it under the
protection of the U N or some other mechanism."
T h e April 7 Contact G r o u p meetings were followed by additional sessions
of the G-8 political directors in Dresden on April 9 and 10 with Undersecre-
tary of State T o m Pickering representing the United States and D e p u t y For-
eign Minister Georgy M a m e d o v representing Russia. T h e political directors
were trying to lay the groundwork for an eventual meeting of the G-8 foreign
ministers. In a sidebar discussion with Pickering, Mamedov told Pickering
that Russia understood that some form of international presence would need
to be deployed in Kosovo, but Moscow was concerned about the nature of
this force and the conditions under which it would operate. For example,
Moscow preferred peacekeepers only be drawn from nations with which Bel-
grade still had formal diplomatic relationsmeaning the major N A T O pow-
ers would not be on the ground.
Russia still wanted a strong role for the United Nations and wanted Milo-
36 * COLLISION COURSE

sevic to approve any deal. Mamedov made clear that both Ivanov and Prima-
kov were trying to limit Kosovo's "collateral damage" to the bilateral
relationship but that NATO had unleashed dangerous reactions in Russia.
Mamedov felt that Yeltsin had been personally and politically hurt by the
bombing, and viewed it as undercutting his close bond with Clinton. The
Russian domestic fallout from the campaign continued to be intense because
"the Czar is powerless to stop the war," as Mamedov put it. Yeltsin and
Primakov saw the parallels to Chechnya as acute and wanted more to be
done to disarm the KLA "terrorists." The deputy foreign minister added,
"There are many enemies of better U.S.-Russian relations in Moscow, and
Yeltsin needs our help to keep them from wrecking our mutual efforts. We
can manage this with your help, but we may not be able to manage it with-
out your help."
Unfortunately, Mamedov would be effectively cut out of much of the de-
cision-making on Kosovo. Ivanov himself directed Kosovo policy within the
foreign ministry, and it would have been difficult for Mamedov to interject
himself in the process since it was not an area of his expertise. Further, be-
cause Mamedov was Azeri by birth (Azerbaijan was a largely Muslim republic
of the former Soviet Union), he was inclined to give issues dealing with Mus-
lim separatists a wide birth. While Mamedov would keep his ear to the
ground and periodically meet with U.S. officials, he had no line authority
for policy and no political leverage and would not be able to be a major
player in striking any accommodation between Moscow and Washington.
Events in Russia highlighted the considerable tensions within its political
system. Despite the situation in Kosovoand in part because of it
Communists and nationalists in the Duma refused to delay the impeach-
ment proceedings against President Yeltsin that were scheduled to begin later
in April. Prime Minister Primakov also sent signs to the Communists that
he might be willing to continue serving in his post even if Yeltsin were im-
peachedan overture that outraged the Russian president. On April 9, Pres-
ident Yeltsin signaled that he would not leave office without a fight as he told
reporters, "Today Primakov is useful; tomorrow we'll see."
President Yeltsin's behavior was becoming increasingly erratic. On April
9, after Yeltsin met with Gennadi Seleznyov, the Communist speaker of the
Russian parliament's lower house, Seleznyov emerged to tell reporters that
the Russian president had indicated that he would be retargeting Russian
nuclear weapons at NATO capitals. Despite repeated calls from Western cap-
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 37

itals for clarification, the Kremlin was slow to respond. Belatedly, Foreign
Minister Ivanov was left to disavow the whole matter, saying, "No orders
concerning missiles have been issued."
In a sign of growing regional tensions, the Russian shipment of "humani-
tarian aid" was blocked at the Hungarian border on April 10, amid suspi-
cions that Moscow was attempting to provide military aid. Russian officials
insisted that President Yeltsin was "extremely disturbed" by the Hungarian
decision. After emergency talks between Russian and Hungarian officials,
Hungary allowed part of the convoy to pass through its territory while deny-
ing transit to five armored trucks and a large amount of fuel. The ability of
the HungariansNATO's newest memberto interdict the Russian con-
voy glaringly underscored the reality of NATO expansion for Moscow.

Enter Chernomyrdin

On April 10 at the White House, a Principals Committee meeting was con-


vened. The issue of ground troops was front and center, although its champi-
ons were limited. Sandy Berger acknowledged that the president's statement
at the onset of the war about having "no intention" to send in ground troops
had put them in something of a rhetorical box. However, he also defended
the inclusion of the language in the speech, noting that even the threat of a
ground war would have set off a firestorm of protest and division within
NATO.
Secretary of Defense Cohen, the lone Republican in Clinton's cabinet,
was of the same mind as Berger. There were serious divisions within the Joint
Chiefs about pursuing a ground war and he later remarked, "There could
have been substantial casualties. And if we had started to suffer substantial
casualties, I am convinced it would have turned into quite a contentious
issue up on the Hill."
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hugh Shelton, suggested
that the talk of a ground war was misguided. He argued that if the Alliance
ramped up the bombing and went after more important targetsincluding
more sites in downtown Belgradeair power would prevail. Shelton spoke
in colorful language of "wanting to put a lot of hurting on Milosevic's ass,"
saying that it was time to "take the gloves off." NATO's timid approach
during the initial phase of the war had created substantial tension between
38 * COLLISION COURSE

Chairman Shelton, Secretary of Defense Cohen, General Clark, and their


European military counterparts. Clark was requesting hundreds of more
planes, and had reached the conclusion that the war could drag on for
months and "might have to transform into a more conventional full-scale
ground attack into Kosovo"a view not shared by his superiors at the Pen-
tagon. Clark was pushing to have a decision on ground troops made during
April, so that a ground campaign could be launched by July.
Berger suggested that there were three environments in which U.S. forces
could enter Kosovo: first, a "permissive" setting resulting from a peace deal;
second, the "nonpermissive" environment of a ground war; and, third, a
submissive or "semipermissive" environment where some ground troops
were simply needed to mop up the remnants of a Yugoslav army largely deci-
mated by air attacks.
Deputy National Security Advisor James Steinberg observed, "If we in-
vade Yugoslavia, we're liberating Kosovo and can't give it back to Yugoslavia.
If we do that, we own Kosovo, and sooner or later it's independent." This
led the lanky, slightly shaggy-haired Steinberg, one of the younger members
of the national security team, to make a pitch for arming the Kosovo Libera-
tion Army, a prospect that made most of those in the room deeply un-
easyin large part because of the U.S. experience in arming Afghan
resistance fighters during the 1980s. While the resistance fighters had proved
a remarkably potent fighting force, Afghanistan remained destabilized and
increasingly radicalized for years after the Soviet withdrawal, hardly a sce-
nario NATO wanted to see in southeast Europe. Steinberg concedes, "I was
the leading advocate of arming the KLA, because I thought a lot of the things
that the ground option was designed to accomplish could be achieved a lot
more quickly and effectivelyand make Milosevic even more nervousby
moving in that direction and reserving the ground option. I recognized the
downsides."
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke expounded on the importance of open-
ing up a better channel of communication with Belgrade and getting Milo-
sevic some kind of message. He stressed the importance of finding a way to
tie up Milosevic's considerable, and well-dispersed, financial assets. Hol-
brooke was of the mind that the Kosovar Albanians would continue fighting
for independence for as long as it took and that they ran the risk of becoming
a permanent guerilla resistance movement. "I strongly advocated planning
ground-troop use, but opposed the actual deployment," Holbrooke claimed.
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 39

"I repeatedly told both President Clinton and Vice President Gore that I
never thought we would have to invade and that we should just keep bomb-
ing. I strongly supported escalation of the bombing and I was quite vocal
about that."
The group struggled over whether NATO should simply dictate terms to
Milosevic or whether they should open negotiations with him. The adminis-
tration was convinced that getting any kind of "yes" from Milosevic would
be daunting. Albright discussed her efforts to lay the groundwork with the
Allies for a UN Security Council resolution authorizing "all necessary
means" to bring Milosevic to terms, thus giving UN sanction to a NATO
ground war. However, many of the Allies were reluctant to even discuss
ground troops, and the possibility of getting the Russians and Chinese to
endorse such a proposal was remote. The choices were unpalatable. If the
United States negotiated directly with Milosevic, many would see it as a sign
of NATO's weakness. If the United States sought to dictate terms to Bel-
grade, it might have to back the threat up with a ground war. In the end,
the national security team once again agreed that air attacks should be inten-
sified.
Sunday, April 11Orthodox Eastercame and went without a bombing
pause. NATO bombing was light during the day however, with Belgrade
largely spared attacks, a fact the Alliance attributed both to the weather and
to "relative restraint, mindful of the Orthodox Easter celebration." The Alli-
ance would immediately resume attacks on downtown Belgrade the next day.
The number of refugees that had been driven from Kosovo now swelled to
over half a million people.
With diplomatic efforts to end the war showing little progress, more and
more people sought to interject themselves directly in the peace processa
phenomenon quickly dubbed "envoy envy" within the halls of the State De-
partment. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan informed the United States
that he intended to appoint two special envoys for Kosovo who would be in
frequent touch with Moscow, Washington, Brussels, and, eventually, Bel-
grade. Yugoslav foreign ministry officials had requested that Annan himself
visit Belgrade and become more involved in diplomatic efforts. The last
thing the Clinton administration wanted was the United Nations directly
involved in negotiations, not trusting Annan to broker a deal that preserved
NATO's bottom line. Indeed, senior Clinton administration officials had
been deeply angered by a statement Annan had released on April 9 in which
40 * COLLISION COU RSE

he had expressed distress with "the humanitarian tragedy taking place in Ko-
sovo and in the region, which must be brought to an end." Administration
officials viewed the secretary-general's statement as disturbingly equivocal on
who was to blame for the refugee crisis.
While Washington publicly welcomed Annan's call for Yugoslav authori-
ties to stop expulsions, withdraw its military forces, and comply with the
terms of earlier agreements, Annan had also suggested, "Upon acceptance by
the Yugoslav authorities of the above conditions, I urge the leaders of NATO
to suspend immediately the air bombardments." Washington did not ap-
preciate Annan dictating terms for ending the conflict, and this further
heightened U.S. hostility toward an active UN diplomatic role. However,
several of the Allies, particularly the French, continued to insist that any set-
tlement needed to be wrapped in the broad authority of the United Nations.
The trick would then become how best to secure an eventual UN Security
Council resolution without giving the United Nations a meaningful role in
the diplomacy.
On April 11, President Clinton wrote to Yeltsin, insisting that none of
the actions in the Balkans were aimed against Russia, and welcoming assur-
ances that Russia would not allow itself to be drawn into military conflict.
The missive called for both the United States and Russia to work diplomati-
cally to end the war and suggested that Annan's statement placed the onus
on Milosevic to take concrete steps to end the war. Ambassador Jim Collins
delivered Clinton's letter to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy
Mamedov on April 12, and Secretary Albright was scheduled to meet with
Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov the next day in Oslo, Norway. Mamedov,
quickly reading the note, said that it was an "important letter" that would
help pave the way for the meeting between the ministers, which Mamedov
hoped would be a "watershed."
Mamedov was pleased that Secretary-General Annan had released his
statement, after what he said was much "plodding and prompting" from the
Russians. Mamedov said that Russia did not want "to be gravediggers for
the UN," and suggested that "personal chemistry" and "trust" would be
paramount in Oslo. The Russian deputy foreign minister claimed that Russia
was not clear on Washington's bottom line for getting the bombing stopped,
and he wanted to see the two sides get down to specifics. He also made clear
that Moscow would not "spit on itself" and simply reverse its positions at
the United Nations to make things easier for the United States. No one
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 4 1

should expect "miracles" with regard to Moscow's ability to deliver Milo-


sevic.
That same day, April 12, Secretary Albright visited NATO headquarters
in Brussels and met her fellow NATO foreign ministers and a number of
representatives from the frontline states surrounding Yugoslavia. Albright re-
assured her fellow ministers that they would be kept in close consultation
regarding U.S.-Russian talks. Albright also met with General Clark. Albright
was plain-spoken: "Well, Wes, it's up to you. I've done my best and they've
called it my war, and they've turned on me. Now they'll turn on you."
While Clark and Albright were both embattled, it was Albright's meeting
with the frontline states that made the most lasting impression on the secre-
tary of state and her team. Both Macedonia and Albania continued to be
overwhelmed with refugees; their very survival as nations was in question.
Macedonia was concerned about the refugees shattering their own delicate
ethnic political balance, while Albanians welcomed the refugees with open
arms but empty pockets. The frontline states expressed a number of concerns
but remained resolute. A senior diplomat characterized their position as
"Look, we need Milosevic gone. We need to enter Europe and we can't do
it with this guy running his little Mordor on the Danube. We can't say it to
the western Europeans and we can't say it to our own publics." Yugoslavia's
neighbors were every bit as hawkish as Clark and Albright. The attitude of
the frontline states would galvanize a number of officials in the State Depart-
ment to more aggressively push for overthrowing the Milosevic government;
a position on which Albright needed little encouragement.
In an effort to jump-start diplomatic efforts, Albright and Foreign Minis-
ter Ivanov met on April 13 in Norway for over three hours of talks at a hotel
near the Oslo airport. Ivanov continued to push for a bombing pause, a re-
turn to talks with Milosevic, and UN control over any peacekeeping pres-
ence. Albright held firm that the Alliance would not suspend bombing until
Milosevic had agreed to all its demands, withdrawn his forces, and allowed
a substantial NATO peacekeeping force to enter Kosovoall positions that
Ivanov insisted that Milosevic would never accept. In comments to the press
after the session, both Ivanov and Albright put their best faces forward, in-
sisting they had "narrowed their differences," with the secretary of state tell-
ing reporters the two had reached agreement on many of the basic principles
for ending the conflict. However, the Russian foreign minister made clear
42 * COLLISIO N COURSE

that without "the agreement of the leadership of Yugoslavia," Moscow


would not sign off on any peacekeeping operation.
On April 14, in the wake of the Oslo meeting, some seventy-three Koso-
var Albanian civilians were killed in an accidental NATO air strike on a refu-
gee convoy within Kosovo. Serb officials rushed international film crews to
the scene, and gruesome images of burning tractors and bloody body parts
strewn across a rural road dominated the news. Was NATO only making it
worse for the people it was trying to help? The NATO media operation sput-
tered as General Clark put out a series of contradictory statements, initially
blaming the incident on the Yugoslavs and then later changing his story and
admitting the incident was likely pilot error. The attack on the refugee con-
voy came hard on the heels of a NATO strike on a passenger train on April
12captured in stark black-and-white gun camera footagethat had killed
at least ten civilians. The Alliance faced increasingly hostile questions about
its targeting procedures, and the daily Alliance military briefings were being
dominated by calls for explanations of civilian deaths. Concerns were
mounting about the humanitarian costs of an air campaign that seemed nei-
ther to be changing Milosevic's mind nor slowing his forces in the field.
In Moscow on April 14, President Yeltsin launched an initiative to end
the war with his unique personal stamp by appointing Viktor Chernomyr-
dinRussia's bluff, beefy prime minister from 1992 to 1998as his special
envoy for the Balkans. It would prove to be an important breakthrough,
although at the time it simply looked like one more person joining the
parade of self-styled envoys trying to end the war. Chernomyrdin was an
interesting choice, and Yeltsin selected him both because of his extensive
experience in dealing with the United States and his close personal ties
with Vice President Gore that had been cultivated through the Gore-
Chernomyrdin Binational Commission, a body established in 1993 to foster
long-term cooperation between Moscow and Washington.
Chernomyrdin had enjoyed the longest tenure of any of the prime minis-
ters to serve under Yeltsin, was the former head of Russia's natural gas mo-
nopoly, Gazprom, and was known for his street smarts and aggressive ability
to bull things through Russia's unwieldy political system. Yeltsin explained
that Chernomyrdin had "rescued me and helped me out many a time," and
while Chernomyrdin's Western-leaning policies had often earned the antipa-
thy of Communists in the Duma, Yeltsin believed that he was capable of
delivering a peace deal.
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 43

Yeltsin discussed his choice of Chernomyrdin: "I suppose I couldn't have


trusted any other politician at that moment. Chernomyrdin had enormous
weight and authority in Yugoslavia, in the West, and in the eyes of the Amer-
ican political elite. This unique combination allowed him to establish a nego-
tiating line oriented toward a single goal: the rapid halt of military action."
While his personal skills may indeed have been ideal, Chernomyrdin was by
no means a Balkans expert. Chernomyrdin's selection was also driven by
Russian domestic politics and Yeltsin's struggle to stave off the Communist-
led impeachment effort. A key part of this plan was to deflate the presidential
prospects of Prime Minister Primakov, who was hostile to Yeltsin's reform
agenda and leading in polls for the presidential election that was slated to
take place early in 2000. The Russian newspaper Kommersant Daily argued
that Yeltsin "effectively appointed a parallel premier" to rival Primakov by
bringing Chernomyrdin back into government. It was no surprise that Com-
munist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov complained, "This person made a
mess of everything in the country, but today he is assigned to the worst hot
spot."
The Chernomyrdin appointment starkly highlighted the depth of es-
trangement between Yeltsin and Primakov as the Russian president tried to
rally his political allies around him for the impeachment showdown. Many
of the oligarchs loyal to Yeltsin were concerned by Russia's eroding internal
and international situation and fearful that a lasting schism with the West
would damage their considerable financial interests. Despite his many weak-
nesses, Yeltsin was again taking audacious steps to project an image of
strength as he desperately tried to salvage his ties to the West.
Chernomyrdin began reaching out almost immediately. He quickly sent
word to NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana that he was interested in
meeting. Chernomyrdin suggested that Russia was willing to push Belgrade
to accept a military presence in Kosovo that involved NATOalthough not
under a NATO flagand was confident that he could get Milosevic to ac-
cept such an arrangement. Solana informed U.S. officials of the contact, and
they responded that had no problem with a possible Chernomyrdin meeting,
since he was an official Russian envoy.
Chernomyrdin and Boris Ivanovsky of the Russian foreign ministry then
met in Moscow with the U.S. ambassador to Russia, James Collins, on April
16. Ivanovsky had worked in Kosovo with U.S. Ambassador William Walker
as part of the Kosovo Verification Mission in the period before the war had
44 * COLLISION COURSE

erupted, and he was widely viewed by the Americans as having been assigned
by Foreign Minister Ivanov to keep tabs on Chernomyrdin. Ivanov was anx-
ious that Chernomyrdin would act independently of the foreign ministry
and be too accommodating with the West.
Chernomyrdin stressed that he wanted to find a constructive way forward
and that he might visit Belgrade as soon as the following week. The eighty-
minute meeting was largely friendly, and Chernomyrdin emphasized that he
was part of the larger Russian "team" working on Kosovo, although Prime
Minister Primakov's name was mentioned only in passing. Chernomyrdin
appeared surprised to learn the scope of the refugee problem in Kosovo and
was taken aback to learn that close to a million people had been driven from
their homes. He also indicated that he had spoken with the Yugoslav ambas-
sador to Russia, Boris Milosevic (Slobodan's brother), who had taken a very
hard line, particularly on the role of NATO in peacekeeping, and insisted
that Belgrade could go no further than allowing "international observers" in
Kosovo. In agreeing to continue consultations, Chernomyrdin stressed the
importance of compromise and of finding solutions that created neither win-
ners nor losers. Ambassador Collins was struck by the fact that Chernomyr-
din did not call for an immediate end to the bombing.
On April 17, Ivanov and Secretary Albright spoke on the telephone. Iva-
nov confirmed that they were considering sending Chernomyrdin to Bel-
grade, and he reassured the secretary that he and Chernomyrdin would
"speak with one voice." Albright affirmed that Clinton would be placing a
call to Yeltsin two days later, and noted that while talks had been construc-
tive, they still had a way to go. Albright urged Russia and NATO to develop
a unified position on the type of international security force that would have
to be deployed in Kosovo, maintaining that as long as Russia did not agree
to such a formula, "it was in effect prolonging the conflict." Ivanov, not
surprisingly, pointed out that there were a number of factors prolonging the
war, but cautioned that he could not speak to the composition of the peace-
keeping force until some matters in Moscow had been resolved.
In Macedonia, a very different and clandestine diplomatic initiative was
unfolding. Ibrahim Rugova, the pacifist Kosovar Albanian political leader,
still remained under house arrest by Serb forces in Pristina, Kosovo. Rugova,
his wife, and their three children had been held since the end of March, with
Serb police occupying their house. However, Milosevic had allowed Rugo-
va's trusted aide and bodyguard Adnan Merovci to travel to Macedonia for
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 45

a sort of weekend leave. On April 17, Merovci came to see the U.S. ambassa-
dor to Macedonia, Chris Hill, in Skopje.
According to Merovci, more than fifty police had initially swept down on
the residence, herding the family into the basement, giving the impression
that Rugova and the others would be executed. After a tense four-hour wait,
one of the Serb officers had told Merovci that they were there to "protect"
Rugova. Milosevic had then used Rugova for propaganda purposes in a sub-
sequent visit by the Kosovar Albanian to Belgrade for a photo opportunity
and the announcement of a potential cease-fire. Milosevic had jokingly told
Merovci that he would be the prime minister under President Rugova in a
Serb-dominated Kosovo government. Rugova had remained passive in the
face of such intimidation.
Merovci felt that Milosevic had no grand plan for resolving the conflict
and had allowed him to come to Macedonia simply to demonstrate to Yugo-
slavs that their president was pursuing peace. Yugoslav officials had asked
Merovci to convince other Kosovar Albanian leaders in Macedonia to return
to the province to discuss potential peace effortsa prospect that Merovci
knew had "zero percent" chance of success. From what Merovci had seen, it
appeared Milosevic alone was guiding decisions on the war, and from his
conversations with Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic and
Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, they had seemed far less enthusiastic
about continuing the war. Merovci had spoken with Sainovic on several oc-
casions, although never privately, and Merovci had asked him if he had any
message that he wanted to convey to Ambassador Hill. Sainovic quickly in-
quired if there was any indication from U.S. officials that they would like
him to send such a missive. Merovci said that there was not, so Sainovic
suggested that if Ambassador Hill had any message to relay, he should send
a note via Merovci. Merovci was scheduled to return to Pristina several days
later, and he stressed that his highest priority was to get Rugova out of Ko-
sovo.
The next day, April 18, Ambassador Hill called Deputy Secretary of State
Strobe Talbott to discuss the Merovci meeting. Hill was an old Balkans hand
and had worked closely in forging administration policy both at Rambouillet
and Dayton. Hill had an extensive network of contacts in the region, and
probably had the best feel for Serb politics and personalities of any State
Department official. The slightly owlish-looking Hill had an exceedingly dry
46 * COLLISION COURSE

wit and was respected for his candid assessments and creative solutions to the
region's problems. Hill asked if he should send a message back with Merovci.
This was not the first time the Clinton administration was offered a back
channel of communication with Belgrade, and it would not be the last. In
early April, a deputy in the Russian State Duma approached U.S. Ambassa-
dor Collins in Moscow, maintaining that the Yugoslav embassy in Moscow,
where Boris Milosevic was ambassador, had asked him to act as a secret inter-
mediary with NATO to end the war. While that particular channel never
materialized, it was the first of several signs that Belgrade was intent on
reaching out and establishing direct links with Washington. Belgrade had
also sent out a number of other feelers, and these lower-level signals were
generally viewed in Washington as red herrings. The administration felt that
if Milosevic were serious about entering direct negotiations, he would reach
out to officials he knew well. Hill and Talbott, in consultation with Secretary
Albright and National Security Advisor Berger, worked out the following
formulation. Hill would send back a handwritten note to Yugoslav Deputy
Prime Minister Sainovic, who had served as Milosevic's liaison with the ear-
lier international Kosovo Verification Mission, suggesting that they keep the
channel of communication open for future use and that Merovci could serve
as a conduit. Hill's note stressed that the Yugoslavs should capitulate and
that there was no chance they would prevail. While the interlude raised
hopes in Washington that Milosevic's inner circle was starting to buckle,
there would be no response from Sainovic.

Setting the Summit Stage


As the war dragged on, a long-scheduled event suddenly took on new impor-
tance. On April 23-25 in downtown Washington the leaders of scores of
countries were scheduled to gather for NATO's Fiftieth Anniversary Sum-
mit. Once planned as a grand gala with fighter jet overflights and black-tie
dinners for forty heads of state, the war in Kosovo demanded a more somber
tone. The potential for a major public rift among the Allies, particularly on
the issue of ground troops, was of foremost concern. NATO would be in the
global spotlight, and it could not afford to stumble.
U.S. ambassador to NATO, Alexander Vershbow, remarked, "I think all
the Allies recognized the need to use the summit to show unity, not disarray,
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 47

and try to galvanize strategy. After the initial hopes of a rapid capitulation
by Milosevic had faded, people realized we were in for the long haul and
NATO could not accept anything less than victory. So everyone was re-
ceptive to the notion, which we had recommended, of changing the summit
program." A war council was added on the first day of the meeting and black-
tie dinners were canceled as the gathering took on a much more serious tone.
It was far easier to trade business suits than to resolve the issue of ground
troops. "The British were starting to put out that they wanted ground troops
and the White House was apoplectic," a senior Clinton administration offi-
cial explained. "They thought it undercut confidence in the air war's chances
for success and forced them into a domestic discussion they didn't want to
have." The White House had not even attempted to begin building public
support for a ground campaign.
British Prime Minister Blair was appalled by the lack of seriousness in the
Alliance's approach to the conflict. The prime minister wanted NATO to
attack higher-profile "regime targets" that would bring pain to Milosevic
and his inner circle. Blair also wanted a smaller group of decision-makers to
control Alliance targeting and planning, and most importantly, he wanted
to see the plans for a ground invasion put back on the table. Blair's approach
hit a nerve in Washington where officials remained deeply concerned about
managing the downsides of the summit. Just when the debate on ground
troops was gaining steam, the Clinton administration turned the discussion
with the British into a strategy for how to best manage press relations for the
two weeks running up to the summiteffectively slowing the decision on
ground troops. Eventually, the deal worked out between Blair and Clinton
was straightforward: Blair would tone down his rhetoric on ground troops,
and the United States would have NATO Secretary-General Solana move
forward with updating planning assessments for a potential ground cam-
paign. A White House official admitted, "We spent a lot of time making
sure ground troops were off the agenda at the NATO summit," adding,
"This was also about perceptions in Belgrade and Moscow. We didn't want
any hint that there was any division within the alliance."
Prime Minister Blair was not the only one pushing hard for ground
troops. General Clark remained convinced that the Alliance needed to win
the war in Kosovo at all costs. The wiry, intense, former Rhodes scholar
wanted to inflict maximum damage on Yugoslav forces using almost all
means. He consistently argued that NATO needed to strengthen its forces,
48 * COLLISION COURSE

attack from more directions, and take greater risks to strike Yugoslav forces.
Virtually from the onset of the conflict, Clark had supported moving Apache
attack helicopters into the theater to hunt and destroy tanks and troop con-
centrations, but the plan became bogged down in an embarrassing series of
logistical difficulties and concerns about possible U.S. casualties.
The relationship between Clark and Secretary of Defense William Cohen
had badly deteriorated as a result of their split on ground troops. The ten-
sions between the Pentagon and NATO's military chief are always an issue.
While General Clark's post has always been held by an American since Gen-
eral Eisenhower first held the command, it is a unique position in that the
general is also the commander of the troops from other respective nations
under his authority. As Vice President Gore's National Security Advisor
Leon Fuerth pointed out, "One of the things the government had to get
used to was that though supreme allied commander Europe (SACEUR) is
an American officer, wearing an American uniform, he wears two hats. He
could not function effectively as SACEUR if the Europeans thought he was
immediately owned and directed out of Washington. This is perhaps the
single most delicate element of the relationship." These natural institutional
tensions were only exacerbated by the fundamental disagreements between
Clark and his Pentagon colleagues over the conduct of the war.
While Clark is an extremely intelligent man, he had become so single-
minded that it threatened to undermine his sense of political judgment. As
a result, the Pentagon, viewing Clark as a bull in the china shop, increasingly
kept the general at arm's lengtha dangerous reality in a time of war. Clark
opined of President Clinton and Secretary Cohen, "Wouldn't they have
been able to make better decisions, and have them better implemented, I
thought, if they brought the commander into the high-level discussions occa-
sionally?" Clark added that in the early days of the conflict, he did not dis-
cuss overall strategy with Secretary Cohen or President Clinton "at all."
President Clinton's trying relationship with the military made it even more
difficult for the White House to effectively adjudicate between a reluctant
Pentagon and an overzealous Clark.
The situation reached a point where British military officials felt com-
pelled to slip notes to General Clark regarding conversations between Presi-
dent Clinton and Prime Minister Blair regarding the use of ground troops,
fearing that the NATO commander would get a diluted account of the dis-
cussions through his normal chain of command. Clark made his frustration
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 49

with the Pentagon clear to several senior officials at N A T O . T h e general felt


that the Pentagon was blocking him at every turn, and Clark had been in-
volved in a series of frustrating late-night calls with his superiors in Washing-
ton. Some at N A T O even joked that Clark was being forced to wage a three-
front war, simultaneously fighting the Serbs, the Allies, and the Pentagon.
Losing any one of those fronts had the potential to cost Clark the war.
General Clark repeatedly told congressional leaders visiting N A T O head-
quarters that he felt a ground invasion of Kosovo would go relatively swiftly
and that planning for such an effort was the only sure way to secure N A T O ' s
goals. Clark was convinced that N A T O ' s choices lay starkly between ground
forces and defeat. His insistent appeals were a clear irritation to his superiors.
Both General Shelton and Secretary C o h e n felt that a ground invasion
would require a massive effort, whose very scale might make its implementa-
tion better postponed until the next spring. C o h e n had also pointed out,
with some merit, that moving forward with ground troops could potentially
split the Alliance.
T h e frosty relationship between Clark and his superiors put the W h i t e
H o u s e in an awkward position. A senior W h i t e H o u s e official acknowl-
edged:

We didn't seek to adjudicate, because I think it would have been a serious


breach with General Shelton and Secretary Cohen, not too mention the chain
of command. We accepted that. But on the other hand, to be quite candid,
we also believed that there were a lot of things that General Clark was saying
that needed to be heard, and we were not sure Cohen and Shelton were allow-
ing them to be heard. So we didn't purely back-channel with Clark in the
sense of talking to him directly. We had ways, particularly through General
Ralston's [the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] connection with
Clark, to get a somewhat less contentious view of what was going on out there.

N A T O Secretary-General Solana spoke with U.S. officials in the run-up


to the summit. T h e good-natured former Spanish foreign minister was
widely regarded as pragmatic and effective, and his strong interpersonal
skills, political savvy, and center-left credentials made him an ideal candidate
to hold together N A T O ' s frequently divided membership. Ironically, as a
young Socialist politician in the 1980s, Solana had opposed Spain's entry
into N A T O . Solana was deeply concerned that General Clark would try to
50 * COLLISION COURSE

force the issue of ground troops to a head at the summit, opening a veritable
Pandora's box that could sunder Alliance unity when it was most needed.
U.S. officials assured Solana they would do their best to have Berger and
Secretary Cohen restrain Clark.
On April 17, just six days before the NATO Summit was set to convene, a
small group of U.S. National Security officials gathered in the White House
situation room. Secretary Albright, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger,
his deputy, James Steinberg, the vice president's national security advisor,
Leon Fuerth, Strobe Talbott, Jim Dobbins, and several others convened to
review the Alliance's objectives. Working from a paper drafted by Dobbins
the day before, the group agreed that there were four objectives on which
NATO "could not compromise": Yugoslav police and military forces had to
leave Kosovo; the Kosovar Albanian refugees had to be allowed to return;
international peacekeepers had to be deployed; and the province should
enjoy self-government, but not independence.
While the objectives seemed clear, how to achieve them was not. Berger
remained pessimistic about a ground invasion, fearing a long guerilla conflict
with the potential to be a military and political debacle. But to those who
knew him well there seemed to be a slight softening in his position. Indeed,
on April 13, President Clinton had met with congressional leaders at the
White House, and during the discussion he pointedly had not ruled out the
possibility of a ground attack. Leon Fuerth, whose boss, Al Gore, was gearing
up for a presidential run, was hostile to any decisions that would tilt the
United States toward the use of ground troops. As Fuerth commented, "I
advised the vice president that I thought the air campaign would prevail, and
that we should stick it out. He agreed. Of course the longer it went on, the
more vocal some people were becoming about the need to go to a ground
campaign, so we began to at least think through what a ground campaign
would look like without taking a decision to go forward with it." Fuerth
insisted that a more robust bombing campaign, including attacks on key in-
frastructure targets, would bring Milosevic to the negotiating table, and
avoid the need for a ground war. He remained convinced that Milosevic's
willingness to get out of the war would be linked to growing Yugoslav public
dissatisfaction and pressure from his own inner circle.
Others at the meeting, while acknowledging the risks of a ground war,
asked a simple question: What if air strikes didn't work? Albright was a
known hawk on the subject, and she had repeatedly weighed in favor of plan-
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 51

ning for ground troops. Jim Steinberg, the deputy national security advisor,
also suggested that moving ahead with planning was a reasonable first step.
Deputy Secretary of State Talbott argued that if their objectives truly could
not be compromised, they had to be willing to use all the means necessary
to secure those goals. This led to a discussion of putting forces into a "semip-
ermissive" environment, where Milosevic's forces were largely defeated but
ground forces were needed for mop-up operations. Once again the only con-
sensus was that intensified air attacks should be given time to work. Despite
the splits within the national security team, the ground troop option was
inexorably gathering steam, primarily because every other alternative seemed
so unattractive.
The imminent NATO Summit triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity.
On April 19, Foreign Minister Ivanov again lashed into NATO, calling the
air campaign a "total fiasco" and referring to a refugee problem that "did
not exist before March 24"the day the air campaign began. Later that day,
Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin spoke on the telephone for some forty-five
minutes, their first conversation since the bombing started. Clinton, in the
Oval Office, led off by noting that Kosovo was one of the greatest tests for
the Europe they had worked together to achieve. Clinton welcomed Cherno-
myrdin's appointment as special envoy and suggested that Deputy Secretary
of State Strobe Talbott engage as a counterpart to the Russian envoy.
Yeltsin was calm, but in a foul mood, claiming that the developments of
the previous weeks confirmed that the United States and NATO had "made
a big mistake," that Milosevic would never capitulate, and that "instead of
resolving the humanitarian problem, what has been achieved is a giant hu-
manitarian catastrophe." Yeltsin also argued that the anti-American and anti-
NATO sentiment in Russia was growing "like an avalanche," and that great
pressure was exerted on him to help Yugoslaviaparticularly since NATO
was seen as helping the Albanian fighters. Yeltsin insisted that Yugoslavia
would not accept a military mission, especially a NATO-led mission, and
suggested that "UN blue helmets" lead any peacekeeping effort.
Clinton, while trying not to anger Yeltsin, emphasized how difficult it was
for the Kosovar Albanians: "The Serb forces have burned all their villages,
buried them alive, raped children, and there is no way they will come back
without military protection." The U.S. president argued that NATO was the
only force capable of effectively disarming the KLA, and he tried to reassure
52 * COLLISION COURSE

Yeltsin that he would not approve going into Kosovo unless the mandate
included protecting the Serbs as well as the Albanians.
The Russian president suggested that Milosevic and a leader from the Al-
banian community needed to enter direct negotiations to end the war and
suggested that a bombing pause would demonstrate Clinton's statesmanship,
setting off some eye-rolling among the advisers listening to the call in the
Oval Office. Both men agreed to have Talbott fly to Europe to quickly meet
with Chernomyrdin, and Yeltsin closed the conversation by noting that the
Communists who wanted to send armaments and troops to Yugoslavia were
assailing him: "The Communists are calling for an unleashing of a European
and wo rid-wide war, and I am absolutely opposed to that."
In a cabinet meeting after the call, Clinton expressed his frustration on
the issue of ground troops. He felt painted into a political corner by his ini-
tial statement that he did "not intend to put our troops in Kosovo to fight a
war." Clinton testily noted to Sandy Berger that if he went ahead with
ground troops he would be seen as a liar, and if he did not, NATO might
lose the war. Clinton had berated Berger a number of times over the initial
disavowal of ground troops, although he had not questioned the wisdom of
such an approach at the time. Berger accepted the browbeating with weary
resignation.
Both General Shelton and Secretary of Defense Cohen made a pitch for
intensified air strikes and debated the merits of hitting the "rock and roll
bridge" in Belgrade where crowds frequently gathered to protest the air cam-
paign. Cohen argued that unless NATO was willing to strike such targets
with greater vigorand create greater psychological and military pressure on
the Yugoslavsit might well find that ground troops were the only option
left. In Brussels, General Clark acknowledged a fundamental split between
the United States and its European Allies: "The United States was increas-
ingly committed to the idea of strategic strikes, going after the heart of Milo-
sevic's power. The Europeans, or at least the French and a few others, were
more interested in limiting the strikes to Kosovo, trying to hit the ground
forces and avoiding actions that might antagonize or damage Serbia further."
At the end of the meeting, Clinton's temper had abated and he turned
surprisingly upbeat. "I happen to believe the air campaign will work. I may
be Pollyannaish, but I think it'll come out all right." The president also in-
sisted, "I don't want our successors to deal with this part of the world only
when there are problems there."
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 53

Despite the fact that the Pentagon now agreed some limited planning for
ground troops should take place within NATO, the split between the Penta-
gon and Clark on the issue of ground troops was growing worse. On April
19, Clark pushed General Shelton on ground troops, expressing his hope
that it would be an important behind-the-scenes topic of discussion at the
summit. Clark felt that the troops needed to start deploying by June 15,
and he emphasized that the issue would come up when he met at NATO
headquarters with Prime Minister Blair the next day. Clark also inquired as
to how he might contribute to discussions at the summit. According to
Clark, this led a seemingly shocked Shelton to ask, "You're not coming to
the summit are you?"
Clark had long been scheduled to attend the event and it was certainly no
secret. "Of course," replied Clark. "The SACEUR always comes to the sum-
mit, and besides if we are working the ground option behind the scenes, and
there's some selling to do."
"If that option is going to be sold, it will be sold by the president, not
you," responded Shelton.
A short time later, Solana called Clark, saying that he had heard from
Sandy Berger that Secretary Cohen was uncomfortable with him attending
the summit and felt that Clark was too busy to spare.
Clark noted the split over ground troops, but since Clark was a NATO
official as well as a U.S. military official, he had some latitude to go to the
summit if Solana supported his attendance. Clark told the NATO secretary-
general, "I feel I need to go."
Solana replied, "Then I will support your decision, and I will inform Sec-
retary Cohen."
Clark would later admit, "Because I was coming in my NATO capacity,
Washington did not feel it could simply order me not to attend. Had they
done so, I would have had no choice but to remain in Belgium."
Although Clark would indeed attend the summit, his chilly reception by
the Pentagon, and Shelton's alleged lack of awareness about Clark's plans,
were a clear indication of the depth of the estrangement. The Pentagon was
doing its best to isolate Clark and his calls for ground troops. Increasingly,
the two sides were simply talking and planning past each other, in what
Clark called the "continuation of almost two years of tension" with the sec-
retary of defense.
Foreign Minister Ivanov spoke with Secretary Albright shortly afterwards,
54 * COLLISION COURSE

and confusion over official travel schedules was also a problem in Moscow.
The Russian foreign minister was unsure about Chernomyrdin's travel plans
or even his exact diplomatic mandate. Ivanov expressed concern that Cher-
nomyrdin would be a loose cannon, answering only to Yeltsin and effectively
cutting the foreign ministry out of negotiations. Ivanov insisted that any ne-
gotiated settlement be worked out between him and Albright, leading some
State Department officials to joke afterwards that the Russian foreign minis-
ter was concerned that "Chernomyrdin would become his Holbrooke"a
reference to the strained relationship between Secretary Albright and the in-
dependent-minded Richard Holbrooke.
Holbrooke, still awaiting Senate confirmation as U.S. ambassador to the
United Nations, continued to work the phones from his home in New York
and weigh in on policy. He repeatedly argued the merits of sending a mes-
sage directly to President Milosevic through Greek intermediaries. Hol-
brooke recalled, "I wouldn't have been opposed to direct discussions with
Belgrade, but if talks weren't with Milosevic, they wouldn't have led any-
where." However, Secretary Albright saw no utility in such talks and was
concerned that Milosevic would view a direct overture as a sign of weakness.
There still had been no response to the letter U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia
Chris Hill had sent to Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic,
and the Department had discouraged other communications with lower-
level Yugoslav intermediaries whose credentials were weak. Given their deep-
seated personal rivalry, Albright was eager to keep Holbrooke out of the
process. The last thing she wanted was "Albright's war" to end in "Hol-
brooke's peace."
On April 20, Holbrooke informed Berger and Albright that he felt that
Milosevic had badly miscalculated: "His dreams for rejoining Europe as a
full-fledged and accepted member are now gone." As Holbrooke put it, Mi-
losevic now understood that he would never again be the man of Dayton "or
even be able to leave his country without fear of arrest. Milosevic must realize
that he has crossed an invisible line and cannot get back again." Fated to
spend the rest of his days isolated in Yugoslavia, "Milosevic," Holbrooke
maintained, "has pursued a policy in Kosovo that will cause the Albanians
the maximum pain in the short run, but doom him in the long-term."
Holbrooke maintained that if the administration wished "to avoid being
pushed by events into either defeat or invasion, the bombing must inten-
sifyand continue until the Serbs change their position, preferably by
PICKING UP THE PIECES * 55

changing their leader." While supporting preparations for a ground invasion,


Holbrooke expressed concern that it was "a step from which there may be no
exit." He insisted, "Our real goal, whether stated or not, must be a change in
the leadership in Yugoslavia. While there is no hard information that sug-
gests such an outcome, we should not preclude it." Holbrooke was also a
realist: "while Milosevic's departure from power is the optimum outcome,
policy must be based on the likelihood that he cannot be dislodged, at least
not in the timeframe we seek, and it therefore may become necessary to ne-
gotiate with his regime once again. Thus the current administration position
of remaining vague on the issue in public is correct."
Holbrooke made it known that he was no fan of talks with Russia. "While
we need to work closely with Moscow, it is a dream to think they will bail us
out. In fact, giving them a central role in a negotiation would probably back-
fire, because they would support compromises that would be unacceptable.
Our public rejection of these proposals could then increase the strain between
us. In short, we should keep in constant and close communication with Mos-
cow, but not let them become deeply involved in a serious negotiationfor
the sake of the U.S.-Russian relationship."
The agreement between Washington and London to update the assess-
ment planning for ground troops also encountered some difficulties in the
run up to the NATO Summit. The French had blocked an official effort to
bring the matter to a formal vote, and, in the words of a senior U.S. official,
"The French were strongly opposed to it, because they were scared to death
of their public reaction to talk of a ground invasion." U.S. National Security
Advisor Sandy Berger urged NATO Secretary-General Solana to move for-
ward with updating the assessment under his own authority, which he did.
This would allow both Clinton and Blair to point to the updating of ground
assessments, as well as intensification of the air campaign, as examples of
the Alliance's determination to prevail. Blair would secure an important step
toward ground troops; Clinton would buy more time for air power. General
Clark grudgingly admitted that the updated assessment was not "what I had
hoped for," but he did see it as a positive development. On April 21 Secre-
tary-General Solana told reporters that he had authorized NATO command-
ers to revise and update operational plans for a possible ground invasion of
Kosovo. While Solana continued to insist that air strikes would work, and
that NATO was still far from reaching a political decision to approve ground
forces, updating the assessment was only "common sense."
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3
CHAPTER

The Shuttle Begins

Fifty Candles for NATO


On April 21, President Clinton hosted a late dinner for Prime Minister Blair
at the White House. Blair and Clinton were meeting at a critical juncture,
because there were already starting to be substantial doubts about the cam-
paign. There were voices in the United States, including Senator John Mc-
Cain and others, pushing for a ground option, and a number of the
European countries were getting quite shaky. Blair had just spent several full
days at NATO headquarters, and had approached his visit to Belgium with
rolled up sleeves. A White House official, comparing his attitude to that of
a managerial expert, said Blair arrived ready to get to the root of the prob-
lems "like a McKinsie consultant." In his discussion with General Clark at
NATO headquarters, Blair had asked for assurances that the Alliance would
prevail in the conflict, and Clark had pushed for an accelerated planning and
deployment timetable for ground troops. Blair shared that conviction as he
arrived at the White House to discuss the issue with President Clinton.
Blair protested that NATO was not functioning as an effective military
force, expressed his frustration with the Alliance's committee approach to
waging war, and made the point "that this was clunky machinery that was
not operating on all cylinders." He was also irritated by the Alliance's public

57
58 * COLLISION COURSE

relations efforts, which he viewed as a disaster. Clinton agreed it was vital to


deliver the right message to the publicsomething not happening as
NATO's briefings continued to be dominated by discussions of collateral
damage.
The meeting occasionally turned testy as Blair tried to convince Clinton.
Blair's frustration aside, the British were convinced that if they could work
on the United States bilaterally, they could bring Washington along on the
issue of ground troops. A White House official observed, "Most of us
thought the ground troops issue would have been counterproductive at the
summit, although Blair clearly disagreed, but most of us agreed that we
needed a greater sense of conveying that we would do whatever it took to
win." Clinton did his best to placate Blair without signing off on a ground
war. Despite Blair's pleas, Clinton would not be pinned down. The U.S.
president agreed that losing was not an option for the Alliance, but contin-
ued to assert that potential planning for ground troops should be kept in
NATO channels and that more active air attacks could prevail. However,
administration officials such as Secretary Albright and, increasingly, Sandy
Berger, realized that if the air campaign did not achieve NATO's goals, the
use of a ground force might be unavoidable.
The meeting, while not resolving the ground troops issue, was key in nar-
rowing the gap in the rhetoric being used by both the United States and
Great Britain. Clinton and Blair agreed to put more operational resources
into headquarters and to have the Pentagon detail a more robust planning
staff to Brussels. It was agreed that the public affairs operation at NATO
would be bulked up with additional staff from the White House and else-
where. The two leaders developed a clear agenda for the summit, essentially
dividing up the list of other NATO leaders that they would meet with indi-
vidually, Blair half, Clinton half. The core strategy Clinton and Blair would
sell to their fellow leaders would consist of updating the ground troops as-
sessment, further stepping up air strikes, intensifying diplomacy, and more
aggressively dealing with the media. Sandy Berger explained, "At that meet-
ing both of them said to each other in effect, 'we cannot lose, no matter
what this takes. We have invested NATO's credibility. We have invested U.S.
credibility. We have invested British credibility, and we will do whatever it
takes.' It was an important collective judgment. Obviously you make that
judgment when you start, but it was clear that it was going to be a long haul,
and they took that posture into the summit meetings."
THE SHUTTLE BEGINS * 59

Later that evening, Vice President Gore's national security advisor, Leon
Fuerth, called Deputy Secretary of State Talbott. Apparently, Gore was eager
to engage directly with Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin. Fuerth, Tal-
bott, and Albright were all somewhat perplexed by the vice president's will-
ingness to take on high visibility negotiations with the potential to become
a major political liability. Not only could Gore find himself caught up in the
twists and turns of trying to work out a deal with Milosevic, the vice presi-
dent could also get caught in the middle of the increasingly unstable Russian
political situation.
The next day, April 22, Prime Minister Blair spoke with President Yeltsin
on the telephone. The Russian president argued, "Instead of pressuring Mi-
losevic you are strengthening his position. Instead of resolving the humani-
tarian problem, we are now dealing with a real humanitarian catastrophe."
Claiming that the two sides were "backsliding into a military confronta-
tion," Yeltsin declared a ground operation against Yugoslavia to be the "path
to abyss." Blair continued to publicly insist that there would be no bombing
pause and expressed his hope that Chernomyrdin could begin to turn Milo-
sevic around.
That same day, Viktor Chernomyrdin made his first visit to Belgrade as
Russia's special envoy, meeting with Milosevic and his advisors for more
than nine hours. Chernomyrdin felt the Yugoslav president was "calm and
purposeful. He was confident that he was right, he would win, NATO would
lose. His nation was supporting him, which was true at the time. There was
no opposition. Everybody was in harmony." Chernomyrdin must have had
few illusions that he could reach a quick peace agreement. Exploring the
broad parameters of a potential deal, he suggested that a peace agreement
would need to include the safe return of refugees, reconstruction and hu-
manitarian aid for Yugoslavia, resuming negotiations on Kosovo's political
status, the withdrawal of some Yugoslav forces, a pullback of NATO troops
from the Yugoslav border, and the insertion of a UN-authorized peacekeep-
ing force that included Russia. Milosevic said that he could accept some
watered-down and lightly armed peacekeeping force if it were under a UN
banner.
In Washington, President Clinton and key members of his national secur-
ity team met with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana the day before the
summit. Solana agreed that the gathering was perhaps the most important
meeting in NATO's history and that unity was paramount. Solana felt that
60 * COLLISION COURSE

reaching a final deal to end the war, particularly if it hinged on a UN Secur-


ity Council resolution, would be difficult.
As the conflict continued, the NATO ambassadors were vesting greater
and greater responsibility directly in Solana, allowing him to act without
formal votes. The allies consented to such an approach because it helped
them avoid making politically awkward and controversial public choices
about the war's conduct. Confronted with the high cost of losing, NATO
members realized that enhancing Solana's authority was a convenient way to
avoid the perils of micromanagement. Consequently, Solana carefully
avoided putting matters up for a formal vote before the NATO ambassadors
unless he was confident he had the necessary backing. The fact that NATO's
nineteen member states were largely comfortable handing the keys to So-
lanaincluding working directly on targeting with General Clarkspoke
volumes about the trust that Solana had engendered within the Alliance.
Clinton stressed that by increasing the tempo and intensity of the air cam-
paign, stepping up the diplomatic efforts, and tightening economic sanc-
tions, NATO would prevail, and Solana was certain the other Allies would
endorse such an approach because their political survival hung in balance.
Solana also agreed that General Clark should be given more latitude in pur-
suing key targets. Clinton and Berger made clear that they wanted Clark to
be fairly assertive in pushing the envelope for ground troop planning under
Solana's effort to update the assessments. Despite his intense frustration,
General Clark was gaining more authority to fight the war he wanted.
Toward the end of the meeting with Solana, Sandy Berger's pager sounded:
The news wires were reporting that Chernomyrdin had announced that Mi-
losevic was willing to accept a "UN-led" force in Kosovo. The information
set off a frenzy of activity and hand-wringing that Chernomyrdin, in collu-
sion with Belgrade, was trying to sell NATO a bad deal.
In Rose Garden comments to the press with Solana, President Clinton
quickly rejected Milosevic's offer of a UN-led contingent. He also edged a
careful rhetorical shade closer to the possible use of ground troops. When
asked if peacekeepers could be deployed without Milosevic's consent, Clin-
ton replied that it remained a hypothetical question, "but of course there are
scenarios under which that could occur." Clinton called the decision to up-
date the assessment "wise and prudent" and noted that Russia would be wel-
come to contribute peacekeeping troops. Further signaling the Alliance's
willingness to escalate the conflict, NATO fighters attacked Serb State televi-
THE SHUTTLE BEGINS * 61

sion transmission towers that same day in a step that had been long and
heatedly debated within the Alliance.
On Friday, April 23, 1999, in a nearly deserted downtown Washington,
D.C., forty-two heads of state gathered to mark the fiftieth anniversary of
the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Thousands of police cordoned off
the eerily quiet streets on a day when the federal government and several
Metro stops had been closed for the event. Although Russia and Belarus had
canceled their participation, twenty-three different partner countries at-
tended the summit, including all of the other thirteen former Soviet Re-
publics.
That morning, Secretary of Defense Cohen had breakfast with General
Clark, and he came with a clear message: Tone down the talk of ground
troops. Clark continued to press for beginning ground troop preparations by
May 1less than ten days away. Cohen was cool to the notion and, accord-
ing to Clark, expressed, "his conviction that we would eventually get a diplo-
matic settlement, though not without more intense air strikes." The NATO
commander assured the secretary of defense that he would not be a "skunk
at the picnic," but Cohen was hardly convinced. Clark continued to chafe
on the brakes being placed on his operation, and he felt that the resistance
he encountered from Washington "was like running on the loose sand of the
beach."
At the summit, Alliance leaders were eager to project a unified public
front to dispel the many reports of widening fissures within NATO. Gather-
ing at the same location, the Mellon Auditorium in downtown Washington,
where the NATO alliance was signed into existence fifty years before, Presi-
dent Clinton told the assembled heads of state that NATO would "not have
meaning in the twenty-first century if it permits the slaughter of innocents
on its doorstep." As leader after leader spoke, each was more robust than the
one who had gone before. NATO's three newest members, Hungary, Po-
land, and the Czech Republic, all took notably hawkish stances.
As National Security Advisor Berger recalled:

I think it was very important that the nineteen leaders of the Alliance sat
around a table and said to each other as leaders, "We will prevail. We will
succeed. We cannot fail." I think Alliance solidarity was almost unbreakable
after that. Because even those leaders under heavy domestic pressure had made
a face-to-face commitment to their fellow leadersand they were going to
have to ride it out.
62 * COLLISION COURSE

However, another White House official was more concerned by the rheto-
ric: "Propelled by Prime Minister Blair and his own speechwriters, President
Clinton began saying, 'We have to prevail,' and as soon as you say that, and
look at the instruments that are available, you had to look at a ground cam-
paign."
President Clinton also engaged in a series of side conversations with other
NATO leaders during the summit. Greek Prime Minister Simitis told Clin-
ton that Greece was willing to serve as an intermediary for possible negotia-
tions with Milosevic, and he expressed concern that both Macedonia and
Albania were in danger of economic collapse. Clinton suggested that there
was no harm in the Greeks opening channels to Milosevic as long as they
did not dilute NATO's demands, but the fear was that the Greeks were
under such intense domestic pressure to end the war that they would endorse
any deal. Simitis stressed that a ground campaign would be very difficult and
that Greek public opinion was unified against any such operation, but he
admitted that he would, "Never say 'never.' "
Clinton also spoke with French President Chirac, who spelled out his res-
ervations about a ground offensive, nervous about the impact it would have
in Russia and concerned that Russian public opinion and radical elements
within the Duma might force the Russians to intervene on the side of the
Serbs, creating an uncontrollable situation. While Clinton shared Chirac's
apprehensions about the situation in Russia, he argued that by supporting
the effort to update planning assessments for ground troops they could create
"healthy ambiguity" in Milosevic's mind and give a more intensive air cam-
paign time to succeed. Clinton agreed the Alliance needed to work with Rus-
sia, but not to the point of softening its demands. Clinton also pushed to
have the air campaign "go after what's important to Milosevic and his cro-
nies, as well as taking risks. If Milosevic believes he is losing resources and
military and financial support, he will turn." Clinton was splitting the poles
between the French and British positions on ground troops, and trying to
keep the irritation between the NATO capitals to a manageable level.
A number of important agreements emerged from the NATO Summit.
The Alliance consented to further intensify air attacks in the hope they
would make the use of ground forces unnecessary. Hungary announced that
it would allow its air bases to be used for strikes against Yugoslaviagiving
General Clark one more angle from which to bring pressure to bear. NATO
also announced an oil embargo against Yugoslavia, but the effort would
THE SHUTTLE BEGINS * 63

never gain traction in practice. There was also general agreement among the
leaders at the summit to step up diplomatic efforts; including involving Rus-
sia in what Secretary Albright called a "double magnet" strategy. The first
magnet would draw the Russians to NATO's position; the second magnet
would use Russian influence to attract the Yugoslavs to a deal. It was cloudy
how, and under whose aegis, such talks would move forward.
The Washington summit will also be enduringly remembered for the Alli-
ance's approval of a new strategic concept. The new approach emphasized
an important shift: NATO would expand its mission from one largely de-
fined by collective defense to embrace a much more sweeping mandate that
included dealing with global security challenges such as terrorism and the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Ironically, it was the ongoing
war in the skies over Yugoslavia that would be the first and sternest test of
this more expansive vision of NATO's place in the world.
The NATO leaders also spelled out their demands upon Belgrade with
the greatest level of specificity to that date, and the terms were a clear out-
growth of the earlier agreements between the foreign ministers:

A verifiable stop to all military action and the cessation of violence and
repression in Kosovo;
Withdrawal of military, police, and paramilitary forces;
Agreement to station an "international military presence" in Kosovo;
Unconditional return for all refugees; and,
Provision of "credible assurance" that a political framework agreement
would be established based on the Rambouillet accords.

While the communique was designed to demonstrate NATO's unity and


resolve, many perceived weakness where the Alliance had hoped to project
strength. Foremost, the word "all" did not appear next to the demand for
the withdrawal of Serb troops. Yugoslavia had some 40,000 troops stationed
in Kosovo between army, special police, and other security forcesroughly
twice prewar levels. Most reasoned that if a peace agreement allowed sub-
stantial Yugoslav forces to remain in Kosovo, refugees simply would not re-
turn. Further, if Yugoslav armed forces stayed in Kosovo, and the KLA
continued resistance, peacekeepers would be inserted in the middle of an
ongoing civil war.
The other piece of language in the summit declaration that drew consider-
64 COLLISION COURSE

able negative attention was the call for an "international security presence"
that did not demand that NATO lead such a force. Instead, NATO had
declared that it was "ready to form the core of such an international military
force" with contributions from non-NATO countries. To some, the lan-
guage sounded more like an offer than a demand. Lastly, the final provision
that Milosevic provide "credible assurance" that he was willing to work
toward a settlement of Kosovo political status led many to wonder what as-
surance Milosevic could provide that would be credible.
Concerns over communique language aside, NATO had passed the sum-
mit test. In a stark public spotlight, the Alliance had provided a united front,
agreed to more aggressive steps to prosecute the war, and redefined its strate-
gic aims. The summit also underscored the difficulties ahead. Milosevic
showed no signs of capitulating and many of those who had attended the
summit feared that the Alliance's resolvedriven by public dissatisfaction
with the air campaigncould still crack.

The Shuttle Shuffle


On Sunday, April 25, the last day of the NATO Summit, Strobe Talbott,
the deputy secretary of state and a notoriously early riser, dashed off a pre-
dawn note to Secretary Albright and National Security Advisor Sandy
Berger. "Chernomyrdin got virtually nothing in Belgrade. We haven't heard
anything out of either the Russians or the Yugoslavs that suggests Milosevic's
position has changed one whit." Talbott contended that Moscow's position
was "one of absolute desperation and utter simplicity; they'll say 'yes' to any-
thing as long as it has two results: an end to the bombing and their own
return to center-stage as peacemakers." While warning of the dangers of
being drawn into negotiations with the Russians over what they thought Mi-
losevic would be willing to accept, he felt that it was "barely imaginable that
we might actually be able to get the Russians on board with all, or almost
all, of our own objectives and definitions of success." Talbott argued that
talks with the Russians on Kosovo "could actually be worthwhile."
President Clinton spoke to President Yeltsin during a long telephone con-
versation later in the day. Clinton took the call in a holding room just off
the Mellon Auditorium. The timing of the Russian overture was no accident.
THE SHUTTLE BEGINS * 65

Moscow had clearly hoped that N A T O ' s unity would falter at the summit,
and when that had not happened Yeltsin lurched back into the fray.
"Yeltsin called C l i n t o n in a state of great agitation," Sandy Berger re-
called.

Yeltsin often had one point that he wanted to make and he would make it
over and over and over again. He wanted Chernomyrdin to come over the
next day to figure out how to stop the bombing. The president said he was
certainly willing to have Chernomyrdin come over and meet with himself and
Gore, but he reiterated that only Milosevic could stop the bombing and that
the best way for Yeltsin to get that accomplished was for him to exert whatever
influence he had on Milosevic. . . . The president was always concerned during
this period that Yeltsin was vulnerable. He tried to convince Yeltsin that the
sooner Russia came to the posture of putting pressure on Milosevic, the
sooner this would end.

A very energized Yeltsin took the lead. "I am calling on a Sunday, and
this is a traditional day off for us. But it is not a day off for you and m e . "
T h e Russian president insisted that Chernomyrdin had gotten Milosevic to
accept four of N A T O ' s five demands while he was in Belgrade, but he then
ticked off several points, including international reconstruction of Kosovo's
economy and an international peacekeeping force under U N auspices, that
did not match N A T O ' s terms. Yeltsin plunged on undeterred, and much of
the conversation took on the form of a monologue by the Russian president.
Yeltsin supported getting Deputy Secretary Talbott directly involved in
some of the technical aspects of talks but argued, " T h i s will not be enough,"
and urged that the larger political issues be dealt with in direct negotiations
between Vice President Gore and Chernomyrdin. Yeltsin suggested that the
effort would give Vice President Gore a chance to shine in the diplomatic
field, and produce a "good result" because both Gore and Chernomyrdin
knew each other well. Yeltsin also claimed that once N A T O suspended
bombing, there would be rapid progress on any outstanding issues, allowing
for a face-saving and equitable resolution of the "tragic situation." Clinton
was generally supportive but claimed that he could not make a c o m m i t m e n t
before discussing the issue with his national security team: "I think that we
should have Gore and C h e r n o m y r d i n talk on the p h o n e tomorrow, and
what I would like to do is to have Strobe Talbott fly to see Viktor Stepanov-
66 * COLLISION COURSE

ich [Chernomyrdin] Tuesday or tomorrow or whenever you want him to


"
go-
Yeltsin interrupted. "I thought that after today's conversation we can tell
the media that myself and President Clinton have found a common point of
view on how we can solve this problem together." Clinton demurred and
again suggested having Talbott fly to Moscow to meet with Chernomyrdin.
Talbott was an intriguing choice to take a lead role in the negotiations. As
a longtime Clinton friend who had served as the U.S. note taker for the
majority of one-on-one meetings between Clinton and Yeltsin, Talbott was
clearly a man who enjoyed the president's close confidence. But his long-
standing role in shaping the administration's Russia policy had made him a
polarizing figure in both Washington and Moscow. Many conservative crit-
ics claimed that the Clinton administrationand Talbott in particularhad
taken an overly "romantic" approach to dealing with Russia in the wake
of the Cold War, and his name had appeared prominently in a number of
commentaries asking who had "lost Russia." The themes of these polemics
were consistent: Clinton and his team were too soft to deal with Russia,
overly dependent on a personal relationship with Yeltsin, and eager to turn
a blind eye toward Moscow's official abuses, such as corruption.
Talbott was an unabashed and consistent advocate of U.S. engagement
with Russia and insisted, "I never lost sleep over the name-calling." He had
played a personal role in working with the Russians during the successful
effort to negotiate the nuclear disarmament of Belarus, Ukraine, and Ka-
zakhstan, discussions over NATO expansion, and earlier peace negotiations
in Bosnia. While the war in Kosovo was threatening to unravel Talbott's
strategy of patient interaction with Russia, he remained committed to the
escalating use of force against Belgrade.
Yeltsin was angered the talks were not being kicked to a higher level and
reminded Clinton of his government's restraint in not providing weapons to
the Yugoslavs. Clinton then addressed some of the specifics, suggesting that
the peacekeeping presence in Kosovo could be structured the same as the
existing force in Bosnia, where a strong NATO contingent incorporated Rus-
sian and other international troops. He maintained that the only force capa-
ble of effectively disarming the KLA was the United States, and that a
NATO presence would be instrumental in protecting Serb civilians. Clinton
stressed that refugees would never return if the Yugoslav military was still in
the province. The U.S. president also pushed back against the idea of a
THE SHUTTLE BEGINS * 67

bombing pause, saying that air strikes would only be suspended after Milo-
sevic had met the demands of the international community. Yeltsin sug-
gested that they would need to keep working on Milosevic as if they "were
converting him to another faith," but again emphasized that there were ele-
ments within his military eager to offer aid to Belgrade. "You know that I
am hearing concerns by our military who are talking about getting military
servicemen to go and help Milosevic. You know I have condemned this in
the strictest terms and convened my Security Council and said there should
be no talk about that. Any general that speaks of sending troops to help
Milosevic will be summarily dismissed." Yeltsin added that he had been
forced to sack a commander of a military district in the Russian Far East
who had been raising volunteers to help the Yugoslav forces; "All our law
enforcement agencies and ministries are strictly under my command and re-
port only to me. So there will be no surprises."
Clinton tried a number of times to break in, without much luck. Yeltsin
continued to stress the difficulty of the situation and how he was doing his
best to cooperate. Clinton, finally interjecting, complimented Yeltsin on his
energy and personal commitment to the diplomacy, but maintained that he
could not dispatch Gore until he had spoken with him.
Yeltsin reacted angrily. "Do not push Russia into this war. You know what
Russia is. You know how it is equipped. Don't push Russia into this."
"Wait a minute, Boris," Clinton cautioned, stressing that the European
Allies could not just "wake up in the morning" and read about a peace deal
in the newspaper.
Yeltsin bemoaned the intensity of the anti-American sentiment in Mos-
cow, and urged that Gore and Chernomyrdin meet quickly. Clinton stated
that he would dispatch Talbott to Moscow immediately and also discuss the
situation with Gore. In an oddly contemplative aside as they concluded their
conversation, Yeltsin observed, "I was more talkative than you."
"Yes," Clinton replied, "but we are going to do this."
Strobe Talbott and Leon Fuerth spoke with Clinton immediately after the
call. Clinton insisted that he was doing his best to protect the vice president,
and Fuerth replied that he was not sure how much protection Gore wanted.
Fuerth then phoned the vice president who was in Colorado for the funeral
of the students killed at the Columbine High School shooting, and Gore was
eager to engage the Russians. Clinton also seemed keen to put the process
into motion, hoping that it might provide a quick fix to mounting political
68 * COLLISION COURSE

problems. When Talbott and Fuerth briefed Secretary Albright and Secretary
of Defense Cohen on the conversation, Albright and Cohen were nervous.
The potential political liability for Gore was tremendous and both Cohen
and Albright were reluctant to see one of their superiors engage in direct
negotiations over which they would have limited control. Despite Yeltsin's
repeated push to have Gore take a lead, Clinton and his senior advisors ulti-
mately resisted; having Gore take on such a role at the onset of a presidential
campaign was too risky.
A senior diplomat commented on Yeltsin's reasoning: "Gore is your heir
apparent; Chernomyrdin is my heir apparent. They'll get together; they'll
make a peace deal. They'll both win a Nobel Prize, they'll both become pres-
ident and we'll all live happily ever after. That was Yeltsin's proposition. But
we don't do things that way." Instead, President Clinton and Secretary of
State Albright decided to dispatch Talbott and a number of senior U.S. mili-
tary advisors to Moscow that same evening.
Two of Talbott's aides had been standing outside the office where Clinton
had been on the telephone with Yeltsin when suddenly Talbott emerged "like
he had been shot out of a cannon." Without a word, Talbott hurried off in
what appeared to be the wrong direction.
"Strobe, where are you going?" his chief of staff, Phil Goldberg, called
out.
"Moscow," came the only reply.
Before his hurried departure, Talbott stopped by the Finnish ambassador's
residence in Washington to meet briefly with Finnish President Martti Ahti-
saari who was in town for the NATO Summit. Talbott knew that UN Secre-
tary-General Kofi Annan had been considering appointing Ahtisaari as a UN
envoy for the Balkans, but Ahtisaari was cool to the overture. The Finnish
president shared American concerns that Milosevic would "nickel and dime"
any UN mediator, and he showed little interest in the post. While the meet-
ing between the two men was largely uneventful, Talbott could not help but
be struck by Ahtisaari's resolve, and their brief encounter would soon prove
critical.
Talbott and a small delegation left for Moscow on a military plane from
Andrews Air Force base at ten o'clock that evening. As one of his staff re-
called, "It was quite a moment. Here the president of the United States and
the president of Russia just had a long conversation about a war in Europe
and Strobe was leaving that night on a presidential mission on the chairman
THE SHUTTLE BEGINS * 69

of the Joint Chief's designated airplane to go to Moscow." As it turned out,


the small delegation did not get the chairman's plane and took a C-20 in-
stead, and the plane ended up needing repairs during a refueling stop in
Iceland. Stuck with a long layover and scrambling to rearrange plans from
the tarmac, the diplomats were not off to an auspicious start. After a delay
of several hours, the team resumed its flight.
On Monday, April 26, Chernomyrdin and Gore spoke on the telephone
for over an hour. Much of the conversation was dominated by Gore reiterat-
ing the conditions that were spelled out by the NATO leaders at the summit,
with Chernomyrdin enthusiastic to engage in serious negotiations. Cherno-
myrdin wanted to sit down directly with Gore and indicated that he could
travel almost immediately to do so. The Russian envoy also emphasized that
one element would be key to any deal with Milosevic: Some Yugoslav troops
would need to stay behind in Kosovo. The two agreed to a face-to-face meet-
ing in Washington early in May after Talbott returned from Moscow. A
slightly bedraggled Talbott and his team arrived in Moscow that same day.
On April 27, Talbott met with Foreign Minister Ivanov, Deputy Foreign
Minister Mamedov, Special Envoy Boris Mayorsky, and several others at the
Russian foreign ministry. The quiet consensus within the U.S. delegation
was that the negotiations were largely for show, designed simply to buy more
time for bombing. Washington hoped to try and talk some reason with the
Russians, lower the rhetoric, and show the Europeans that they were pursu-
ing a diplomatic solution. Chernomyrdin continued to be the only direct
channel to Milosevic, and the Europeans continued to be concerned that
with day after day of bombing, there was no endgame in sight. One team
member put the matter of coalition management bluntly, "The Allies would
not hold firm on the bombing if the Americans did not take care of the
Russians."
Talbott spelled out the conditions established at the summit, and ex-
plained that his mission was to explore if the Russian and American positions
could be brought closer together. Foreign Minister Ivanov claimed that as a
result of Chernomyrdin's visit to Belgrade, Milosevic was willing to allow
refugees to return to Kosovo, but he felt that the province's political status
and the withdrawal of Serb forces were still sticking points. Ivanov was con-
cerned that NATO peacekeepers would be a Trojan Horse for establishing
long-term influence over the region, and noting what NATO had originally
sold as "interim" security arrangements in Bosnia appeared "destined to
70 * COLLISION COURSE

continue in perpetuity." Talbott countered that the West had little interest in
an independent Kosovo, a position that Ivanov hailed as "serious progress."
Not surprisingly, Ivanov also pushed for a bombing pause. Talbott said
that a pause would be impossible until Belgrade had agreed to NATO's de-
mands, adding, "Moscow needs to move beyond simply negotiating what it
thinks Belgrade is willing to accept." Ivanov claimed NATO's bombing had
shown no result, while Russia's diplomatic efforts were making progress, and
that no war ever ended itself. In comments to reporters after the meeting,
Ivanov took a hard line. "Put yourself in the place of the Yugoslav leaders,"
he said, "Would you allow the same people who destroyed your country to
carry out the peacekeeping operation?"
Talbott also spoke with Prime Minister Primakov on the telephone. Pri-
makov insisted that the United States had made a "grandiose and tragic
error. . . . The U.S. and NATO are mistaken if you think Milosevic will
capitulate. Each day of bombing raises the potential for negative results
which will render a peaceful resolution increasingly more elusive."
A short time later, Talbott met with Chernomyrdin in a session that
stretched for more than two hours. (Talbott, a good Russian speaker, usually
dispensed with the translation of Chernomyrdin's comments from Russian
to English, but would often have his own remarks translated back into Rus-
sian to ensure that no nuance of what he was saying was lost in what could
sometimes be very technical comments.) Chernomyrdin opened the meeting
by referring to his telephone call with Gore the day before. He felt there were
substantial areas of agreement between the United States and Russia but that
Milosevic's views also had to be taken into account. The special envoy's tone
was nonpolemical, and he said that earlier in the day he had told President
Yeltsin that he felt "a colossal amount of work" could produce an agreement.
He cited the issue of troop withdrawals as an example of the challenges be-
fore them. NATO wanted all the Serb forces out; Milosevic wanted substan-
tial number of troops to remain. A compromise was needed. He also cited
the composition of the peacekeeping force as another area where the sides
would have to meet halfway and sought to confirm that NATO was not
pushing to topple Milosevic.
Talbott pointed out that given Milosevic's long record of broken prom-
ises, continued military pressure was essential, but that NATO was neither
demanding Milosevic's ouster nor Kosovo's independence. However, the Al-
liance would cooperate with the UN International War Crimes Tribunal,
THE SHUTTLE BEGINS * 71

and that body might eventually indict Milosevic. Chernomyrdin wryly re-
plied that during his visit to Belgrade, he had heard that the Yugoslavs in-
tended to bring similar charges against NATO. The Russian envoy made his
pitch in folksy tones, as he argued that the "most important question" was
whether the Yugoslav government would be able "to do anything" in Ko-
sovo. "If the administration, police, border guards, law enforcement, and
government are all off-limits, what will remain of Yugoslav control of Ko-
sovowhen we agree that Kosovo should remain part of Yugoslav terri-
tory?"
Talbott responded, "One of the tragedies and disgraces of the situation is
that Yugoslavia under Milosevic has demonstrated that even when the inter-
national community wants to preserve national boundaries, states can still
fall apart with cruel and stupid leadership. At Rambouillet, it might have
been possible to leave some Serb border guards and some police and troops
in Kosovobut three quarters of all Kosovars have been driven from their
homes, and they will not go back if they have to fear a nocturnal knock on
the door by the Yugoslav army, police, or the guys with ski masks." Talbott
suggested that perhaps a small number of unarmed Yugoslav guards might
be allowed to remain at some historic sites.
Chernomyrdin argued that Kosovo risked becoming a permanent ward
of the international community. He took out a map, pointed to Kosovo's
mountainous terrain, and insisted the Serbs would wage a relentless guerilla
conflict against NATO, just as they had against the Nazis. He said that Rus-
sia had learned the same lesson in Chechnya and that it was wise to "never
trust the generals, even in a time of war."
In a one-on-one session with Talbott, Chernomyrdin confided:

I'll tell you frankly that I'm truly worried about Al's [Gore] participation in
Kosovo problem-solving, because it could either lift him to unprecedented
heights, or bring him downif not forever, then for a long time to come. For
this reason, I want him to make the choice for himself; I've not insisted on
Gore's participation as a condition for my own involvement. However, if it
worked, it would be a plus for Gore as a statesman. Since Russia is not partici-
pating in the conflict, I see no benefit for myself personally.

The Russian envoy argued that the real question facing them was, "Do
Russia and the U.S. drive Milosevic deeper and deeper into the corner, or
72 * COLLISION COURSE

do we give him a way out?" H e added, "It's precisely our sense of urgency
that led to the telephone call from President Yeltsin to Clinton, and it was
made at m y suggestion. I believe Al Gore and all other members of the U.S.
administration need to participate in the negotiating process because the
world c o m m u n i t y is awaiting results. I need to be equipped with the best
possible arguments on possible compromises. Specifically, Strobe, I need to
understand better the conditions for an end to bombing."
" T h e y are very simple, Viktor Stepanovich," Talbott replied, using the
Russian familiar form of Chernomyrdin's name. "Let me lay them out."

First, Belgrade must agree to an end to the repression and deportations and
expulsions it's carrying out in Kosovo; second, it must agree to withdraw all
its forces from Kosovoand that means police, army, and paramilitaries;
third, it must agree to the deployment of an international security presence
with NATO at its core; fourth, it must agree that the humanitarian organiza-
tions can come back; and, fifth, it must agree to a political process that will
establish autonomy. If Belgrade agreed to all this, unambiguously, and if we
saw, with our own eyes, that withdrawals had begun, then bombing could
stop.

Chernomyrdin jotted the conditions down and was eager for details. H o w
long would the Serbs be allotted for withdrawal? H o w would the process be
verified? W h a t form would Kosovo's new administrative and civil authority
take? H o w would events be sequenced? T h e Russians, reflecting Yugoslav
concerns, were very focused on disarming the KLA and discussing mecha-
nisms for protecting ethnic Serbs. Talbott agreed that these were vital ques-
tions and vowed to quickly get answers.
Stressing the difficulty of the issue for Belgrade, Chernomyrdin made a
pitch for having N A T O forces stationed in Albania and Macedoniabut
not in Kosovo. As Chernomyrdin put it, " T h e y would not have to be U.S.
forces, but rather perhaps Swedish, Russian, Ukrainian, and other nations.
Perhaps those N A T O countries that have been bombing could sort of hold
backyou know, in Albania and Macedoniaand others, Greece, Turkey,
perhaps, could be in the first wave that goes in."
" T h a t doesn't sound workable," said Talbott. " T h e initial stagethe first
wave, as you call itis going to be especially important, especially danger-
ous, and especially requiring of a robust, serious force. We can't have Bel-
THE SHUTTLE BEGINS * 73

grade's vetoing who takes part, especially because they'll be interested


precisely in weakening the force."
"Well Strobe, we have to be flexible. You have to help us here. We need
to find a compromisenot a compromise in the sense of a concession by
youbut in something that works with all parties."
"Viktor Stepanovich, let me be honest. We're beyond compromising with
Belgrade. We did give-and-take diplomacy for fourteen months, and he not
only didn't givehe used the diplomacy as a cover for killing people and
shelling villages and driving people out of their homes. We'll have an open,
back-and-forth conversation with you so that you'll understand where we
can be flexible and where we can't. But when it comes to Belgrade, we're
going to have to be very, very firm."
Chernomyrdin pointed out that Milosevic could also be stubborn, and
that it would be a disaster if NATO staggered into a ground war. Cherno-
myrdin agreed that he should put off seeing NATO Secretary-General So-
lana, and added that he wanted to give U.S. and Russian military experts
some time to hammer out some details of a potential agreement before again
traveling to Belgrade. He stressed that Milosevic was in total control, and
warned that the Serbs would welcome a ground war because it would result
in a "bloodbath." As the meeting with Chernomyrdin concluded, Talbott
was left with a distinct impression that Chernomyrdin viewed him as some-
thing of a "delivery boy," and was eager to open direct talks with Gore.
In communicating back to Washington to both Albright and Berger, Tal-
bott saw both positives and negatives from his round of talks in Moscow. On
the upside, neither Ivanov nor Chernomyrdin demanded a bombing pause as
a precondition for further talks, and both seemed more willing to accept the
logic of total Serb withdrawal. The deputy secretary felt that Chernomyrdin
and Ivanov had begun to seriously explore what exactly "NATO at the core"
would mean in practice.
Talbott's list of negatives stretched as long as the positives. He found the
Russians "cautious, modest, even pessimistic about being able to deliver Mi-
losevic," while being "apocalyptic about the consequences if the bombing
continues indefinitelyand cosmically so if NATO invades Yugoslavia."
There was also disorder within the ranks of the Russian government. As Tal-
bott described it, "The internalshall we say 'interagency'dynamics in
Moscow are nothing short of bizarre. Ivanov, whom I saw first, treated my
forthcoming meeting with Chernomyrdin as though it were a courtesy call
74 * COLLISION COURSE

on a distinguished former personage; Chernomyrdin barely referred to the


foreign minister or his ministry." These divisions would not soon disappear.
On April 27, General Clark conducted a news conference in Brussels.
Toward the end of the session, he fielded a question from John Dugberg of
the los Angeles Times about personnel and equipment losses being inflicted
upon the Yugoslav military. Clark replied that because Milosevic "is bringing
in reinforcements continually from the Second Army" the actual troop level
in Kosovo might actually be higher than at the beginning of the conflict "so
if you actually added up what's there . . . you might actually find out that he
has strengthened his forces."
Clark's statements led to a spate of negative stories in the U.S. press on
April 28 regarding the limited progress of the campaign and further infuri-
ated Secretary of Defense Cohen, who was already angered by Clark's will-
ingness to go directly to the national security staff to advance his policy
positions. At a White House meeting that day, Cohen went so far as to dis-
cuss potentially relieving Clark of his command in the middle of the air cam-
paign. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hugh Shelton, came to
Clark's defense and noted that such a move would widely be seen as a public
relations disaster. While Shelton's position won the day, he was told by
Cohen to read Clark the riot act regarding his media appearances. According
to Clark, Shelton called later in the day and told him, "Wes, at the White
House meeting today there was a lot of discussion about your press confer-
ence. The secretary of defense asked me to give you some verbatim guidance,
so here it is: 'Get your fucking face off the TV. No more briefings, period.
That's it.'"

The Peace Offensive

On April 28, Talbott traveled to Geneva, where he met with Russian Deputy
Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov during two long sessions, including a
dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel. The two men had a strong working
relationship and a genuine friendship. However, Mamedov again made clear
that he would not be a central player in the Kosovo diplomacy and would
only be available to do preview and wrap-up meetings on the margins of
negotiating sessions to informally cover "political issues." Mamedov saw
himself as providing a safety net for the discussions and professed with dark
THE SHUTTLE BEGINS * 75

humor that on certain issues the two sides were ultimately "doomed to
agree." He also complained, "NATO is a small, petty organization which
keeps Russia from having good relations with the other powers in Europe."
One of Talbott's delegation, Toria Nuland, inquired if Russia would sup-
port a UN Security Council resolution that authorized the use of force if
Milosevic ultimately refused to accept reasonable demands. Mamedov ob-
served that Russia might be willing to do so, but wanted to make sure that
any UN resolution "would include a specific commitment to suspend
NATO air strikes if Milosevic meets the conditions." Talbott expressed con-
cern that the Russians continued to feel there should be "no winners and no
losers" in the conflict, claiming such an approach placed Russia on the
wrong side of history.
There was some speculation within the U.S. team that a UN resolution
might help the Russians whether Milosevic accepted it or not. If Milosevic
signed on, Russia would be heralded as a peacemaker. If Milosevic resisted
and NATO kept bombing, it would make clear that Milosevic had no one
to blame but himself for turning down a fair peace. Mamedov pointed out
that political tensions in Moscow over Kosovo were running high and that
many factions did not want to see an accommodation. He argued that Rus-
sians felt increasingly isolated, with almost a siege mentality, as NATO
moved into the Balkans. The political climate that had made U.S.-Russian
cooperation possible in the past had shifted, with many new players now in
positions of power. Although the mood at the table grew edgy several times,
Talbott concluded the meeting by stressing that NATO could handle the
Kosovar Albanians if Russia could take care of Milosevic.
Talbott later said of Mamedov's efforts, "He gave me plenty of cautions
that there's no guarantee." Talbott saw the possibility of getting the Russians
on board with a UN resolution as a long shot. However, he also understood
that a UN resolution would have some benefits for Yeltsin's team in that it
would "trump their domestic opponents who are accusing them of impo-
tence" and arrest the dangerous decline in Russia's relations with West.
Talbott would describe Moscow's diplomatic efforts as "the Russian
equivalent of a Hail-Mary pass. I say: let's go for it, since the downside
while realis no greater than that of bulling ahead without at least one at-
tempt to play with the Russians." Talbott also saw intensive, high-visibility
diplomacy with the Russians useful for the United States in at least three
respects: It demonstrated NATO's interest in pursuing peace; it bought more
76 * COLLISION COURSE

time for bombing; and "it could create openings that will actually, at some
point, induce Belgrade to do the necessary." However, the deputy secretary
of state also understood that "the Russians will devote the coming days and
weeks to trying to lawyer us into interpreting our mantra on conditions so
leniently that we'll end up lowering the bar and letting Milosevic off with a
plea bargain."
Flying quickly from Geneva to Berlin, Talbott met with UN Secretary-
General Kofi Annan. Annan was preparing to head to Moscow and wanted
to compare notes with Talbott before his trip. Talbott suggested that while
Moscow was beginning to acknowledge the logic of NATO's demands, there
was no evidence that Milosevic was any closer to capitulating. The United
States wanted to make perfectly clear to Annan that NATO had to form the
core of any military force in Kosovo and that the United Nations would
not run the peacekeeping effort. Annan agreed, emphasizing that the United
Nations did not want to repeat the debacle of the UN Protection Force
(UNPROFOR) peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, where lightly armed inter-
national peacekeepers had been taken hostage by the Serbs.
While Annan said many of the things the United States wanted to hear,
he concluded the meeting by laying out what he called his "nightmare" sce-
nario, with Milosevic concluding that he was trapped and refusing to yield.
The conflict would then drag on through the summer and public support
for the war would begin to ebb. Would NATO then soften its conditions?
The secretary-general seemed to believe that Milosevic's resolve, or "ruthless-
ness quotient," was greater than that of the Alliance. Talbott insisted that the
only way to make sure Milosevic came to heel was by remaining firm.
As Annan arrived in Moscow on April 29, President Yeltsin reportedly
complained to a closed-door meeting of his national security advisors that
NATO no longer feared Russia. At the gathering, Yeltsin approved a new
security doctrine that emphasized beefing up thousands of tactical nuclear
weapons that had been unilaterally taken out of service earlier in the decade.
The Russians claimed that the move had nothing to do with Kosovo, but it
reflected growing anxiety over their declining international position.
Annan held a long series of meetings in Moscow with Ivanov, Yeltsin,
Primakov, and Chernomyrdin. Annan was pleased to find Yeltsin generally
alert and engaged; as the Russian president told him, "You and I together
can be invincible; we can end this thing." The secretary-general felt the Rus-
sians "all sang from the same hymnal" and underscored that despite Cherno-
THE SHUTTLE BEGINS * 77

myrdin's new role, Ivanov and the foreign ministry would have to sign off
on any deal.
The Russians repeatedly hammered home to Annan that the crisis could
only be resolved by a "political solution" and that military disaster was loom-
ing. They pitched hard for UN control of peacekeeping. Ivanov noted that
NATO troops would have to be involved and again floated the notion of
stationing Alliance troops in Macedonia and Albania with "nonaggressors"
deployed within Kosovo. Chernomyrdin announced that he would be mak-
ing his second visit to Belgrade the next dayApril 30and stressed that
the military presence would be among the key issues he would discuss with
Milosevic. Russian Prime Minister Primakov told the UN secretary-general
that the situation was defined by four "impossibilities": that Milosevic would
capitulate; that the peacekeeping force be led by NATO; that negotiations
could succeed while bombing continued; and that Kosovo could be turned
into an international protectorate.
Later that evening, Secretary-General Annan flew to London, where he
again met with Deputy Secretary Talbott. The two men met in Annan's
hotel room; it was crowded with staff members, several sitting perched on
his bed. The Russians had made some progress with Annan, and he was trou-
bled by the repeated assertions that Milosevic would not capitulate. The UN
secretary-general floated the idea of a potential bombing pause, relaying Iva-
nov's proposal for a gesture of goodwill with a two-day break to pave the
way for intensive negotiations. Talbott summarized Annan's view: "NATO
will have to yield on some key points and make substantive concessions to
Milosevic. Why? Because Milosevic is meaner and tougher than NATO; he's
more stubborn; he's more willing to inflict death and destruction on his own
citizens and soldiersnot to mention on his enemies, on the Kosovo Alba-
nians and on his neighborsthan we are."
Talbott pointed out that the Russians had not raised the issue of a bomb-
ing pause with him and expressed his hoped that the Russians were not try-
ing to play the United Nations against NATOwhich they were. The two
men then decided they should have a more private conversation, and the
staffers dutifully trundled out of the hotel room.
Annan insisted that while the Russians were good negotiators, they were
poorly positioned to serve as intermediaries in dealing with Kosovo. The UN
secretary-general wanted to strengthen the role for potential UN special en-
voys in resolving the crisis, an appeal that was anathema to the United States
78 * COLLISION COURSE

and Great Britain because both knew that Annan was eager to compromise.
After kicking around the names of several possible envoys, Talbott expressed
his displeasure that the secretary-general had made a number of statements
that commentators were interpreting as an equal condemnation of both Mi-
losevic and NATO. Annan insisted that his remarks had been misconstrued
but warned that NATO bombing could create a "humanitarian crisis on a
vast scale whose victims will be the Serbs." Annan pleaded with the United
States to leave the United Nations some room to maintain its institutional
integrity and independence.
On April 29, Gore and Chernomyrdin spoke briefly the telephone. Cher-
nomyrdin would visit the United States to meet with Gore on the heels of his
next trip to Belgrade. Ivanov and Albright spoke shortly after. In yet another
troubling sign of the communication gaps within the Russian government,
Ivanov maintained that he could not comment on Chernomyrdin's discus-
sion with Gore because he had not been briefed. He did acknowledge that
Chernomyrdin would attempt to get clarification from Milosevic on three
issues: the withdrawal of Serb forces, the creation of conditions that would
allow refugees to return, and the establishment of an international military
and civilian presence in Kosovo. Albright feared that Chernomyrdin would
again announce some type of sham agreement with Milosevic while in Bel-
grade and then insist that NATO stop bombing. She told Ivanov that while
she supported a political settlement, any agreement that did not meet
NATO's bottom lines would be a dead letter, "We will not stop bombing
just on the basis of promises from Milosevic." Ivanov decried, "Serbia is
being destroyed by this one-way bombing," which led Albright to point to
the terror Milosevic was inflicting on the Kosovars.
April 30 brought a curious carnival of diplomatic activity to Belgrade, and
signaled a renewed effort by Milosevic to launch a "peace offensive" to rattle
Alliance unity. The Reverend Jesse Jackson and an entourage that included
a U.S. Congressman of Serbian descent from Chicago, Rod Blagojevich (D-
IL), Landrum Boiling of the Conflict Management Group, and numerous
religious leaders arrived in the Yugoslav capital to plead with President Slo-
bodan Milosevic to release three American servicemen who had been taken
prisoner by Serb forces on the Kosovo-Macedonia border on March 31. The
Clinton administration had actively discouraged Jackson from making the
pilgrimage, nervous that Milosevic would manipulate the visit for propa-
ganda purposes. These concerns were reinforced as Jackson told reporters
that he was eager to "break the cycle of violence," and that "in the end we
THE SHUTTLE BEGINS * 79

may be able to talk it out and not fight it out." Despite entreaties from Na-
tional Security Advisor Sandy Berger to call off the trip, Jackson went ahead,
leaving Berger furious.
The first meeting between Jackson's entourage and Milosevic stretched
for more than three hours, with Milosevic complaining that the United
States had forgotten that the Serbs had stood with the Allies against Hitler
in World War II. Milosevic also outlined a proposal for bombing to stop
concurrently with other steps to end the war. Milosevic was widely known in
diplomatic circles for his ability to charm Westerners, speaking fluent, albeit
ungrammatical, English and saying exactly what his visitors usually wanted
to hear. Jackson and Milosevic also took a private walk in the Yugoslav presi-
dent's garden. At the end of the meeting, in a moment verging on the surreal,
Jackson grasped Milosevic's hand and led the group in prayer, as he urged
the Yugoslav president to release the three soldiers as "a bold diplomatic
move."
Jackson's visit was emblematic of the larger challenge facing NATO, as
growing numbers of envoys, both official and self-appointed, trekked to Bel-
grade. Just as the airspace over Moscow was growing crowded with diplo-
mats, the same was true for the Yugoslav capital. Belarusian President
Alexander Lukashenko, Chernomyrdin, Orthodox churchmen, members of
the U.S. Congress, representatives from the United Nations, Jesse Jackson,
and other religious leaders were all rushing to Belgrade to offer their own
solution to the war. "Envoy envy" reached a fever pitch. Milosevic was being
presented with new negotiators and new peace plans almost every day, giving
him more opportunities to exploit.
As Jackson visited Belgrade on April 30, so did Chernomyrdin. Milosevic
presented the Russian envoy with his own peace proposal that would allow
Kosovo "autonomy," while insisting that NATO forces had to pull back
from Yugoslav borders. Chernomyrdin, frustrated, asked Milosevic sharply,
"Do you really think you can win this war?"
"No," Milosevic replied. He also made clear that he did not intend to
lose; a stalemate would serve him fine. He argued that no one had van-
quished the Yugoslavs in 400 years. "Let them just try now; let them just try
to stick their noses in here. A ground operation will definitely fail." Russian
officials would later claim that in these early discussions Milosevic seemed
eager for NATO to initiate ground operations because it would allow his
forces an opportunity to inflict casualties and shake Western confidence. A
80 * COLLISION COURSE

senior W h i t e House official asserted that while many critics felt that N A T O ' s
initial decision to take ground troops off the table created a certain "sanctu-
ary" for Milosevic:

There was an equally credible argument, and the intelligence supported it,
that there was nothing that Milosevic wanted more than to get us in a ground
war, because they could start killing Americans when he couldn't in the air
campaign. While there was a clear recognition of the value of the psychology
of the threat of ground troops, we put much more emphasis on the notion
that Milosevic wanted to drag us in, fight us on his own terms and nothing
would please him more.

T h e meetings between Milosevic and C h e r n o m y r d i n again stretched


some nine hours, and upon returning to Moscow the next day the Russian
envoy observed, "Belgrade shows constructive intentions, which can become
a basis for further progress." However, noting the considerable gulf between
the positions of Russia and N A T O , Chernomyrdin acknowledged, " W e con-
sider the situation to be far from simple." In yet another sign of increasing
regional tensions, a Russian plane carrying "humanitarian assistance" from
Moscow to Belgrade was turned away as neighbor states refused to grant the
Russian flight an air corridor.
In an interview with United Press International on April 30, Milosevic
made clear that he was in no hurry to accept demands. T h e Yugoslav presi-
dent sounded like of some of the Western critics of the N A T O operation
when he said, "America is a great country and Americans are great people.
But your leaders are not strategic thinkers . . . They said let's b o m b Yugosla-
via and then figure out what to do next." Milosevic, admitting, " W e are not
angels," claimed that the N A T O effort was part of a larger plot to, "reestab-
lish U.S. leadership in N A T O in the p o s t - C o l d War era." Milosevic main-
tained, "Rambouillet was not a negotiation. It was a Clinton administration
diktat. It wasn't take it or leave it. Just take it or else." Asked if he would
accept a U N peacekeeping force, he replied, "Yes, but no army," and stressed
that peacekeepers should have " n o offensive weapons. We cannot accept any-
thing that looks like an occupation." Asked his version of a reasonable com-
promise he replied, "First of all, cessation of all military activities. Second,
simultaneity between the withdrawal of N A T O troops now concentrated on
our borders in Albania and Macedonia, on the one hand, and the decrease
THE SHUTTLE BEGINS * 81

of our own troops in Kosovo from their present level of 100,000 to the nor-
mal garrison strength of between 11,000 and 12,000."
Milosevic suggested that European countries that were not members of
NATO, such as Ireland, would be acceptable peacekeepers, as would be Rus-
sia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Milosevic was convinced he could get a better deal
than NATO had put on the table at the summit, and he was direct: "You
are not willing to sacrifice lives to achieve our surrender. But we are willing
to die to defend our rights as a sovereign independent nation."
In a surprise move on May 1, President Milosevic announced the release
of the three captured American servicemen to Jesse Jackson's delegation.
This led Jackson to plead for Yugoslavia to receive "a night of peace from
the bombs." Jackson also urged that talks to end the war commence immedi-
ately. President Clinton spoke with Jackson after he had secured the release
of the prisoners, and Jackson urged Clinton to speak on the telephone with
Milosevic. However, the U.S. national security team pushed back hard
against the idea, arguing that it was more important than ever that the Alli-
ance hold firm in the face of Milosevic's public relations effort. Ultimately
Clinton and Milosevic only exchanged rather formulaic letters, while Jackson
was able to bask in the publicity of his unlikely diplomatic success.
NATO officials quickly made clear that the release of the three soldiers
would not influence the air campaign. Shortly after Jackson left Belgrade,
the Alliance launched one of its heaviest days of attack on Yugoslavia since
the conflict had begun. Strikes on power facilities and other infrastructure
targets cast large swaths of the country into darkness. This was part of a
strategy to widen the bombing and bring the costs of the war home both to
Milosevic's inner circle and the people of Serbia. With a touch of swagger
NATO officials proclaimed to now have a "finger on the light switch in Yu-
goslavia."
The strategy was not without risk. As Yugoslavia's citizens struggled to
cope with a lack of water, power, and other basic amenities, concerns were
mounting in Western capitals that NATO's bombing strategy was in viola-
tion of international law. Lacking UN authority for the bombing campaign,
many commentators argued that any NATO bombingmuch less high alti-
tude attacks against urban areaswas a violation of international norms. To
counter these claims, NATO officials continued to insist that they were act-
ing as a collective of nations, guided by the NATO charter, to help stem
egregious and widespread human rights abuses by the Yugoslav government.
82 * COLLISION COURSE

The contest between the rights of sovereign states to be protected against


unilateral interventions and the rights of individuals to be protected by the
international community against the abuses of their own governments re-
mains a contentious and ambiguous area within international law, and one
in which Kosovo shed more heat than light.
In a welcome sign of Alliance unity, French President Chirac declared in
a nationally televised address to the people of France, "One can have no faith
today in the Belgrade authorities; with all conscience, as far as I'm con-
cerned, I see no reason to change strategy." The Alliance was scraping
through yet another peace offensive by Milosevic.
On May 2, Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Ivanov spoke on the
telephone. Chernomyrdin was slated to arrive in Washington for talks with
Gore the next day. Ivanov claimed Chernomyrdin would arrive with a pro-
posal from President Yeltsin that "could lead to substantial progress." The
two also discussed a draft UN Security Council resolution that would be
considered by the G-8, although Albright insisted there was no point in con-
vening the G-8 foreign ministers to discuss the matter unless they had a cred-
ible document from which to work.
Vice President Gore also made clear to Chernomyrdin before the latter
came to Washington that the continuation of the hostilities would make it
increasingly difficult for the international community to maintain Yugosla-
via's unity. In raw terms, if Milosevic continued to resist, a ground war and
an independent Kosovo might inevitably follow.
4
CHAPTER

The Dog Days of Spring

Hammer and Anvil


Viktor Chernomyrdin arrived in Washington on May 3 with succinct orders
from Yeltsin: Find a way to end the bombing. Talbott and the Russian Am-
bassador to the United States, Yuri Ushakov, greeted the Russian envoy at
Andrews Air Force Base. Upon touching down, Chernomyrdin told report-
ers that it was time "to take the step to dramatic diplomacy from bloody,
protracted war." During the drive to the White House, the conversation be-
tween Chernomyrdin and Talbott was dominated by the Russian envoy's
impressions of his visit to Belgrade. Milosevic seemed willing to accept some
form of military force in Kosovo but did not want the operation dominated
by NATO.
Chernomyrdin brought Moscow's latest peace proposal: On an agreed-
upon day, Belgrade would announce the start of a withdrawal of its forces
from Kosovo and NATO would suspend air strikes and provide guarantees
that it would not commence ground operations. Kofi Annan would then
promptly fly to Belgrade to work out the text of a UN Security Council
resolution, and then the Yugoslavs, Annan, and Chernomyrdin would hold
negotiations. After a UN Security Council resolution was adopted, NATO's
military operation would officially terminate and a UN peacekeeping force
would be deployed. There was little appeal in Yeltsin's plan, but the Russians
were notorious for starting negotiations with a low bid.

83
84 * COLLISION COURSE

At the White House, Chernomyrdin held a one-on-one meeting with


Vice President Gore and then went into an Oval Office meeting with Presi-
dent Clinton, Gore, and other members of the national security team. Cher-
nomyrdin was invited to continue discussions with Gore at the vice
president's residence that evening, along with Sandy Berger and Leon
Fuerth. Secretary Albright was unable to attend because the president was
hosting a state dinner for Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, so Talbott
was sent from the dinner to the meeting as Albright's proxy; he arrived in-
congruously attired in his black tuxedo and purple bow tie.
Gore and Chernomyrdin had known each other for more than five years,
and there was a genuine sense of friendship between the two. Gore's Na-
tional Security Advisor Leon Fuerth commented on the relationship: "It was
always first rate, and this is the point. Gore and Chernomyrdin never B.S.'ed
each other and they each knew it. Chernomyrdin, to the extent that anyone
can be, especially in his circumstances, was faithful to his commitments once
he made them."
Although sharing a certain bond, the style of the two men starkly con-
trasted. "Al is not the big bear hug kind of a guy," a senior U.S. official
observed, "He is not the kind of guy you throw back shots of vodka with."
Where Gore could be almost didactic, the Russian envoy was an earthy man,
sometimes coarse, and not shy about using profanity or drinking during the
talks. Chernomyrdin was gregarious, but his bouts of temper could come
suddenly, and his ruddy face was that of a man of considerable appetites.
Chernomyrdin had a Ph.D. in engineering and had worked as an operator
and unit chief at the Orsk oil refinery before later going on to head the min-
ister of the gas industry for the USSR and later Russia. In his manner, he
had never fully shed the roughneck feel of the oil and gas business.
There were growing tensions within Gore's staff about how best to deal
with the Russians. Gore himself had fundamentally soured on Russia at some
point, and recognized that the frequent corruption charges leveled at Mos-
cow were a political liability. While still favoring general cooperation with
Russia, Gore had a real wariness because the situation in the Balkans was
uncertain and the political season was heating up.
Sitting at a broad table, Leon Fuerth, Sandy Berger, and Strobe Talbott
flanked Gore. Russian Ambassador Ushakov and Boris Ivanovsky, an advisor
to Chernomyrdin from the Russian foreign ministry, sat on either side of
Chernomyrdin. As he drew diverging lines on a piece of paper, the vice presi-
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 85

dent argued, "We're at a fork in the road. This first way lies bombing, con-
tinued and accelerated. However, if the Yugoslav president took the other
fork, he might maintain some sovereignty over Kosovo and benefit from
long-term assistance to the region."
Gore's National Security Advisor Leon Fuerth emphasized, "Chernomyr-
din laid out the case for terminating the war on conditions less strenuous
than the ones NATO had laid down, and he hit these points hard. I think it
was his intention to see if he could shake the United States in its support for
the NATO demands. Gore's response was detailed point for point, analyzing
how the Russian proposal would create a situation less secure than the
NATO proposals. I believe that Gore's response convinced Chernomyrdin
that there was not very much room for bargaining about the terms. I also
believe that the prior relationship between Gore and Chernomyrdin acceler-
ated that conclusion, because they knew each other well enough that Cher-
nomyrdin understood when he was in the presence of an absolute bottom
line being presented by the vice president, as indeed he was."
Chernomyrdin made a pitch for bringing a neutral international figure
into the diplomatic efforts who could accompany him on his next trip to
Belgrade. He asserted that Moscow, because of the intense domestic outrage
over NATO's offensive, did not want to be seen "accepting Milosevic's
sword." Introducing a third party would provide President Yeltsin with
much-needed political cover, and having someone who could represent
NATO's views would speed a possible settlement. Chernomyrdin suggested
that Kofi Annan might play such a role. Under his scenario, Chernomyrdin
would push Milosevic as far as Russia realistically could, with the neutral
international figure more decisively making NATO's case. This would help
Yeltsin avoid any appearance that he was betraying Yugoslavia while helping
move the process toward a peaceful conclusion. Annan had been attempting
to get a foot in the door of the diplomatic process for some time, and he
would likely be receptive to the proposal.
The lack of enthusiasm for Annan among the U.S. negotiators was imme-
diately apparent, and Gore explained in no uncertain terms why NATO did
not want Annan in such a role. Gore flatly stated that Annan would not be
given a hand in negotiating the terms under which NATO's air campaign
would be terminated. The fear was that UN involvement would dilute
NATO's demands upon Belgradethe exact reason the strategy appealed to
the Russians. As the group snacked on finger food, much of the discussion
86 # COLLISION COURSE

continued to center on how to move peace talks forward, and under whose
auspices such negotiations would take place.
The session wore on for over two hours, and the group agreed to recon-
vene the next morning. As the Clinton administration officials made their
way out to their waiting cars, Deputy Secretary of State Talbott suggested to
Sandy Berger that Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari might make an ideal
candidate for the type of "neutral" figure that Chernomyrdin wanted to
bring in to the negotiations. Talbott was convinced that the Finn would be
as tough as any NATO representative in dealing with Milosevic. Berger
agreed that the Finnish president might fit the bill.
On May 4, Secretary Albright, who later joined the breakfast meeting
with Chernomyrdin, spoke with the UN secretary-general. She told Annan
that Chernomyrdin continued to push for direct negotiations between Milo-
sevic and Annan during a NATO bombing pause, but made clear her prefer-
ence that the UN's involvement in the diplomacy be limited to the passage
of a Security Council resolution. Annan agreed that he should not travel to
Belgrade. Albright also expressed her concern with some of the names being
considered by the secretary-general as UN envoys, and the relationship be-
tween the two continued to erode under the strains of the air campaign.
Annan felt that Albright's approach was irrational in light of the situation on
the ground, while Albright was concerned that Annan favored peace at any
cost.
A short time later, Chernomyrdin joined Vice President Gore, Berger,
Albright, and Fuerth at Gore's residence at the Naval Observatory for an
hour-long breakfast meeting over muffins and juice. Chernomyrdin again
suggested that it would be helpful to bring a third party into the diplomacy.
Gore and the others were cautiously receptive to the idea because it would
give the diplomatic dialogue a broader patina of impartiality at a time when
NATO was eager to gain international supportas long as the third party
was not the UN.
Secretary Albright suggested Finland's president, Martti Ahtisaari, as a
third party to the talks between Russia and the United States to end the war
in Kosovo, just as Berger and Talbott had discussed the night before. The
reaction from Chernomyrdin was sharp and immediate. He loudly slapped
his hand upon the table and exclaimed "Vot!That's it." For the first time
during their meetings, Chernomyrdin's beefy face was animated by the hope
of a breakthrough.
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 87

Chernomyrdin approved of Ahtisaari, as did his superiors in Moscow. A


new, unusual, and untested process of trilateral diplomacy had been born.
For one of the few times during the more than eight weeks of bombing to
that point, the United States and Russia had found common ground. As
Talbott accompanied Chernomyrdin on his ride back out to Andrews Air
Force Base, the Russian envoy was fixated on Ahtisaari's potential role, and
he wanted the Finnish president to accompany him on a mission to Belgrade
as soon as possible.
Ahtisaari was well qualified for the unique role. The sixty-one-year-old
president had long been an advocate of engagement with Russia, and because
Finland was a neutral non-NATO country, it lent Ahtisaari an important
voice of independence. The Russians were comfortable with Ahtisaari, and
the Finns in general, because they were geographic neighbors and longtime
political familiars. Indeed, the small town in Finland where Ahtisaari had
been born became part of the Soviet Union at the conclusion of World War
II. Chernomyrdin effused that he was "delighted" by the choice. "Ahtisaari
was very convenient to me. We are neighbors, he is a charming person, a
good politician, and it was a pleasure to work with him." Ahtisaari had met
Chernomyrdin several times when he was prime minister, but he did not
know him well.
Ahtisaari also had a growing reputation as a peacemaker. He had been a
career diplomat before ascending to the Finnish presidency and had a proven
record of accomplishment in dealing with difficult negotiations in earlier
jobs with the United Nations. The former schoolteacher had spent thirteen
years heading the UN effort that led to peaceful independence for Namibia.
His experience as the chief of the UN's Bosnia task force in 1992 and 1993
deeply shaped his views toward the Balkans, and the Serb hostage-taking of
peacekeepers and the slaughter at Srebrenica powerfully formed his percep-
tion that the international community needed to act with resolve in dealing
with Milosevic. Ahtisaari did not make his first foray into politics until
1994when he returned from a peacemaking mission in Yugoslavia and
won the presidency despite having never held elective office. Ahtisaari also
enjoyed the benefit of having strong ties to the European Union, with the
Finns scheduled to come into the rotating presidency of that body in July.
His inclusion in the negotiations would allow the EU to feel like it had a
seat at the tablewhile keeping the negotiating process free of extraneous
players.
88 * COLLISION COURSE

From the U.S. perspective, Ahtisaari was also ideal. Albright, Berger, and
Talbott had confidence that the Finnish president would present NATO's
conditions to Milosevic with clarity and resolve. President Ahtisaari would
become an integral part of the diplomatic effort to end the war in a strategy
Sandy Berger dubbed the "hammer and anvil." Ahtisaari would serve as the
anvil, setting out NATO's demands of Yugoslavia. Chernomyrdin would be
the hammerdriving home that Russia would no longer be able to protect
Milosevic.
It was envisaged that if they ever traveled jointly to Belgrade, Chernomyr-
din and Ahtisaari would not necessarily deliver identical messages in identical
tones. Instead, the Clinton administration hoped that it would be able to get
the Russians to take positions that were not contradictory to NATO's, with
Ahtisaari filling in the details. Chernomyrdin's mere presence at the table
would show Milosevic that he could no longer play Russia off against the
Alliance. Ideally, in the end, Ahtisaari would be the one to take Milosevic's
sword, the Russians would be granted a role in KFOR, and the horrors of a
ground war would be avoided. However, the expectations of success for the
trilateral talks were low.
Talbott immediately contacted President Ahtisaari to see if he was inter-
ested in taking on the mission. Talbott said that their conversation needed
to take place in "invisible ink" and that if the Finnish president declined,
the "phone call never took place." Ahtisaari was enthusiastic in his own de-
liberate way. As he put it, the task was "difficult enough to interest me," but
he and Talbott both agreed, "they would not bet any of their own money"
on its prospects for success.
The Finnish president felt that the diplomacy was designed to demon-
strate Washington's seriousness about peace before being forced to move
ahead with a ground war. "The failure of my effort would show to the world
that Milosevic was a hopeless case. If I were to fail, the only remaining option
would be a military one." In this sense, Ahtisaari viewed himself as some-
thing of a "sacrificial lamb" charged with determining if Milosevic would
accept a peace, but he added, "I had made the decision not to run for re-
election, so it was fairly easy for me to be of assistance."
Ahtisaari welcomed the involvement of the Russians in the diplomatic
effort, since they were the only ones who had maintained a close dialogue
with Belgrade. He was also pleased that Chernomyrdin was a direct represen-
tative of Yeltsin and felt that because the Russian envoy was a man of inde-
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 89

pendent financial means, he would be far less vulnerable to political pressure


from the Duma or the public. Acknowledging that Chernomyrdin would
largely mirror Milosevic's interests, Ahtisaari used an old Finnish saying in
justifying his diplomatic effort: "Trying to catch a salmon is always worth-
whilewhether you catch it or not."
Secretary Albright soon spoke with the UN secretary-general about Ahti-
saari's role, and Annan's reaction was lukewarm, understanding that the pro-
posal was, in part, a deliberate effort to freeze him out of the diplomacy.
Despite Annan and Albright's mutual mistrust, the secretary-general eventu-
ally offered his reluctant support. Albright also approached the German gov-
ernmentwhich held the rotating presidency of the European Union until
the end of Juneto bless Ahtisaari's involvement from a EU perspective.
The Germans were cautiously supportive but also wanted to make sure that
a meeting of the G-8 foreign ministers would still be held in Bonn several
days later to keep the Russians engaged. The Germans felt that otherwise
frustration on the diplomatic front would continue to grow and spur a con-
tinuing pilgrimage of diplomats to Moscow.
Talbott spoke with Chernomyrdin on the telephone during the morning
of May 6. The Russian was excited, thinking in grand strokes, and he wanted
to get the trilateral diplomacy moving. He suggested that Milosevic would
accept a peace deal as long as he could maintain his hold on the Yugoslav
presidency. However, a dispute about how best to structure Ahtisaari's
involvement quickly bubbled up, with Chernomyrdin wanting the Finnish
president to immediately join him on a trip to Belgrade, but Talbott prefer-
ring that Ahtisaari accompany Chernomyrdin only on a "climactic and
breakthrough visit" to Belgrade. Talbott urged Chernomyrdin to speak di-
rectly with Ahtisaari. The United States did not want Ahtisaari to engage in
a long series of shuttle missions, and felt that some of the differences with
Moscow on the military elements of a peace agreement needed to be resolved
before a joint trip to Belgrade.
Immediately after that call, Talbott phoned Ahtisaari and stressed that it
would only make sense for Ahtisaari to travel with Chernomyrdin to Bel-
grade once the United States and Russia had come closer to agreement. In
what turned out to be a major communication lapse, the Finnish president
expressed surprise that anyone had expected him to accompany Chernomyr-
din to the Yugoslav capital as part of the process. Talbott explained Cherno-
myrdin's theory that the Russians wanted Milosevic to turn his sword over
90 * COLLISION COURSE

to a neutral figure. Ahtisaari wanted more time to think about a potential


trip to Belgrade and stressed that he did not want to end up playing "Sancho
Panza to Chernomyrdin's Don Quixote."
In Finland, President Ahtisaari called the U.S. ambassador to Finland,
Eric Edelman, to the presidential palace to further discuss the situation. Edel-
man had formerly served as Deputy Secretary Talbott's chief of staff, and the
two enjoyed a close working relationship. Ahtisaari was concerned with several
operational considerations. "If we fly together into Belgrade would there be a
bombing pause for a day?" He also noted that he did not want to fly to Bel-
grade on the same plane with Chernomyrdin, and told Ambassador Edelman
that he had begun to make practical arrangements "to fly with my own team
of experts." Ahtisaari felt that the agenda for negotiations needed to be "care-
fully agreed beforehand. Otherwise there is too much opportunity for mis-
chief making." He also sensed that timing would be critical. "I think two
weeks from today would be about the earliest one could contemplate travel,
certainly not before the end of next week. The timing should be determined
by real opportunity. We should not force the pace." Ahtisaari saw two possi-
bilities: "One is that the Russians pave the way and then I go in and accept
his pistol, as it were. The other possibility is that I go somehow to verify that
what the Russians have gotten Milosevic to agree to is consistent with the
terms agreed to by the Russians, the EU, the UN, and NATO. Either way, it
seems to make more sense to go after Chernomyrdin has been to Belgrade."
Ahtisaari then stepped out to take a call from Chernomyrdin, who de-
clared, "your quiet life as president of Finland is now over, you will be taking
on an important new task for all humanity." Chernomyrdin said that he was
prepared to travel to Helsinki as soon as the next day to hold talks with the
Finnish president, but Ahtisaari wanted to push the visit off until May 13
after Talbott had a chance for another round of talks with the Russians. Ahti-
saari then suggested that perhaps the best thing would be to hold a three-
way meetingTalbott, Ahtisaari, and Chernomyrdin"to make sure we all
see eye-to-eye."
Chernomyrdin was not pleased by the schedule: "Time is running out.
We must get NATO to stop the bombing. It is not important to argue about
how the war started, but rather it is important to end it." Eventually, Cher-
nomyrdin agreed to travel to Helsinki six days later on May 12. Ahtisaari's
decision to travel to Belgrade only when Russia and NATO had closed some
of their outstanding differences was pivotal, and it would shape the course
of the diplomacy for weeks to follow. Talbott, Ahtisaari, and Chernomyrdin
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 91

would need to engage in intensive talks before any joint mission to Belgrade
could be launched.

A Bad Day for NATO

In Moscow, President Yeltsin's erratic behavior was again the focus of atten-
tion after he offered rambling and barely coherent remarks on the war at a
Kremlin awards ceremony on May 6: "No onejust let Clinton, a little bit,
accidentally, send a missile. We'll answer immediately." Yeltsin continued,
"We don't want . . . such impudence! To unleash a war on a sovereign state.
Without Security Council. Without United Nations. It could only be possi-
ble in a time of barbarism." The next day at a wreath-laying ceremony, Yelt-
sin would stumble and nearly fall before being steadied by Defense Minister
Sergeyev.
On May 6, while the private lines of diplomacy were buzzing between
Washington, Moscow, and Helsinki, the public focus was on Bonn as the
G-8 foreign ministersrepresenting the seven leading industrialized nations
and Russiaattempted to forge a statement of conditions for ending the
crisis to which they could collectively agree, just as NATO had done at its
summit. German foreign ministry officials had been particularly keen on the
gathering, wanting to keep the Russians engaged while limiting their grow-
ing domestic political fallout from the war. However, Secretary Albright had
warned her foreign counterparts, "While putting an end to this, we need to
be very careful about how we do so." It was her view that "there are some
who want to end this no matter what." The Clinton administration was
hopeful that the negotiations between Chernomyrdin, Ahtisaari, and Talbott
would ultimately be the mechanism that allowed NATO to move from the
generalities expressed by the G-8 to the specifics that would allow Cherno-
myrdin and Ahtisaari to make their joint trip to Belgrade.
The G-8 ministers issued a statement detailing their "general principles
on the political solution to the Kosovo crisis," but the communique was the
lowest common denominator between Russia and the West. There was still
considerable work to be done in bridging the gulf between their positions.
The statement called for:

An immediate end to violence and repression in Kosovo;


The safe return of refugees;
92 * COLLISION COURSE

Withdrawal of military, police, and paramilitary forces from Kosovo;


The deployment of an "effective international civil and security presences,
endorsed and adopted by the United Nations, capable of guaranteeing
the achievement of the common objectives";
The establishment of an interim UN administration for Kosovo; and,
A "political process towards the establishment of an interim political
framework agreement providing for a substantial self-government for
Kosovo; taking full account of the Rambouillet accords and the princi-
ples of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia and the other countries of the region, and the demilitariza-
tion of the KLA."

The joint statement led many observers to question whether NATO was
softening its demands. The word "all" was still not attached to the call for
Yugoslav troop withdrawals and NATO was not designated as the leader of
the peacekeeping force, largely because Foreign Minister Ivanov refused to
sign any document granting NATO a primary role without agreement from
Milosevic. Worse still for those who feared the Alliance was going wobbly,
the statement called for the international civil and security presence in Ko-
sovo to be "endorsed and adopted" by the UN. Similarly, the language on
the process to be pursued in determining Kosovo's final political status was
so open-ended that it could mean almost anything. While there was obvious
utility in having the G-8 ministers express agreement, no matter how vague,
the communique fueled disquiet that NATO was looking for an easy way
out.
The G-8 statement reflected its reality: a document drafted by committee
to meet the political and tactical needs of both the respective G-7 members
and Russia. NATO wanted to pull Russia more closely to its demands as part
of its double magnet strategy; Russia wanted to be seen as a major diplomatic
player on the world stage. After the agreement was announced, Foreign Min-
ister Ivanov declared, "The situation is, at long last, back in the UN frame-
work." As Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Steinberg noted, "The
Russian people don't have an abiding affection for the Serbs. The one thing
that the Russians cared about, and it was a constant during the administra-
tion, was being involved. They want a role; they want to be a partner."
The G-8 ministers' meeting played out against the larger backdrop of a
visit by President Clinton to meet with German Chancellor Schroeder on
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 93

that same day. Clinton had been making a short swing through Germany
and Belgium to shore up the allies, bring attention the plight of refugees,
and show support for U.S. troops. After a great deal of discussion on the
importance of shoring up Macedonia and Albania with both financial and
rhetorical support, Schroeder got to the bottom line: "Where are we going
on Kosovo?" He wanted to know what would happen if Russian support for
a UN Security Council resolution and a NATO peacekeeping force did not
materialize: "Then what?"
Clinton struck an optimistic note, "We have had nineteen countries mov-
ing in the same direction. Considering that everyone has their own con-
straints . . . it has worked very well." Clinton cited Alliance unity as one
reason he was "much more cautious than Tony Blair in talking ground
troops, even though I think it is a good way to keep Milosevic off balance."
The U.S. president also stressed that NATO needed to get ready for winter,
both in terms of potentially caring for refugees and by preparing "to intro-
duce ground troops, if we determine that the risks are acceptablethe risks
to Alliance solidarity, to our relationship with Russia, and, of course, to the
troops themselves." As Clinton observed, "We will have to make some very
hard decisions for October within the next four to five weeks. If this is not
resolved in the next month, we will have some very tough choices to make."
The day before, General Clark had briefed President Clinton on the military
situation, and the NATO commander continued to push hard for robust
military measures ranging from putting Apache attack helicopters in action
to pushing forward with ground troop planning.
Schroeder offered no illusions about the German view of ground troops,
"This will be difficult for us, even impossible for us." While sympathetic to
Schroeder's political difficulties with the ground option, Clinton felt that
winter would inflict a devastating toll on both Kosovar Albanians and on
NATO itself. "If we fail to plan for this, and then people starve and freeze,
that is one thing that would break support for what we are doing." In almost
desperate tones, Michael Steiner, a diplomatic advisor to Schroeder, noted
that winter was long off, but the "problem of Alliance unity will be upon us
well before that."
As if to highlight Steiner's words, the NATO Alliance was dealt a pro-
found setback to its military and diplomatic goals only a day later. Late in
the evening on May 7just one day after the G-8 ministers had stood in
unity to issue a joint statementNATO launched an attack on what it
94 * COLLISION COURSE

thought was the Yugoslav federal arms procurement headquarters. Instead,


missiles slammed into the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Three Chinese citi-
zens were killed instantly and another twenty wounded in what the govern-
ment in Beijing quickly assailed as a "barbaric action" and a "war crime."
Coverage of the incident dominated media around the globe. President Clin-
ton offered his "profound condolences," while Pentagon spokesman Ken
Bacon was left to comment, "There is no such thing as clean combat." For
a variety of reasons, the Chinese refused to believe the attack was accidental.
The British newspaper the Guardian subsequently alleged that the NATO
attack was deliberate and that the Chinese embassy had been used to trans-
mit Yugoslav military communications; both NATO and the Chinese
strongly denied the respective claims. Chinese outrage at the bombing
quickly manifested itself in organized demonstrations at the American em-
bassy in Beijing that briefly turned the U.S. ambassador and his staff into
virtual hostages among a sea of angry Chinese protestors.
The embassy incident sent shock waves through NATO foreign ministries
and resulted in a temporary ban on air strikes against downtown Belgrade.
It also came only two days after NATO had suffered its first fatalities of the
conflict when a U.S. Apache helicopter crashed in Albania during a training
mission. For a dangerous moment it looked like the will of the Alliance to
prosecute the war against Milosevic might be unraveled by a deadly mistake
allegedly caused by a CIA planner using an outdated map. Secretary-General
Annan spoke with National Security Advisor Berger and claimed that he was
not backing away from supporting NATO's demands, but that he would
have to be very hard-nosed and tough in his public statements about the air
strike. Berger understood and the conversation went as well as could be ex-
pected. Pundits and commentators blistered the conduct of NATO's cam-
paign with renewed vigor.
NATO's decision to revisit targeting proceduresincluding temporarily
taking Belgrade off the target gridand widespread concerns within the Al-
liance about the drift of the campaign led both the Yugoslavs and Russians to
believe that the West's unity was near the breaking point. That perception,
combined with intense Russian anger over the incident, further chilled diplo-
matic efforts. Talbott admitted of the talks with Russia at that point, "I was
expecting the whole thing to fall in on itself." Both Foreign Minister Igor
Ivanov and special envoy Chernomyrdin knew that, for the moment, they
could not be seen as engaging in diplomacy with the West. Tactically, they
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 95

also hoped that the campaign might crumble under the increasingly critical
weight of Western public opinion. Moscow quickly dispatched Chernomyr-
din to Beijing for emergency consultations with the Chinese, and his com-
ments on the embassy bombing were unusually understated: "I don't think
it will lead to anything good."
The response to the embassy incident within NATO, other than some
obvious hand-wringing, was stalwart. While wanting to avoid such costly
and embarrassing mistakes in the future, sentiment for abandoning the air
campaign did not gather steam at NATO. President Clinton and French
President Chirac spoke in the immediate aftermath of the embassy bombing,
and American officials were enormously relieved that Chirac had been
"tough as nails." Although still opposed to a ground invasion, the French
president said that NATO needed to show "moral backbone" and that "the
air strikes must continue" until Milosevic capitulated. The Alliance had
painfully come to understand the necessity of fortitude.
Milosevic, hoping to capitalize on the fallout from the embassy strike,
announced a "partial withdrawal" of his forces from Kosovo on May 10.
However, the pullout amounted to little more than several busloads of Yugo-
slav soldiers being dropped off at the border with Serbia in a photo opportu-
nity. Milosevic also met with a former UN special envoy for the Balkans,
Yasushi Akashi, in Belgrade and discussed a willingness to accept a lightly
armed peacekeeping force in the province. NATO made clear the bombing
would continue.
On May 11, General Clark briefed the NATO ambassadors in Brussels
on the status of the military campaign. All the ambassadors were concerned
about the embassy incident, but Clark assured them that he had put in place
new checks to avoid another such mishap. Clark was undeterred, and he
explained that his highest priority remained attacking Yugoslav forces in Ko-
sovo while pursuing the Milosevic regime at the strategic level. He wanted
NATO to intensify its attacks with more planes, targets, and resourcefulness.
While all the ambassadors expressed support for the air campaign, and even
its intensification, there was a steady undercurrent of unease in the room
about both collateral damage and what some perceived as unwillingness by
Clark to take political direction. As German Ambassador Joachim Bitterlich
argued, "The longer the air war lasts the more our political leaders need to
know where we are."
The urge by political leaders to micromanage the air war was persistent,
96 * COLLISION COURSE

but Clark stated flatly that he took his direction from the ambassadors and
that he would rely on them to tell him if he was "over the top." Clark con-
tinued to bristle at the many restraints he faced, as he grumbled to the assem-
bly, "I can make the campaign as ineffective as you want it to be, as long as
it does not endanger the lives of airmen." Clark also emphatically argued
that NATO "should not sanctuarize Belgrade." Despite the embassy inci-
dent, the Pentagon made clear to Clark that he "should hit Milosevic very
hard" for the next several weeks in an effort to break his will. As Clark ex-
plained, "We kept up the tempo, striking air defense, air fields, bridges, mili-
tary facilities, radio relay sites, and petroleum facilities throughout Serbia.
We just needed a fallback, a guarantee. That was the ground plan."
Behind the scenes, Clark and his staff continued to debate the best plans
for ground operations. Clark had explored a number of options for the use
of ground troops, ranging from utilizing invasion routes through the plains
of Hungary with some 200,000 troops to seize Belgrade and topple Milo-
sevic to a far more modest effort using a much smaller force that would carve
out safe havens for refugees within Kosovo. The central question facing
Clark and his staff as they updated the NATO ground assessment was
whether to direct forces solely against Kosovo or to march all the way to
Belgrade. Moving against Belgrade would allow ground troops to cross far
better terrain in Serbia and strike directly at Milosevic's "center of grav-
ity"an approach grounded in traditional military doctrine and the use of
decisive force. However, the political fallout from such a major operation
would be far more severe and the potential for the Serbs to wage a lengthy
insurgency operation in the streets of Belgrade was a serious concern. Clark
knew that whatever choice he made had to be well thought out or it would
be "ripped apart by various factions in Washington."
Even from his initial effort, Clark began to lean toward the middle, want-
ing to "seize and secure Kosovo" but not Belgrade, in a plan that came to be
called "Option B-." Using 175,000 NATO troops largely staged from Alba-
nia and Macedonia, B- would drive all of Milosevic's forces from Kosovo in
what was anticipated to be a month-long heavy offensive. This challenging
military task would be hard to sell politically.
With the aftershocks of the Chinese embassy bombing still reverberating,
the State Department continued to wrestle with the possibility of opening
diplomatic back channels to Belgrade. On May 11, Landrum Boilingthe
head of a humanitarian organization who had traveled with Jesse Jackson to
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 97

Belgrade as part of the effort to get the three U.S. servicemen releasedmet
with Secretary Albright in Washington. Boiling was the senior European rep-
resentative for Mercy Corps International, a relief group headquartered in
Oregon. Boiling had been stationed in Belgrade as a war correspondent in
the last year of World War II and had long been involved in humanitarian
efforts in the region.
Boiling made clear that he had no desire to meddle in Albright's work
and that he only sought to be helpful. Boiling had held a number of discus-
sions during the previous three months, and particularly during his three
days in Belgrade, with a Yugoslav official by the name of Bogljub Karic, who
wanted to serve as a diplomatic intermediary with the West. Karic was a
longtime Milosevic ally and close to his politically powerful wife, Mirjana
(Mira) Markovic. Karic was the chief money manager for the Yugoslav re-
gime, the deputy prime minister for privatization, and came from one of that
country's richest families. Karic had approached Boiling several times, both
before and after the bombing started, and said he wanted to pursue direct,
but informal, talks between United States and Yugoslav officials. "Why do
we need the Russians and Germans? It is the U.S. that counts."
Karic insisted that Milosevic was ready to strike a peace deal largely along
the lines of the terms spelled out by NATO. However, Karic stressed that
Milosevic felt very strongly about several points. First, he would not surren-
der Yugoslav claims of sovereignty over Kosovo. Second, he would insist that
there was some uniformed, armed Yugoslav presence in Kosovo after a settle-
ment. Lastly, he would not withdraw all of, or even a majority of, the Yugo-
slav forces from the province before the bombing stopped, but he would
agree to some mutually acceptable agreement for ending the violence. Karic
suggested that Milosevic would push hard for minimizing NATO participa-
tion in peacekeeping, but in the end he would accept a substantial peace-
keeping force that included contingents from Russia, a few neutral countries,
and a minority NATO presence. Karic said that Milosevic wanted him to
head a small team that would visit the United States to meet with "highly-
placed" officials to as a precursor to direct official talks. Karic, while insisting
that he was no fan of Milosevic, pronounced, "There is now no alternative.
He's the one you have to make peace with, and he's ready."
Boiling made clear that he had no way of evaluating the seriousness of
Karic's offer. Karic had frequently put out feelers to public and private fig-
ures in the West. To some, Karic suggested that he was willing to lead the
98 * COLLISION COURSE

opposition to unseat Milosevic. To others, such as Boiling, he claimed he


wanted to open a negotiating track for Milosevic. Clinton administration
officials assumed Karic was simply hedging his bets to position himself no
matter what happened to Milosevic. Karic did not carry much credibility
with Washington, but as a member of Milosevic's inner circle, his entreaties
were treated seriously. If nothing else, Washington reasoned that Karic might
provide insight into the state of thinking in Belgrade. Ultimately, Albright
decided that Bob Gelbard, a senior Balkans advisor at the State Department,
should explore Karic's offer.

Primakov Felled

On May 11, Strobe Talbott and a small delegation of officials arrived in


Moscow. That evening, Talbott dined at the American ambassador's resi-
dence with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov. The
atmosphere for diplomacy in Moscow was difficult, said Mamedov. "The
environment has gotten a lot worse over the last four days, and the United
States has to turn things around." Mamedov noted that the "substance alone
was hard enough" and that the G-8 meeting in Bonn had made clear that
significant differences remained between Russia and the West. The preim-
peachment environment in Moscow was getting hot, at the same time Yelt-
sin-Primakov relations were deteriorating.
Chernomyrdin had been concerned that he was being labeled as "too
close to NATO" after his meeting with Gore in Washington, and he had
turned the tables on Ivanov by claiming the foreign minister had caved in to
NATO at the G-8 meeting. The bombing of the Chinese embassy had also
provoked the Chinese to more aggressively insert themselves into the situa-
tion, leading some in Moscow to propose that Russia and China jointly give
NATO an ultimatum to end the bombing. French Foreign Minister Hubert
Vedrine had been in Moscow to lay the groundwork for a visit from French
President Chirac, and Mamedov said he had been tough and uncompromis-
ing, essentially telling the Russians that they could either be part of the solu-
tion or "get out of the way." The Russians had hoped for a more
accommodating line from both Paris and Bonn and were taken aback that
the embassy bombing had not opened more meaningful divisions within the
Alliance.
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 99

There were concerns that President Yeltsin was on the verge of pulling the
plug on the Chernomyrdin track and distancing Russia from the Kosovo
diplomacy entirely. Suddenly it seemed that securing a breakthrough was less
important than keeping the process, and Chernomyrdin's involvement in it,
alive. Mamedov felt that the United States needed to demonstrate that it was
making a credible diplomatic effort and not just throwing up a "smokescreen
for more bombing." Mamedov also left Talbott with a rather ominous im-
pression that further Russian political upheaval was afoot.
The next day, May 12, Talbott met with both Chernomyrdin and Ivanov
in separate meetings. At the same time, U.S. military officials traveling with
the deputy secretary began negotiations with their Russian counterparts on
the military aspects of any peace agreement. Three-star Air Force Gen. Rob-
ert "Doc" Foglesong, an assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, was the lead military official accompanying Talbott, and he huddled
with a Russian delegation headed by Russian Gen. Leonid Ivashov that
morning.
Generals Foglesong and Ivashov were a study in contrasts. Foglesong was
tall, angular, and athletic, a marathoner who kept himself in trim physical
shape. Laconic in a western way, his laid-back demeanor masked a sharp
intellect. Thoughtful, hardworking, and with the slight swagger of a lifelong
fighter jock, Foglesong was a practical man. He had logged more than thirty-
four hundred hours flying F-15s, F-I6s, A-10s, and other aircraft, and he
had even made several bombing runs over Yugoslavia during the war. Having
worked closely with both Secretary Albright and other State Department of-
ficials, the general was comfortable with the interworkings of U.S. diplo-
macy.
General Ivashov, on the other hand, was a throwback. A political general,
his temperament was often that of an old-time Soviet military commissar. A
heavy smoker, Ivashov's uniform often seemed a poor fit for his bulky frame.
He was an unrepentant Communist Party hard-liner, with deep ties into the
Russian intelligence hierarchy. Ivashov viewed the demise of the Soviet
Union with anger and frustration that often burned uncomfortably bright,
and he was the Russian intelligence community's senior operative directly
involved in the Kosovo negotiations.
As chief of the main directorate of the Ministry of Defense's Directorate
for International Cooperation, Ivashov oversaw much of the ministry's
involvement in key foreign policy issues such as arms control negotiations
100 * COLLISION COURSE

and foreign weapons sales. Heavy-set, with receding dark hair, the heavy-
browed and articulate Ivashov was nationalistic and deeply suspicious of the
West. He had been one of the people pushing hardest to suspend all military
ties to the West in the days following the onset of the bombing. Diplomats
and military officials posted in Moscow frequently referred to Ivashov, only
half joking, as "Evil-shov" and "Darth Vader." His anti-Western rhetoric
was florid and his preferred style of negotiating was brinkmanship. Ivashov
had grown hard-line as his career progressed, in large part because of the
decline of the Russian military. Ivashov was a popular figure in Moscow and
adroit at maneuvering within the Russian bureaucracy.
Three issues were at the heart of the military talks between Generals
Foglesong and Ivashov: what would it take to get the bombing stopped, the
scope of Serb military and police withdrawal, and the composition and com-
mand structure of the potential peacekeeping force. The U.S. team was ada-
mant that air strikes would only be suspended when Milosevic met all of
NATO's conditions. The Russian officers stressed that the peacekeeping op-
eration had to be led by the United Nations and that the core NATO powers
not be given a prominent role on the ground.
U.S. Brig. Gen. George Casey, who had been assigned to Talbott's team
from the policy staff of the Pentagon, had also worked closely with General
Clark's staff and his superiors back at the Pentagon to make sure that there
was a clear understanding within the U.S. military as to its "redlines" with
regard to the negotiations with the Russians. General Clark weighed in on
the negotiation via e-mail saying he wanted "a genuine Serb withdrawal,
total and fast, with no holding on to northern Kosovo. No compromise on
NATO command and control of the force (the Russians could send in forces
with the United States, as they had done in Bosnia.) No border controls by
Serbs over refugee return."
A participant in the first meeting between Foglesong and Ivashov ob-
served of the session, "It was professional, correct, and largely pro forma.
Ivashov was trying to do as little as possible with what he had been ordered
to do. General Foglesong was very good. He was nonconfrontational and he
did not take the bait. As we tried to work through the conceptual ideas, it
became very clear that there was little agreement about what should happen
and what should be included. So Foglesong flipped it around, and we began
to mutually define things that we did not want the operation to be. It was
more of a reductive process; that was the only way we could get started."
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 101

As their sessions progressed, General Ivashov made clear to Foglesong that


he would need further direction from his political superiors before they
could move forward. In more than ten hours of talks over two days, the
U.S. team also saw some warning signs. There were fifteen to twenty Russian
officials aligned on one side of the table for the discussions, about an even
mix between Russian military and civilian representatives. "At the end of the
second day, we get up and everybody shakes hands and we are about to walk
out," recalled a U.S. negotiator, "and the Russian foreign ministry guys start
introducing themselves to their counterparts from the Russian department
of international cooperation at the defense ministry. As screwed up as our
own interagency process can be, at least we have one."
As Talbott met with Chernomyrdin, the Russian envoy remained in a dif-
ficult spot, eager to be the man to deliver a peace deal but acutely aware of
the political risks of being seen as selling out to NATO. Chernomyrdin had
dined with German Chancellor Schroeder several days before, and the Rus-
sian envoy was clearly taken aback by Schroeder's uncompromising posture
and continuing commitment to the air war. Chernomyrdin once again sug-
gested that NATO pause bombing and commence intensive negotiations
with Belgrade. The Russian envoy acknowledged that such a plan was not
ideal, and would leave Milosevic with considerable leverage, but he saw it as
the best of a series of bad options. Chernomyrdin was also eager to travel
with Ahtisaari to Belgrade.
The Russian envoy objected to the demand for full withdrawal of Serb
forces, and Chernomyrdin's advisor from the foreign ministry, Boris Ivanov-
sky, produced a laminated version of the communique from the NATO
Summit with a flourish "worthy of a trial lawyer" as he pointed out that the
word "all" did not appear next to the calls for Yugoslav troop withdrawals.
Talbott countered, "There's no way to achieve the goal of returning refugees
to safety if there are still armed Serbs running around intimidating peaceful
Kosovars and drawing fire from militant ones."
U.S. negotiators suspected that for the Russians the real problem with
total withdrawal was that they could not get Milosevic to accept such a de-
mand. Moscow did not want to be left in a position where its support for
the total withdrawal of Serb forces could be used by NATO to strengthen
the case for continued bombing or even a ground campaign. Talbott was
scheduled to travel to Helsinki later in the day, with Chernomyrdin follow-
102 * COLLISION COURSE

ing the next morning, and both men would meet separately with Finnish
President Ahtisaari.
Talbott then met with Foreign Minister Ivanov, who he found "markedly
subdued and quite frank on being at his wit's end about what to do next."
Ivanov plaintively asked, "Just tell me what we've got to do to end this war,"
feeling that Russia was increasingly trapped between Milosevic's bloody-
mindedness and NATO's "insanity." The Russian foreign minister stressed
that the bombing was giving impetus to reactionary elements in Russia look-
ing to push the United States and Russia into a confrontation "dangerous
beyond all imagining."
Ivanov felt that Milosevic would not give up and NATO would have no
choice but to push forward with a ground war, compelling Russian extrem-
ists into ever more provocative actions. The foreign minister claimed
NATO's generals were acting on autopilot: "Your military are digging them-
selves deeper and deeper into a hole, and there will be no way of getting out
of it . . . Your intransigence is making our work more difficult. . . . You
haven't given Milosevic a way out, and as a result you've left yourselves no
way out. . . . There is no logic to continuing the bombing unless you really
are bent on destroying the countrynot just Milosevic, but the whole coun-
try." Ivanov went on at some length about the precedent of making Kosovo
a "protectorate" removed from the control of the central government asking,
"How can you call that Yugoslav sovereignty?"
Like Chernomyrdin, Ivanov also urged a bombing pause followed by ne-
gotiations with Belgrade. Talbott objected and noted that such an approach
"would simply mean that the Yugoslavs left their troops in place," with no
commitment to withdraw or to allow a peacekeeping force to enter. Ivanov
shrugged, looked as though he was chewing on an "especially bitter fruit"
and said, "I know, I knowbut anything is better than more bombing."
At the end of the two meetings, Talbott had reached a simple conclusion,
"Yeltsin is furious and desperate about the ongoing war. . . . So the boss has
sent down word to the troops: stop this goddamn warI don't care how,
but stop it!" Talbott felt that Chernomyrdin might ultimately be the one to
come around because "Yeltsin has told him to do whatever it takes to get
this problem solvedand because Yeltsin has absorbed the cold reality of
NATO's resolve."
As Talbott concluded the session with Ivanov, the Russian foreign minis-
ter went out of his way to tell the deputy secretary that he was simply a
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 103

bureaucrat "with no political aspirations." The comment seemed odd, but it


was only a matter of minutes before Talbott understood its significance. Re-
porters mobbed Talbott as he emerged from the dim interior of the Russian
foreign ministry into the bright light of day. President Yeltsin had just fired
Prime Minister Primakov, and would shortly nominate Interior Minister
Sergei Stepashin as his replacement. The Russian Communist Party quickly
called for street rallies to protest Primakov's dismissal, and there was press
speculation that Foreign Minister Ivanov would be given a remote foreign
posting because of his close ties with Primakov.
Sergei Stepashin was in line to become the fourth Russian prime minister
in only fourteen monthsfurther fueling anxiety that an incapacitated Yelt-
sin was losing control of the political process. Stepashin, a boyish-looking
bureaucrat, was a Yeltsin loyalist and viewed by many as "weak enough to
be managed" by the president's inner circle. Although generally pro-West-
ern, he had also been one of the leading advocates of prosecuting the first
war against Chechnya in 1994 to disastrous results. He was known to work
well with Chernomyrdin.
Adding to the sense of political crisis, Primakov's dismissal came the day
before the Russian Duma was to start deliberations on Yeltsin's impeach-
ment. Primakov's firing signaled a no-holds-barred effort by Yeltsin to fight
the Communists in the Duma for political supremacy, and he felt that "a
sharp, aggressive move," such as dismissing Primakov, would unbalance his
opponents even if it was seen as "unpredictable" and "absolutely illogical."
Yeltsin argued, "Primakov was quite capable of uniting the politicians who
dreamed of a new isolationist Russia and a new cold war." Primakov had
been steadily gaining popularity in opinion polls as a possible presidential
successor to Yeltsin, and his dismissal was designed to deflate both Prima-
kov's presidential aspirations and the impeachment effort. Yeltsin explained
his decision, "If I let this process go on, the slow slide toward the former
Soviet methods of rule could turn Primakov's ultimate dismissal into a real
civil conflict. It became clear that waiting until the fall, much less 2000, was
simply impossible."
In simultaneous confrontation with both NATO and reactionary ele-
ments within Russia, Yeltsin was besieged from both within and without.
Primakov's firing angered many Russian officials in the defense and intelli-
gence ministries, such as General Ivashov, who had once declared himself
"Primakov's man in the ministry of defense." As Talbott noted at the time,
104 * COLLISION COURSE

"Yeltsin is sending a powerful though immensely controversial and risky sig-


nal that he is not willing to let his legacy be shaped by the Communist
agenda; for better or for worse, he judges a showdown with the Communists
now as more propitious than waiting for one closer to the parliamentary elec-
tions in December."
Later that same day, Talbott and his team left Moscow's political intrigue
behind and made the short flight to Helsinki for his first official round of
discussions with President Ahtisaari, with some of the delegation remaining
behind to continue military-to-military talks. Over a dinner of moose steaks,
the Finnish president gave assurances that he fully supported NATO's condi-
tions for ending the war and was willing to make repeated trips to Belgrade
if push came to shove. A large, stocky man, with limpid but penetrating blue
eyes, Ahtisaari had an imposing physical presence, but increasing trouble
with his knees gave him an awkward gait. His silver mane of hair was usually
combed straight back, and his quiet, deliberate oratorical style would have
been dour if not periodically leavened by flashes of sly humor.
Talbott and Ahtisaari discussed the political situation in Russia, and Tal-
bott briefed the Finnish president on his discussions with both Chernomyr-
din and Ivanov. Periodically Ahtisaari's aides entered from another room and
slipped him notes; the Finnish national hockey team was playing against
Sweden in the world hockey championships, and Ahtisaari wanted to be kept
abreast of the score. Much to Ahtisaari's pleasure, Finland went on to win
the game. He hoped that it might be a positive omen.
Chernomyrdin arrived in Helsinki the next day, May 13, after Talbott
had briefly returned to Moscow to meet with the Russian envoy. Cherno-
myrdin began his meeting with Ahtisaari in a foul mood, noting that "many
things had changed" since they had last spoken. The Russian envoy offered
harsh comments about the Yugoslav president, saying that he never wanted
"to go back and see Milosevic again," but also huffed, "No matter what I
say, the Americans do not do anything differently." He expressed amaze-
ment at the "indifferent" U.S. attitude toward the United Nations, and ap-
pealed for a bombing pause.
Ahtisaari, after letting Chernomyrdin vent at length, highlighted his own
difficult experiences with President Milosevic during the Bosnia crisis. The
Finnish president stressed that the world would not quickly forget the massa-
cre of civilians by Serb forces in the UN safe haven of Srebrenica. Ahtisaari
felt that the only sensible peacekeeping model was the NATO-dominated
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 105

arrangement already in place in Bosnia, and added, "I would not put one
damn Finnish soldier into an operation that did not have a core of NATO
forces with a heavy American presence." He also told Chernomyrdin, "Very
many things remain unresolved. Not even the Americans have a very clear
picture of how to proceed. Our effort is possibly the last opportunity to keep
Kosovo a part of Serbia. That is something Milosevic had better under-
stand."
The two men also discussed Chernomyrdin's proposal to have significant
numbers of Serb forces remain in Kosovo to defend historic sites. Cherno-
myrdin argued that there were some 8,000 sites in the province that would
need protection, and that each would require three Serb soldiers for its de-
fense, a formulation that produced a force of some 24,000 Yugoslavs
roughly the prewar deployment in Kosovo. Ahtisaari later joked to the U.S.
Ambassador in Helsinki, "I think the Russians are counting every Serb ham-
burger stand" in drawing up the list of historic sites.
Ahtisaari stressed that the longer the conflict wore on, the greater the
damage would be both to Yugoslavia and to Russia's relations with the rest
of the world. The Finnish president asserted that it was too early for him to
travel to Belgrade and that he, Chernomyrdin, and Talbott should meet
jointly the following week in Helsinki. Chernomyrdin again pushed for a
bombing pause, and Ahtisaari countered that the matter was largely up to
the United States and NATO and that it might not even be possible to get
a bombing pause if they traveled together to Belgrade. Chernomyrdin asked
Ahtisaari if he thought Talbott was of sufficiently senior rank to represent
the United States in talks, and expressed a desire to see the deputy secretary
replaced by Vice President Gore. The Finnish president dismissed the sug-
gestion and argued that Talbott was a suitable envoy because of his close
personal ties to Clinton.
In Moscow, President Yeltsin met with President Chirac, who took a hard
line, insisting that Milosevic would have to fully meet all of NATO's de-
mands before the bombs would stop falling. Yeltsin complained to the
French president, "You're continuing the ruthless bombing of Yugoslavia,
and you're handing Russia a role as NATO's special courier to Belgrade to
impose your ultimatums." The Russian president added, "We can't play
these games, and we aren't going to play them. We demand that if you can't
stop the bombing, you at least halt it for a time."
Chirac then launched into a long discussion of France and Russia's com-
106 * COLLISION COURSE

mon interest in preventing a "unipolar" world dominated by the United


States. However, Chirac also insisted that Russia had to decide if it was for
or against Milosevic, and that based on that decision Russia would either
remain on the sidelines of international affairs or enter the modern world
under Yeltsin's democratic leadership. Yeltsin countered that it was NATO's
bombing of Yugoslavia that posed the greatest risk to democracy in Russia,
but Chirac remained unconvinced. Russian hopes for cultivating the French
as the "leading dissident" within NATO were again disappointed. Vladimir
Putin, the national security advisor, commented that Russia was "not satis-
fied with its role as a technical courier." Chirac told reporters he felt that
"nothing would be worse than if Russia left the negotiating process," al-
though he maintained that Yeltsin had given no indication Moscow would
do so.
After a brief meeting with Chernomyrdin in Helsinki, Talbott flew to Ge-
neva where he again met with UN Secretary-General Annan. Even before
Talbott could raise the subject, the secretary-general said that he agreed that
any peacekeeping presence would need to have a NATO command structure:
"The last thing I want is a UN command. Don't worry: you won't find me
trying to put blue berets on your troops." Annan also reasserted his willing-
ness to support Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin's role in the diplomacy. "It's
the only game in town," he said, "so of course I want to do everything to
see that it works." He also indicated that he would not launch a UN special
envoy to Belgrade in the middle of the trilateral talks.
However, Annan was also increasingly pessimistic about the conflict's out-
come, and about the efficacy of the trilateral diplomacy. The secretary-gen-
eral had met with a number of the heads of humanitarian organizations who
had passed through Belgrade in the previous weeks, and most felt that Milo-
sevic continued to be "full of optimism and buoyancy," believing that he
had fought the international community to a draw. As Annan asked Talbott,
"Can the Alliance hold over the summer? Will public opinion hold that
long? Worst case, NATO will be accusedincluding by its own member
parliaments and publicsof destroying Yugoslavia and creating a humani-
tarian disaster. Milosevic feels that he has the Alliance on the ropes and be-
comes all the more intractable." Incidents of collateral damage were now
generating more publicity than the refugee situation, and the conflict's end-
game did not seem apparent, leading Annan to suggest that NATO had "a
tough sell."
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 107

Underscoring Annan's point, the NATO Alliance again was hit with a
high-profile incident of collateral damage that same day, as at least sixty Ko-
sovar Albanian refugees were killed in a nighttime air strike as they camped
alongside the road in Kosovo. While the Alliance had done an excellent job
presenting a unified front to the Russians and the world, concerns and ten-
sions over everything from targeting to planning for a ground war continued
to threaten to unravel NATO solidarity.
On May 15, Russian President Boris Yeltsin yet again survived a political
near-death experience as the Duma deputies failed to impeach Yeltsin on any
of the five charges against him. The closest vote, linked to the conduct of
the war in Chechnya, fell only 17 votes shy of the 300 needed for passage
amid widespread accusations that some parliamentarians had been bribed
to abstain from voting. With Primakov ousted and the Communists again
bickering among themselves, Chernomyrdin would have a brief window to
reach out to the West. But while Yeltsin had successfully thwarted the im-
peachment effort, concerns were escalating that Russia was slipping toward
chaos.
That day, Deputy Secretary of State Talbott floated a controversial pro-
posal to Berger and Albright. He proposed considering a forty-eight-hour
pause in bombing ifand only ifthe Russians would offer up-front com-
mitment for a UN Chapter VII resolution authorizing the continued use of
force against Yugoslavia if a peace agreement was not reached with Belgrade
during the pause. Talbott noted some of the obvious pitfalls of his own pro-
posal: Milosevic might see the move as a sign of weakness; the Russians
might think it was a trick; and it could trigger wider pressure in NATO to
extend the pause. Milosevic would also have time to reorganize and reequip
his forces in the field.
"In the face of all those dangers and downsides, the only conceivable justi-
fication for a pause would be if we could lock the Russians into a Chapter
VII UN Security Council resolution that would help us not only in manag-
ing them but that would help with others, including our Allies, as the bomb-
ing presumably goes forward," noted Talbott. Such a UN resolution would
allow NATO to use "all necessary means" to secure its aims and permit the
deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force under a unified command
and control. Talbott recognized that the Russians would likely reject the pro-
posal; "The only way that the Russians would ever consider such a thing is
if they reach the point where they realize they face a fork in the road: They
108 * COLLISION COURSE

either stay with Milosevic and are increasingly marginalized and humiliated,
or they give him one last chance, then wash their hands of him."
However, even if Moscow rejected the proposal, it could have some utility
for NATO in that Russia would be forced to decline an opportunity for a
pause. To test Russian and Alliance reaction to the initiative, Talbott sug-
gested that Ahtisaari make the proposal to Chernomyrdin but pitch it as his
own. Berger was intrigued by the approach but was not sure Secretary of
Defense Cohen and Ambassador Holbrooke would be supportive. Berger
and Talbott got along well, and throughout the crisis, Talbott jointly ad-
dressed most of his memos on the diplomacy to both Berger and Albright.
After some changes by the deputy secretary, Berger shipped a bootleg copy
of the proposal to the president in California.
American Ambassador to Moscow Jim Collins sat down with Cherno-
myrdin on May 17. The burly Collins could be seemingly reserved, but he
was deeply knowledgeable about Russia's political situation, and his outward
appearance masked a warm personality. Behind closed doors, Collins was
not shy about delivering blunt assessments of the often-chaotic scene in Mos-
cow. Chernomyrdin began by arguing, "It does not make sense to expect
Milosevic to surrender. He is not that kind of person. He knows NATO's
plans and your determination, but we haven't gotten any signs he is getting
nervous. Milosevic is preparing for a ground invasion. We have no signs that
he will surrender, but he might be willing to begin negotiations." The Rus-
sian envoy was deeply frustrated by the lack of progress: "Russia is close to
giving up. The peace process now goes only in circles, with no new ideas or
approaches."
Chernomyrdin noted that he would likely travel to Belgrade no matter
what the outcome of his next round of meetings with Ahtisaari and Talbott
in Helsinki. Chernomyrdin concluded by noting, "Russia has not changed
its position. I will remain engaged and do all I can, but further steps are
needed. We have been working on finding common ground between us, but
we need to find some common ground with Milosevic as well. Russia has
made much more progress with Milosevic than in dealing with the NATO
countries."
The same day, Talbott and Richard Holbrooke spoke to each other during
a several-hour-long telephone conversation. The two had long been friends,
and Talbott's low-key style stood in sharp relief to Holbrooke's public flair.
Talbott often served as a peacemaker between Holbrooke and Albright dur-
ing their running battles. Holbrooke bluntly expressed his reservations about
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 109

the trilateral diplomacy and a potential bombing pause. Holbrooke ques-


tioned the wisdom of engaging the Russians, feeling that they could not de-
liver Milosevic. "My concern was that the Russians were fronting for
Milosevic, and that certain things they were demanding were unacceptable
and that was the nature of my dialogue with Strobe. In particular, the phrase
'NATO at the core,' which Strobe hung on to, and which was extremely
important, was one that we talked about a great deal. The Russians fought
like crazy to get that phrase out, but my position was that that issue was
nonnegotiable." Holbrooke added, "I thought we should keep bombing,
and intensify bombing, and not yield anything to the Russians." Instead, he
wanted the administration to deal directly with Belgrade. Talbott, who also
wanted to see the bombing continued, could not get Holbrooke to fully sup-
port the trilateral process, but eventually the ambassador agreed to tone
down his criticism.
Holbrooke was in an awkward position. Because he was awaiting Senate
confirmation for the post of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, he was
somewhat limited in his official role in the crisis. Given his natural intensity,
he was not comfortable sitting on the sidelines. Holbrooke and Albright had
a famously prickly relationship, and Holbrooke's periodic second-guessing
on the conduct of the military and diplomatic operations did little to im-
prove the atmosphere. Albright was convinced that Holbrooke continued to
question her leadership in background discussions with reporters and sensed
that Holbrooke was trying to distance himself from the Balkans policy that
he had helped to shape. Indeed, Albright had directly challenged Holbrooke
about some comments from "administration officials" to the press, and the
ambassador's disdain for the handling of the Rambouillet talks was well
known. Holbrooke had made his view plain: Rambouillet would not have
ended in disaster if he had been running the show. However, both Hol-
brooke and Albright shared concerns about Talbott's bombing pause pro-
posal. Some of her aides directly opposed the notion, and Albright suggested
to Talbott that his paper be presented to the national security team as a con-
cept rather than a formal proposal. Talbott quickly sensed that his plan was
being hung out to dry.

The Ground Option Gains Steam

At 6:30 on the evening of May 17, President Clinton and his national secur-
ity team assembled in the cabinet room. Albright briefed the group on the
110 * COLLISION COURSE

status of the respective diplomatic initiatives and stressed that the Alliance
might need to maintain military pressure on Belgrade for months to come.
Albright and her staff continued to push the issue of ground troops, and they
were concerned that General Clark's updated planning assessment for
ground troops was only a starting point. Unless the United States quickly
deployed forces, the conflict would not be resolved before winter. Given the
considerable logistical and diplomatic work that would need to precede a
ground operation, Albright, like Clark, wanted to move in that direction as
soon as possible.
The secretary of state expressed concern about the growing number of
self-anointed envoys enjoining the diplomatic efforts and pointed to calls by
the Greek and German governments for an unconditional bombing pause as
an example of the challenges they would continue to face. Albright then
turned the discussion over to Talbott, who laid out the proposal for a bomb-
ing pause linked Russian support for a UN resolution granting Chapter VII
authority. Not surprisingly, the plan sparked a vigorous debate, with Secre-
tary Cohen leading the charge against it. He argued it would be impossible
to keep the pause from being extended by the more diffident Allies, and it
was a point of view that resonated with many at the table.
Berger and his deputy, James Steinberg, supported the proposal. Albright,
although commenting several times, never explicitly endorsed or rejected the
plan. President Clinton appeared interested in the concept, but somewhat
deterred by Cohen's opposition. Clinton indicated that he would make a
final decision on the issue after the second half of the meeting. Talbott had
to leave for Andrews Air Force Base for his flight to Helsinki, and he asked
that the eventual decision be relayed to him upon his arrival in Finland.
Much of the second half of the meeting was dominated by consideration
of ground troops. General Clark had weighed in from Brussels that same
day, having further scrubbed his preferred military option. Clark had told
Chairman Shelton, "I have a feasible ground option that can be executed
this campaign season. We will get all the refugees home. It's about 175,000
troops, with around 100,000 actually going into Kosovo to fight." Pushing
the force through Albania and Macedonia, Clark would need seventy-five
days to deploy troops and initiate major road and logistics upgrades. Infor-
mally petitioning the NATO defense ministers, Clark felt that the British
could provide 35,000 to 50,000 troops, the French 10,000 to 20,000, and
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 111

the Italians some 3,500 men. The United States would provide the balance.
Clark recognized that "we'd be struggling with the difficult terrain as well as
with the enemy," but he felt that the approach would "enable us to win on
the ground, deploy in time to finish the fight before winter and limited the
U.S. contribution to roughly half the total force." B- was now officially
Clark's preferred option.
Upon his arrival in Helsinki on May 18, Talbott had still not received
word of the decision from the White House on his plan. After speaking with
Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Steinberg on the telephone, he was
told that it was fine to discuss the matter with Ahtisaari but to hold back
from raising it with Chernomyrdin. However, with the secretary of defense
adamantly opposed to the plan, and with the secretary of state less than en-
thusiastic, the proposal would ultimately wither on the vine.
In Helsinki, Chernomyrdin, Ahtisaari, and Talbott held more than seven
hours of talks in their first trilateral sessions. Ahtisaari began the negotiations
with a long presentation that set three goals for the negotiators: keeping a
democratic and multiethnic Kosovo part of Yugoslavia; reintegrating Yugo-
slavia politically and economically with the rest of Europe; and economically
reconstructing the entire western Balkans. Ahtisaari declared Yugoslavia a
"failed country" that had "treated its own citizens so brutally and violated
international norms so grossly" that Belgrade would enjoy only "partial sov-
ereignty" over Kosovo.
Ahtisaari's approach was no-nonsense, and he displayed a keen under-
standing of his interlocutors. An experienced diplomat, Ahtisaari knew that
Chernomyrdin was determined, blunt, and more interested in sweeping con-
cepts than fine details. The Finnish president also appreciated that Talbott's
approach was quite different; detail-oriented and equally dogged, the deputy
secretary approached the negotiations through the same patient perspective
of the U.S.-Soviet arms talks he had so frequently written about during the
Cold War.
Chernomyrdin objected that Ahtisaari was "starting the talks from
scratch." He preferred to "end the air campaign and continue talks." Cher-
nomyrdin contended, "Now we simply need to decide whether or not to go
to Belgrade." In what both Ahtisaari and Talbott hoped was a major break-
through as the hours wore on, Chernomyrdin appeared to agree to two im-
portant conceptsNATO could form the core of the peacekeeping effort,
and the withdrawal of Serb military and police forces would have to be total.
112 COLLISION COURSE

Despite the apparent progress, Ahtisaari remained unwilling to travel to


Belgrade with Chernomyrdin until the three negotiators could reach agree-
ment on a several-page document spelling out the exact terms Milosevic
would have to meet to end the bombing. The abbreviated document would
add specifics to the general principles expressed earlier both at the NATO
Summit and in the joint communique issued by the G-8 foreign ministers.
Ahtisaari jokingly referred to this at different times as both the "Reader's
Digest" version of demands and "the ten commandments."
After checking in with Moscow, Chernomyrdin indicated he still had
some reservations about signing off on any such joint paper and ultimately
he decided to launch his third solo trip to Belgrade on May 19. While in
Belgrade, Chernomyrdin went into another set of marathon talks, lasting
more than seven hours, with Milosevic and his senior advisors. Chernomyr-
din would claim to have told Milosevic that the West would accept no less
than NATO troops on the ground as peacekeepers, though it might be possi-
ble to have them operate under UN control. Chernomyrdin suggested that
some broad coordinating councilone that would include Russia, the
United States, and othersmight be a suitable command structure. Milo-
sevic welcomed Ahtisaari's involvement in the diplomacy and even suggested
that the United States send a representative to any talks in Belgrade. While
Chernomyrdin did not rule out the idea, the Russians were anxious that they
would quickly be cut out of the diplomatic process if the United States and
Yugoslavs moved to direct negotiations.
Both Milosevic and the president of Serbia, Milan Milutinovic, feared
that the West would pull a "bait and switch"agreeing to one set of condi-
tions and then imposing quite a different reality once troops were on the
ground. President Milosevic insisted that NATO troops operating under a
NATO flag would be an occupying army and was not assuaged by Cherno-
myrdin's assurances that Russia would also contribute troops. Milosevic un-
derstood that NATO would be in a stronger position than any contingent of
Russian forces, and the Yugoslav president's conviction that he would not
lose the war seemed to be increasingly in doubt. Chernomyrdin left the Yu-
goslav capital later in the day, and NATO air strikes sharply intensified in
the wake of his departure.
Upon returning to Moscow, Chernomyrdin claimed that Milosevic had
taken "a step forward," but noted that the Yugoslav president continued to
resist the notion of complete withdrawal of his forces. Yugoslav foreign min-
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 113

istry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic announced, "The Yugoslav government


accepts the G-8 principles as a basis for negotiations on adopting [a UN]
resolution." Few saw this as a significant concession.
Within the Alliance, frustration with both the diplomatic efforts and the
debate over ground troops was mounting. On May 19, Deputy Secretary
Talbott met with German Foreign Minister Fischer in Bonn, who suggested
that diplomacy activity was akin to chewing gum: "at some point it loses its
flavor." Fischer said that Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov was pessimistic
about the trilateral talks, and suggested that eventually the West would have
to confront the problem of whether it wanted to deal with Milosevic directly.
Fischer felt that Milosevic had a "love-hate" relationship with the United
States and because of his worldview would only finalize a settlement with
Washington, "not with the Italian foreign minister, not with the French, not
with the Germans, not with the Russians, and not with Ahtisaari."
Fischer also pointed to the upcoming G-8 Summit in Cologne, scheduled
for June 18, with trepidation. The G-8 Summit, like the NATO one that
preceded it, was a long-planned event that Kosovo threatened to turn into a
public-relations disaster. Chancellor Schroeder was horrified by the prospect
that he would be hosting a summitonce pictured as a coming-out party
for Germany's place in a new Europethat would disintegrate into a politi-
cal fiasco under the cloud of a looming ground war.
The G-8 Summit, and the stakes involved in its relative success or failure,
became a steady undercurrent in the negotiations. Everyone knew that in a
month, the presidents of seven of the most powerful nations on earth would
assemblewith or without Boris Yeltsinand that Kosovo would be the
central topic. Beyond that, the agenda was deeply uncertain. Fischer noted
that 100,000 German war protestors had already registered with the Cologne
police to demonstrate at the mid-June gathering, and the event was shaping
up to be "a real adventure." German officials also bluntly told Talbott, "The
public and the parliament will kill us" if they supported ground troops.
The same day, another Principals Committee was convened at the White
House. Secretary Albright had spoken with the French, German, and Italian
foreign ministers the day before, and there had been little in the way of con-
sensus. Fischer made clear there was no support in Germany for an invasion,
suggesting that even debating the issue might undercut domestic support for
air strikes. Despite the European concerns, Albright remained hawkish; she
114 * COLLISION COURSE

wanted a ground force to strike all the way to Belgrade to topple Milosevic,
even toying with the possibility of involving the KLA to augment a ground
attack.
Secretary of Defense Cohen suggested that the French were divided on
the issue of ground troops, the Germans opposed, and the British obviously
in favor. If the United States were to take the ground war out of NATO and
mount a "coalition of the willing," the British and Turks would be the only
obvious major partners. In contrast, General Clark (who was not at the
meeting), felt that with U.S. leadership the other Allies would follow on
ground troops; "we would have support from Great Britain, Italy, and even-
tually France. Germany was officially silent, but I was not worried about its
likely support. If the United States and these countries went in, we could
count on most of the smaller allies too."
The British continued to express interest in planning for a ground cam-
paign on a bilateral basis with the Pentagon, and arguedas had General
Clarkthat a go/no-go decision on ground troops might have to be made
as soon as the end of May if an invasion was to be staged before the winter.
The State Department was also eager to see planning move forward on a
bilateral basis with London, contending that operational planning within the
guise of the KFOR peacekeeping force was not realistic. The Pentagon was
also willing to mount bilateral planning with the British but for a very differ-
ent reason; by taking the planning away from General Clark they would be
far better positioned to take a go-slow approach.
Sandy Berger carefully reviewed the alternatives to a ground war: arming
the KLA, lowering the demands upon Belgrade, or simply staying the course
and further amplifying air strikes. It was obvious that Berger was still deeply
uncomfortable with a ground war, but increasingly aware of the limitations
of the other options. While the notion of a ground war was unappetizing for
all those around the table, delaying an invasion until spring might be even
worse. Few thought that the Alliance could maintain its cohesion through
another nine months of aerial attacks. Caring for the hundreds of thousands
of Kosovar refugees who had been driven from their homes through a long
hard winter had the potential to be a humanitarian catastrophe, and air
power alone would do nothing to reduce the suffering.
A White House official acknowledged, "There were beginning to be ques-
tions about whether we were determined to prevail, and the ability to prepare
for a ground wareven at the risk of casualtiesbecame a credible barome-
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 115

ter of whether we were going to win and win on our terms." In a conflict
that the United Nations had predicted would produce no more than
100,000 refugees, more than eight times that number had been driven out
of Kosovo by rampaging Serb forces. Hundreds of thousands more Kosovars
were adrift and desperate within Kosovo, low on food, and vulnerable to the
cruelty of Yugoslav army and police forces prowling the countryside. Winter
could prove harsh.
The timing of a ground operation was crucial, and there was a great deal
of discussion on the constraints that the onset of winter would impose upon
such an operation. NATO was facing a "winter wall" and would need to
launch a ground war by November if it hoped to avoid problems with snow
in the mountains of Albania. There were also some doubts as to whether
Clark could hold to the already tight schedule he had spelled out for moving
forces into theater. As one White House official attested:

I questioned if it was realistic because I thought it would take time for the
political decision-making to begin the planning process, and then once in the
planning process, you would have to have troop commitments and a force
generation process. Countries would have to agree to make these forces avail-
able, and in some countries that requires a legislative process. Getting the lo-
gistics and command structure in place could also have been problematic. So,
as we got closer, the schedule got packed and packed and you wondered at
what point did you pass what was truly reasonable.

The vice president and his staff also had serious reservations about a
ground war, and Gore's national security adviser, Leon Fuerth, wanted to
see air attacks against major infrastructure targets given time to generate
more political pressure on Milosevic. The vice president and his staff were
still leaning toward waiting until spring to launch any offensive.
NATO now had more than 1,000 planes operating in its air campaign
almost triple the total deployed at the war's onset, and the air armada was
growing by the day. In its determination to break Yugoslavia's will, NATO
had steadily widened its target list, and Alliance bombs dropped with in-
creasing frequency and destructiveness. Soon, 60 percent of Belgrade would
be without water service, and Yugoslavia's three largest citiesBelgrade, Nis,
and Novi Sadwould be without power. The citizens of Serbia were paying
a spiraling cost for Milosevic's continued resistance, and Belgrade's early and
116 * COLLISION COURSE

euphoric defiance of NATO, expressed in street-rally rock concerts and tar-


get symbols worn like badges of honor, had sharply faded. However, there
were still complaints from a number of NATO officers that they were unduly
restrained from pursuing high-profile infrastructure targets, particularly in
Belgrade, and General Clark feared that "we had gone about as far as possi-
ble with the air strikes."
Berger challenged Ambassador Richard Holbrooke for his read of the situ-
ation. Holbrooke, with his natural bravura, reiterated the three American
redlines: all refugees allowed to return; all Serb forces out (although he was
convinced Milosevic would do some cheating); and NATO at the core of the
peacekeeping force. He thought that Milosevic would offer Chernomyrdin a
UN force and attempt to drag UN Secretary-General Annan into the talks.
The ambassador argued that ambiguity about the ground war had some dip-
lomatic utility and supported Cohen's pleas to have the air campaign intensi-
fied. Holbrooke wanted to see NATO buy time before it came to a decision
on the ground war, and seemed apprehensive about crossing that bridge with
any finality. He firmly rejected the proposal to arm the KLA, arguing it
would result in long-term disaster. Holbrooke also wanted to place more
public emphasis on the need to overthrow Milosevic, but Berger felt that
such an approach would raise unrealistically high expectations. This led to a
brief debate on whether ground troops should march all the way to Belgrade
or simply focus on Kosovo. General Shelton noted that taking Belgrade
would obviously require a larger military force.
National Security Advisor Sandy Berger then set the path forward. He
asked the Pentagon to avoid formally raising the issue of ground troops at
NATO headquarters in Belgium. Instead, he wanted the Department of De-
fense to find ways to buy time and give the administration several more
weeks before being forced to make a decision on ground troops. "As we
started to get into late May we were facing the prospect of winter and the
fact that if Milosevic did not capitulate, 200,000 Kosovars would be up in
the mountains freezing to death," Berger recalled, "And when you built back
in the lead-timewhich the military shrunk by a month in late Maywe
suddenly had an early June decision to make." After repeated conversations
between Clark and Berger about the window for ground troop planning,
Berger affirmed, "General Clark told us that thirty days had been added on
to our lead-time. It was very bracing. Our decision was suddenly three weeks
out."
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 117

Berger also wanted all decisions on ground troops, if they eventually went
to NATO, to be made under the guise of beefing up the potential peacekeep-
ing operation. By doing so, he again rejected the notion of moving ground
troop planning into a direct bilateral channel between London and Washing-
ton. He also wanted the Pentagon to better explore the constraints that the
Yugoslav winter would place on ground operations. Could the offensive
begin in December for example, or would conditions simply be too bad?
The tense relations between General Clark and the Pentagon were of seri-
ous concern to the White House, and Clinton administration officials
worked to ensure that the lines of communication with Clark remained open
while taking great care not to violate the Pentagon's line of authority. There
was continuing apprehension that the Pentagon might simply stonewall on
a ground force. As a senior administration official underscored, "In a war it is
very dangerous to create two chains of command." This same official added,
"There was no question that relationship deteriorated and trust was frayed
on both sides. . . . For us to have developed a direct, separate chain to Clark
would have been riskier." However, White House officials did speak with
Clark and tell him that he should be doing as much planning as possible
within the rubric of NATO because the United States needed to be ready for
the ground option. General Clark, as the NATO commander, retained the
authority to speak directly with President Clinton. "This was a trump card
that I knew I could use to get the ground force briefing to the president at
the appropriate moment. But I also understood that this would carry a very
high price. It might not be playable more than once." The national security
team agreed that air strikes should be ramped up even further, as time grew
tight for making the hard decision on launching a ground war in Europe.
The discussion on ground troops continued the next day, May 20, as
Clinton met with several of his military advisors, including Secretary of De-
fense Cohen, the Joint Chiefs, and others from the national security team,
including Secretary Albright. General Clark had flown in from Brussels to
brief the Pentagon on ground planning as well. Elements within the Penta-
gon continued to express skepticism toward Clark's preferred option. Clark
acknowledged that he had not "resolved the military's innate hankering to
go deep into Serbia from the north, with a larger force, seeking a decisive
military solution even at the expense of greater strategic and diplomatic dif-
ficulties. Many in the army disliked the idea of going through Albania en
route to Kosovo. As one of the senior officers told me, only half joking, 'We
118 * COLLISION COURSE

don't do mountains.' " The chief of staff of the Army was very nervous from
a practical standpoint about going in entirely through Albania and had real
concerns about the road structure and a range of other logistics issues.
As Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Steinberg maintained, "It was
not a question of whether, but how, that was most contentious" with regard
to ground troops. Clark, in turn, raised valid questions about attacking Ser-
bia proper. "What were we going to do with Belgrade when we got there? If
the Serbs decided to resist, were we going to fight through the city block by
block, using artillery and mortars?" Those sentiments were echoed by an-
other senior administration official: "If you went for the whole enchilada,
and went in through the north, you were actually taking on a much more
difficult problem." The vision of guerillas firing rocket-propelled grenades
out their apartment windows in Belgrade at NATO forces was not appealing.
There was also discussion of entering Kosovo in a "semipermissive" envi-
ronment. Under such a scenario, Yugoslavia's armed forces would be largely
devastated by the continuing air attacks, and a ground force would only be
needed for a mop-up. The Pentagon took a dim view of such semantics,
and General Shelton dismissed the notion of sending ground forces into a
semipermissive environment as akin to "being a little bit pregnant," and he
added, "You do not get semi-shot." It was an opinion General Clark shared.
"If we built our plan on this, entered, and found ourselves bogged down
with organized resistance, we would lose time and take unnecessary casual-
ties. I believed it was important to stand firm on the full military commit-
ments."
Secretary Albright was strongly in favor of a ground war, but felt duty-
bound to highlight some of the diplomatic fallout that would occur. Russia's
reaction to ground troops would be intense, with a heavy domestic political
backlash against Yeltsin. Some of the NATO foreign ministers continued to
speculate that a ground war might result in Yeltsin's overthrow. Consensus
within the Alliance on ground troops was elusive, and a ground war would
further set back relations with China. The secretary of state also observed
that if the military operation went all the way to Belgrade, as she preferred,
the regional repercussions would be even more severe. European support for
the Belgrade option was almost nonexistent.
President Clinton did not tip his hand as to his own preference during
the briefing, but he did not have long to make a choice. If operations were
to be completed before winter snows made an assault more difficult, a deci-
THE DOG DAYS OF SPRING * 119

sion on whether to begin preparations for a ground wareven by the most


liberal estimateswould have to be made in June. As a result of this reality,
Clinton and his team began to carefully adjust their public stance on the use
of ground forces. The initial and categorical dismissal of using ground forces
was supplanted as Clinton told reporters that he would, "not take any option
off the table." While advisors at the White House insisted the president's
statement did not represent a change in U.S. policy, it was clear that Clin-
ton's carefully calibrated shift in posture was meant to send a message. As
Jim Steinberg noted, the change in rhetoric also had some political utility.
"In terms of domestic politics, it was a silly position to have people we
needed on our side, like Senator John McCain, who supported the objectives
of the war, criticizing us on ground troops. We needed all the support we
could get, and since they were basically right, instead of fighting with them,
it was easier to say, 'You're right.'"
That same evening, General Clark received a call from Sandy Berger.
"How long can we defer a decision, Wes?"
"We need to start preparations on June 1," Clark replied. "That's when
we need the decision. Now we don't need a decision to do a ground opera-
tion. That can come much later. We just need to decide to prepare for it,
alert any reserves, begin the logistics movements and start everything in mo-
tion."
Berger explored whether that date could be pushed back any further, per-
haps buying two more weeks of time. Clark insisted, "Sandy, we can't. It's a
seventy-five-day deployment, best case. That's no allowance for bad weather
or screw-ups."
Clark held firm to his June 1 deadline as the White House continued to
string out a hard decision until the last possible moment. NATO's diplo-
matic and military offensive against Yugoslavia was entering a decisive phase.
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5
CHAPTER

An Empty Chair,
Nothing Off the Table

Stalin's Dacha
President Ahtisaari and Deputy Secretary Talbott arrived in Moscow on May
20 to meet with Chernomyrdin, fresh from his visit to Belgrade. Ahtisaari
was eager to sit down with Yeltsin, but was told by officials that he "was in
the hospital" and could not meet face to face. Instead, the two presidents
spoke on the telephone, with Yeltsin beginning by reading a long prepared
statement. "Russia does not want to be NATO's courier. It must be clear
that if Russia's efforts continue to be ignored, we will leave the reconciliation
process with all of its consequences. We can hardly continue our own peace
effort with the number of victims constantly growing as a result of NATO's
barbaric bombings."
Ahtisaari made a pitch for a prominent NATO role in peacekeeping.
"The Kosovo Albanians will not be pacified by bringing in Finnish or Rus-
sian troops. NATO troops are necessary for them to dare to return. I know,
Boris, from my own experiencebecause I have headed a similar large oper-
ation myselfthat such troops cannot be brought together on political
grounds." The two men did not reach agreement, but Yeltsin concluded by
adding, "If we resolve the last problems, we will put Milosevic in his place."

121
122 * COLLISION COURSE

The U.S. and Finnish teams then sped in motorcades to the outskirts of
Moscow to meet Chernomyrdin and his team at a remote, wooded, Russian
government compound surrounding Josef Stalin's former dacha. It was un-
comfortably hot, and the Russian capital had been suffering through a rare
heat wave. Adding a touch of the surreal, the air was filled with fluffy white
pukhRussia's version of milkweedthat had drifted on the hoods of cars
and windowsills like a light snowfall. There was some irony that Talbott,
whose first professional career breakthrough had been translating the mem-
oirs of Nikita Khrushchev in the 1970s, should wind up conducting negotia-
tions in the same building where many of that narrative's own scenes had
taken place. While the dacha was a grand structure, it was garishly ap-
pointed. The staff room used by the U.S. delegation was decorated with a
bright, overstuffed, orange, wraparound couch, a pink floor lamp with glass
shades in the shape of flower petals, and an oversized but nearly empty cabi-
net. In the building's hallways, large, abstract, fabric floral paintings commis-
sioned by Raisa Gorbachev hung on the walls, and long teardrop chandeliers
loomed over the staircase.
While Chernomyrdin offered Talbott and Ahtisaari little detail from his
discussions with Milosevic, the Russian envoy claimed that he had strenu-
ously advocated the necessity of a NATO-led peacekeeping force and that
the Yugoslav president had accepted that the Alliance would have to be "on
the ground" in Kosovo. Chernomyrdin even speculated that Milosevic
might be "using him" in an effort to enter direct negotiations with the
United Statesa point not lost on Talbott, given the continuing debate
within the administration about opening a back channel to Belgrade.
As the talks continued at the dacha, Deputy Secretary Talbott employed
a bit of theater to make a point. The American negotiator jumped up from
his seat and dragged an empty chair to the side of the table as both Ahtisaari
and Chernomyrdin looked on quizzically. Talbott then explained. The
empty chair represented the missing player in the talks: Slobodan Milosevic.
What was he willing to accept? Where was he seeking compromise? How
would he react to the proposals on the table? For all the energy and hours
invested in the trilateral negotiations, Milosevic's intentions were shrouded.
Chernomyrdin argued that the man in the empty chair demanded that some
Serb personnel, particularly special police forces, remain in Kosovo. Talbott
and General Foglesong were equally adamant that with regard to troop with-
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE 123

drawals "all" meant "all," particularly because the Serb special police had
been involved in some of the worst atrocities. They maintained that only
after a total withdrawal could some small number of Serb officials under the
supervision of the KFOR commander return to the province. As Talbott ar-
gued, "If Milosevic maintains any control or influence in the province, it
will repel refugees from returning, further radicalize Kosovo Albanians every-
where, and provoke the most recalcitrant elements of the KLA."
Chernomyrdin also continued to push for broad UN control of the peace-
keeping operation. To Talbott and Ahtisaari, an "umbrella" of UN authority
sounded dangerously close to UN political control, a position they found
unacceptable. Despite the anguished looks and whispered asides of his for-
eign ministry advisor, Boris Ivanovsky, Chernomyrdin continued to main-
tain that he was willing to accept a prominent NATO role in KFOR and
near total Serb military withdrawal. Talbott and Ahtisaari felt they were mak-
ing substantial progress.
"Having the Finns involved made it much easier to knock down the Rus-
sian arguments," one U.S. team member asserted. "You had this great foil
of a neutral, noncombatant, relatively objective player in the talks interested
in a peaceful settlement and regional stability. You started to get the feeling
that rhetorically we could turn it around on the Russians." Jim Swigert of
the delegation expanded on the same point: "When we got into the ques-
tions of trying to put down on paper the points of commonality, Ahtisaari
played an important role in helping the Russians see areas where there were
common positionshaving a third party in the room made it much more
palatable for the Russians." That said, it was not clear that the Russian mili-
tary and intelligence servicesmuch less Milosevicwould agree to such
terms.
The three men agreed to meet again in Moscow the following week for
another round of talks, hoping that they could find enough common ground
to allow Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin to launch a joint mission to Belgrade.
General Foglesong also held separate military-to-military talks with the Rus-
sians and Finns in Moscow. Finland was represented by Adm. Juhani
Kaskeala, with General Ivashov again serving as the senior Russian military
representative. The discussions generally followed the same lines as the dis-
cussion with Chernomyrdin, although General Ivashov took a much harder
position on Serb withdrawals and NATO's role. Talbott and Foglesong
124 * COLLISION COURSE

agreed to return with a specific set of details regarding NATO's operational


requirements for KFOR.
Deep fractures within the Russian government over Kosovo were obvious
the next morning as Talbott and Ambassador Collins stopped by Russian
Foreign Minister Ivanov's office before leaving Moscow. Ivanov wanted to
be updated on the status of the talks with Chernomyrdin, and Talbott
briefed him on the contours of the discussions, including Chernomyrdin's
agreement that NATO would make up KFOR's core. Ivanov claimed to be
"astonished," and protested that if Belgrade was prepared to "accept NATO,
then that's up to Belgrade. But we can't." Ivanov carried himself with a cer-
tain prickly wounded pride, eager to show that he could step out of Prima-
kov's shadow and be his own man. Having been trained in the Soviet system,
and proud of his half-Georgian heritage, he was a determined negotiator.
Talbott replied that if what he "thought was an understanding was in fact
a misunderstanding" he should return immediately to the embassy and can-
cel the preparations for the meeting scheduled for the next week.
"Hold on, hold on, Strobe," said Ivanov. "Let's call Viktor Stepanovich
[Chernomyrdin]." So Talbott and Collins went into Ivanov's inner office,
where the Russian foreign minister got Chernomyrdin on the telephone, ap-
parently waking him. Ivanov relayed Talbott's account of the talks, and then
listened to Chernomyrdin's answer.
"Well, you see, Viktor Stepanovich, there's a difference between NATO
countries and NATO as an organization." As Talbott and Ambassador Col-
lins listened, Ivanov methodically walked Chernomyrdin back from his posi-
tion. Ivanov then suggested that Talbott return to Chernomyrdin's office for
another meeting. Talbott told Ivanov that there was no need to see the Rus-
sian envoy. "We can't do business with a government on this basis. I'm
going back to the embassy to shut down preparations for next week."
"Hold on, hold on, Strobe," said Ivanov again. "Why don't you go see
Chernomyrdin and ask him directly if what you heard from him last night
still stands and is the position of the Russian government. If he says yes, then
that's the way it is."
The deputy secretary resisted, saying that it was impossible to do business
with a government in such disarray. Underscoring the unsettled nature of
Yeltsin's government, Ivanov then received a call from Prime Minister Sergei
Stepashin's office letting him know that he was not being fired. After brief
congratulations from Collins and Talbott, Ivanov insisted that because he
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 125

had not been involved in the previous evening's discussions, he could not
"accept responsibility" for such a fundamental shift. After much back-and-
forth, Talbott reluctantly agreed to another meeting with Chernomyrdin. As
Talbott left the foreign ministry, Boris Ivanovsky, the foreign ministry advi-
sor who had been at Chernomyrdin's side during the previous day's talks,
lingered in the hallways. The Russian foreign ministry had successfully
reined in Chernomyrdin.
Talbott began his subsequent discussion with Chernomyrdin by inquir-
ing, "I only want to ask one question: namely, whether in the course of the
six hours of talks yesterday, were you speaking with the full authority of the
Russian president and leadership?"
"Yes, of course. I understand the matter at hand. I am not a boy to be
toying with such matters. At least from the Russian president, I have com-
plete authority," replied Chernomyrdin.
Talbott noted that he had "made a report to Washington on yesterday's
discussions, but Foreign Minister Ivanov's remarks cast doubts over that re-
port." He insisted that Chernomyrdin had to convey the notion of NATO
at the core to Milosevic more forcefully and that there could be no ambiguity
in that regard, leading Chernomyrdin to counter, "Milosevic believes that if
this is a NATO operation only under a NATO flag, it would be an occupa-
tron.
The U.S. view was that NATO at the core meant a unified system of
command and control and all forces under a NATO commander. Talbott,
General Foglesong, and Brig. Gen. George Casey discussed the issue with
Chernomyrdin and Ivanovsky for some three hours, with Ivanovsky passing
the Russian envoy a steady stream of notes. Chernomyrdin wanted Russian
peacekeeping forces to be exclusively under a Russian commander and
stressed that if the War Crimes Tribunal indicted Milosevic, it could well
bring an end to the negotiations. Eventually Talbott and Chernomyrdin
agreed to resume talks again the following week as planned. In a private aside
before Talbott departed, Chernomyrdin pleaded, "You've got to find a way
out of this for us. We can't let all our efforts come to a crashing halt over
this."
In Washington, there was growing skepticism that Yeltsin was politically
and physically strong enough to deliver a deal. The chaotic state of affairs
within Russia made it impossible for Western negotiators to discern who
held real authority in Moscow, further clouding the usual smoke and mirrors
126 * COLLISION COURSE

of wartime diplomacy. Talbott and the others were reduced to negotiating


with factions within the Russian political system and hoping that a deal
might stick. Chernomyrdin's mandate continued to be fuzzy, and no one on
the Russian side seemed sure exactly what authority Yeltsin had given to his
special envoy. Because of Yeltsin's continuing health and drinking problems,
access to the Russian president was limited, and it was unclear where he
stood. The Russian military was only willing to support Chernomyrdin if he
could get the West to accept a bad deal and would abandon him if he could
not. Chernomyrdin seemed to speak only for Chernomyrdin, and he had a
mandate that came from Yeltsin that he would renew from time to time.
The foreign ministry was not an integrated part of his operation; the defense
ministry even less so. It was clear to the U.S. team that Chernomyrdin and
the foreign ministry were working on very different tracks, and there were
constant questions about who actually represented the views of the Russian
government. A member of the U.S. team observed, "Yeltsin did not like
what we were doingbut he wanted to be done with it in a practical way,
as did Chernomyrdin." Consequently, U.S. negotiators were desperate to
show some progress and keep Chernomyrdin's role alive, knowing full well
that any replacement would be far worse.
As Talbott departed Moscow on May 21, NATO attacks killed nineteen
civilians at a penitentiary in Kosovo. Serb guards then slaughtered another
eighty Kosovar Albanian prisoners and blamed their deaths on NATO in
a crude fabrication. The seemingly star-crossed series of collateral damage
incidents continued the next day as NATO pilots hit a barracks in Kosovo,
unaware that the KLA had occupied the building.
On May 22, Talbott sat in the verdant backyard of his home in the Wood-
ley Park section of Washington on a muggy weekend afternoon and wrote
to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov:

It is my hope that when Viktor Stepanovich [Chernomyrdin], President Ahti-


saari and I meet on Wednesday, we'll all agree that it makes sense for the
two of them to travel to Belgrade the next day. After consulting back here in
Washington with Madeleine, Sandy and others, I'm reinforced in my convic-
tion that the ChernomyrdinAhtisaari initiative may indeed help hasten a po-
litical settlement and a suspension of bombing. But that will only happen if
there is total clarity between usand with Milosevicon what Belgrade
must do.
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 127

Talbott felt that while Ivanov and others on the Russian team "kept saying
we [were] adding conditions," clear operational details were necessary to en-
sure that a deal didn't "turn into potentially catastrophic misunderstandings
amidst the blood-stained mud and ruins of Kosovo."
That same day, the Clinton administration's efforts to engage with Bel-
grade directly took a step back as Robert Gelbardthe outgoing State De-
partment special advisor for the Balkanswas scheduled to meet with the
Yugoslav Minister without a Portfolio, Bogoljub Karic, the wealthy and
shadowy Milosevic confidant who had been eager to engage in direct talks
to end the war. However, Karic pulled out of the meeting at the last mo-
ment, claiming that he wanted to meet with the president, the vice president,
or the secretary of state. Given Karic's lack of credibility, Gelbard informed
the Yugoslav that such a meeting was not in the cards, but also indicated that
the door remained open for direct talks between Washington and Belgrade.
Landrum Boiling, the relief organization head who had first raised Karic as
a possible interlocutor, then weighed in with the name of another potential
Yugoslav intermediaryBojan Bugarcic. Bugarcic was Milosevic's chief of
staff and a foreign policy adviser and was the same man who had held the
long angry telephone call with Ambassador Holbrooke right after the bomb-
ing had started. While Bugarcic had insisted in March, "You might destroy
us, but we won't capitulate," he was now being considered as a secret negoti-
ator to help end the war.
Expectations remained muted for this new diplomatic track as Jim
O'Brien, an advisor to Secretary Albright, explained, "I did not think those
channels were serious. They could not take the weight of doing these talks.
They were worthwhile for communicating, but that was it, and I think they
demonstrated evidence of floundering and panic in Belgrade." O'Brien
added, "If one of the channels looked credible enough, sure, but none of
them did."
The possibility of talking directly to the Yugoslavs was still being given
serious consideration in Washington, and despite efforts to play down this
contingency after the war, policy-makers understood it remained one of the
three most likely end games to the war: a Russian-brokered peace deal, a
direct negotiated settlement with Belgrade, or a ground war that would make
further discussions irrelevant. As diplomats were aware, air power could do
massive damage, but it did not provide, in and of itself, a mechanism for
setting terms to conclude the conflict. The Clinton team wanted to keep an
128 * COLLISION COURSE

open mind with regard to all possibilities, and the White House mulled its
options for sending a senior U.S. representative to bilateral talks with Bel-
grade. Not surprisingly, Ambassador Holbrooke was prominent on that
short list, as was Talbott.

The Hague Weighs In


On May 25, an official plane with "United States of America" emblazoned
across its side returned American negotiators to a sunny and warm Moscow.
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott again headed the U.S. team, with
General Foglesong as the group's senior military representative. Jim Swigert
of the U.S. delegation, an expert on the Balkans and European affairs from
the State Department, shared his initial impressions from several weeks of
dealing with the Russians:

I was struck by the initial huge gap between the U.S. positions and the Rus-
sian positionwhich began very, very close to that of the Serbs. But the Rus-
sians kept asking us back, and they wanted to talk to us, even though the
message wasn't changing in terms of what we expected Belgrade to do for the
bombing campaign to stop. That told me several things. One, the Russians
were keenly interested for their own reasons in seeing a stop to the bombing.
Two, they were eager to maintain a relationship with the United States despite
the differences.

Talbott had dinner that evening with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister
Georgy Mamedov at the residence of Ambassador Collins. Mamedov drove
home several points, urging the West not to humiliate Russia at a time when
it was willing to be part of the diplomatic solution: "Russia does not want
to see the Cologne G-8 Summit turned into a disaster." Mamedov also
wanted Talbott to reconsider his position on total withdrawal of Serb forces,
feeling that even a token presence in the province would make Milosevic's
agreement much more likely. Unbeknown to Mamedov, the Clinton admin-
istration was weighing just that option, but had been unable to reach a con-
sensus. Mamedov also made a pitch for an ironclad and verifiable roadmap
for stopping the bombing and deploying peacekeepers, asking that Russian
peacekeepers be stationed in the northern part of Kosovo.
Talbott was then pulled away from the dinner to take an urgent call on a
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 129

secure line from Sandy Berger in Washington. The national security advisor
had explosive, but not entirely unexpected, news: the UN International War
Crimes Tribunal would indict Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and
some of his key aides within forty-eight hours. Berger was concerned with
the potential fallout from the announcement, but both men agreed there was
little choice other than to let the work of the Tribunal run its course. Talbott
knew that the next day's trilateral negotiations had just become even more
difficult.
In Brussels, NATO ambassadors gathered to consider the number of
troops its member states were willing to commit to a peacekeeping force. In
a move that had been carefully orchestrated, the group approved expanding
KFOR by 20,000 troopsto a total of 48,000. NATO officials cited the
large number of refugees and the serious security concerns within Kosovo in
justifying the larger force. Others read more deeply into NATO's actions and
interpreted the swelling troop levels as a clear sign that NATO was building
its forces for a ground war. Indeed, the additional troops would make it eas-
ier for NATO to assemble an invasion if that was its goal.
NATO officials used carefully ambivalent language. NATO Secretary-
General Javier Solana insisted that the Alliance was simply "planning for
success," and keeping all its options open. The decision to boost the forces
predeployed in the region was shrewd, allowing the Clinton administration
to placate both the hawks and doves within the Alliance. For the Greeks,
Germans, and Italians, the rhetoric of "planning for success" made clear that
the administration was still committed to finding a diplomatic solution. For
Tony Blair and General Clark, the additional troops meant that planning for
a ground war would continue. However, there were limits as to how much
planning could take place under the guise of KFOR, and Clark could only
go so far in his planning without specific troop commitments from the allies.
Clark himself noted, "Some nations would need to call up reserves. This
couldn't be fuzzed much longer." While beefing up the forces in Macedonia
was seen by some as the tip of the spear, these troops would have had to wait
three more months for the rest of the force to be assembled. The Russians,
being worst-case planners, were alarmed by the growing number of NATO
troops.
As the trilateral negotiators prepared to resume on May 26 in Moscow,
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeyev told reporters that he
was concerned talks only seemed to be "providing a nice screen for conceal-
ing the continuing aggression." Russian officials had forwarded a long and
130 * COLLISION COURSE

polemic paper to the U.S. and Finnish teams over the weekend that had
accused NATO of trying "to liquidate Russia as a global factor." Deputy
Secretary of State Talbott started his day by meeting with Ivanov in a one-
on-one session at the foreign ministry, as U.S., Russian, and Finnish military
officials resumed their discussion on the military aspects of a peace agree-
ment down the hall. Ivanov drew a map of Kosovo and the adjoining parts
of Albania and Macedonia. He said he understood that NATO intended to
put 50,000 troops inside Kosovo and that there would be an additional
20,000 NATO troops in Albania and Macedonia; "Is this correct?" he asked.
Talbott demurred from engaging in a counting exercise, but did not contra-
dict Ivanov. Talbott also noted that the peacekeeping force would not be
solely composed of NATO troops and that nations such as Russia were wel-
come to participate. "Mr. Foreign Minister, let me now be equally candid. I
received authoritative and definitive information overnight that we will have
an interesting and complicating development soon. Louise Arbour [Chief
Prosecutor for the UN International War Crimes Tribunal] is almost certain
to announce indictments against the Yugoslav leadership tomorrow."
Ivanov, wanting to know if the indictments would be sealed, asked sim-
ply, "Open or closed?" The indictment would be open, ensuring the charges
were front-page news around the globe. "Whom are we going to be able to
work with?" lamented Ivanov, shaking his head. The foreign minister ques-
tioned the motive and timing of the indictment, suspicious that the West
had dictated the charges only to justify its military campaign. The Russians
feared that the United States was trying to make Milosevic radioactive, leav-
ing the United Nations and moderates in the NATO Alliance with little op-
tion but to stay the course with continued air, and perhaps even ground,
operations.
The question facing Ivanov and Talbott was operational: Should the
United States and Russia continue to push Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin to
launch a joint mission to Belgrade in light of the indictments? Ivanov, taking
the news as well as could be hoped, felt it was imperative that the indict-
ments not bring diplomacy to a halt. He felt the charges were a "complicat-
ing" factor, not a fatal setback. Talbott was more hesitant, sensing there
would be a variety of views on the topic back in Washington, but he also
remained generally supportive of the proposed Belgrade mission. Both men
agreed the final decision on whether to travel to Yugoslavia would be up to
Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin.
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 131

The pending indictment presented a challenge for both the Russians and,
to a lesser extent, the Chinese. Both nations had consistently maintained that
NATO's air attacks against Yugoslavia were illegal because they lacked UN
authorization. The Western response to the charge had largely amounted to
fast footwork. Western leaders pointed to the humanitarian catastrophe and
gross human rights abuses as justification for their efforts and cited a hodge-
podge of legal precedents and existing agreements in making the case that its
actions were in keeping with international law. The Yugoslavs, Russians, and
Chinese reasoned that if NATO could brand Yugoslavia a rogue state, they
were free to brand General Clark and NATO Secretary-General Solana as
"war criminals." One Russian diplomat in the trilateral talks had even joked
that he thought Solana "would need a good lawyer" when all was said and
done. But Milosevic's indictment quickly changed the calculus of tit-for-tat
charges and countercharges. The body that the Russians insisted NATO an-
swer tothe United Nationswas accusing Slobodan Milosevic and a cadre
of his senior advisors of crimes against humanity. Neither the Russians nor
Chinese could find succor in denouncing the actions of a tribunal they had
created with their own Security Council votes.
Talbott asked if Ivanov thought Milosevic was moving closer to accepting
NATO's conditions, leading Ivanov to reply that, "Yugoslavia being Yugo-
slavia," it was hard to say. The foreign minister again pointed to the total
withdrawal of Yugoslav troops and the nature of the peacekeeping force as
the most sensitive issues for Belgrade. The Russians had considerably ad-
justed their earlier demand that tens of thousands of Yugoslav troops be al-
lowed to remain in Kosovo, now suggesting that some 500 to 1,500
Yugoslav forces should stay behind to ensure that the KLA did not exploit a
security vacuum in the province. Ivanov stressed that he did not think the
withdrawal issue would be a "killer" that would derail an agreement.
"We'll see," replied Talbott.
Ivanov argued that NATO at the core was unacceptable to Belgrade be-
cause "if NATO occupies Kosovo, Milosevic has only two choices: to kill
himself or to disappear." Talbott countered that NATO was not looking to
provide Milosevic with options and certainly did not want to allow him to
keep fighting in Kosovo. The deputy secretary claimed there were ways to
give the peacekeeping operation, and particularly the Russian participation
in such a force, an appearance of not being entirely dominated by NATO.
The United States was willing to be creative in packaging KFORas long
132 * COLLISION COURSE

as a NATO force was at its heart. If the peacekeepers could be wrapped in a


cloak of UN authority that did not interfere with its military capabilities,
there was little harm. However, both Talbott and Ivanov knew that the mea-
sures being offered to Moscow were largely cosmetic. It was hard to mistake
50,000 NATO troops under NATO command with robust rules of engage-
ment as broad power sharing.
After his meeting with Ivanov, Talbott and his team moved on to the
Finnish ambassador's home to meet with President Ahtisaari. The residence
had a pleasant Scandinavian sensibility and was filled with contemporary fur-
nishings in a bright open space that felt out of place in Moscow. Talbott and
Ahtisaari wanted to discuss the impact of the indictment in a secure location
away from any potential electronic eavesdropping and headed into the com-
munications room of the adjoining Finnish embassy, where they promptly
managed to lock themselves in. While Talbott was concerned, Ahtisaari non-
chalantly suggested they carry on, saying, "One of the good things about
being president is that they never let me go missing for very long."
The news of the indictment did not come as a surprise to Ahtisaari, who
had spoken with UN Secretary-General Annan earlier in the day and been
warned, "The lady in the Hague has resorted to a truly tough line." Pri-
vately, although Annan and Ahtisaari had known each other for years, the
two were said to have an uneasy relationship. Ahtisaari continued to be an-
noyed by Annan's rather tepid support for his role in the trilateral talks, sus-
pecting that the secretary-general was positioning the United Nations to take
the lead in diplomacy if the trilateral talks collapsed. However, Ahtisaari also
struck a somewhat sympathetic tone: "Secretary-General Annan genuinely
thought that we could not do without the United Nations, and he wanted
to secure his role in case the trilateral process failed."
Ahtisaari weighed the impact of the indictment, knowing that he was
faced with the unpleasant prospect of traveling to Belgrade and being seen
shaking hands with Milosevic the same day the Yugoslav president was in-
dicted. Ahtisaari was understandably nervous about how a trip would play
out with his European Union colleagues, and although still tentatively open
to the idea, he knew a great deal depended on Chernomyrdin. The two also
discussed the possibility that a quick mission to Belgrade could be completed
before news of the indictment became public. However, Ahtisaari still
wanted to reach further agreement with the Russians on the "Reader's Di-
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 133

gest" version of NATO's demands before he committed to a trip, and it was


unclear whether the three delegations could do so quickly.
The two also discussed the notion of a solo Ahtisaari mission to Belgrade.
As Ahtisaari reflected, "At this point it did not seem to me that the trilateral
effort would be successful. If that [was] the case, [I felt that] I had better go
to Belgrade alone and find out what that could produce." Talbott told Ahti-
saari that if he traveled to Belgrade, he should be on the lookout for Bojan
Bugarcic, the Yugoslav foreign policy adviser that Washington was consider-
ing for direct negotiations. The U.S. deputy secretary of state also informed
Ahtisaari that he would likely soon be able to support something slightly less
than total withdrawal of Yugoslav forces. The United States would not let a
token presence of several hundred Yugoslav forces in Kosovo stand in the way
of a peace agreement. However, the deputy secretary emphatically stressed
that the Finnish president should avoid hinting at such a concession during
the talks. The Department of Defense continued to have reservations about
any Yugoslav stay-behinds, while the National Security Council was leaning
toward supporting such an offer as long as the presence was truly minimal. As
one U.S. negotiator emphasized, "It was all for show, it all got to the issue of
sovereignty," but, "Whoever was left behind would be more difficult to pro-
tect than any demonstration of sovereignty would warrant." Any Serb forces
left in the province would literally be under NATO's protective custody.
After lunch, the U.S. and Finnish teams again sped in a motorcade to the
outskirts of Moscow to meet Chernomyrdin and his team at Stalin's dacha.
Talbott and Chernomyrdin went into a one-on-one meeting, and the Rus-
sian envoy appeared relatively ambivalent about the indictment, but feared
that the charges would again make him a target for criticism in Moscow and
Belgrade. He speculated that many Russians would view him as complicit if
he were in Belgrade when the charges were announced, but he also did not
want to see the diplomatic process collapse, because it would leave Yeltsin
right where he started: furious about the bombing but unable to do anything
about it.
Neither Chernomyrdin nor Ivanov broached the subject of possible im-
munity for Milosevic as part of a peace deal, and neither man viewed Milo-
sevic with any warmth. Russia and Yugoslavia, despite some common
interests, were members of a mutual disdain society. Secretary Albright
seemed to both sympathize and poke fun at the quandary of the Russians by
telling reporters during the war, "I think it is not easy for anyone to be Milo-
sevic's defense lawyer." But for the Communists and others who opposed
134 * COLLISION COURSE

Yeltsin, NATO bombing presented a golden opportunity to turn things


against the West. For Russians hoping to preserve their ties to the West, Slo-
bodan Milosevic was a titanic inconvenience, and Yeltsin himself had called
Milosevic "one of the most cynical politicians I have ever dealt with." Milo-
sevic held Yeltsin in equally low regard, and Goran Matic, a Yugoslav cabinet
member had complained, "Russia is following its own interests, trying to get
back in good graces with the West. Every NATO bomb that drops on Yugo-
slavia has a Russian stamp on it." The Yugoslavs were also angry at Russian
support for the Rambouillet talks that they viewed as a pretext for NATO
bombing, and upset that Russia had largely withheld military and intelli-
gence assistance.
After a short break, the full trilateral meeting started around a large table
at the dacha. As they sat down and exchanged pleasantries, Talbott asked
Chernomyrdin why there was no "empty chair" at the table. The Russian
envoy, equally well versed in theater, instructed that an unoccupied seat be
placed exactly halfway between the Russian and Finnish delegations. The
afternoon's meetings were significant in one important respect: Chernomyr-
din and his colleagues from the Russian military would be negotiating jointly
for the first time. Interagency coordination was never a Russian strength, and
during the earlier talks, Russian military and diplomatic representatives had
worked largely on separate tracks, only exacerbating the confusion.
The Russian military delegation was again headed by Gen. Leonid Ivas-
hov, the former Communist Party commissar in the old Soviet Army and
head of the defense ministry's department of international cooperation. Ivas-
hov was an unabashed hard-liner who proudly admitted that he had agitated
for a military coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990. Gen. Viktor Zavar-
zinRussia's liaison to NATO who had been called back to Moscow at the
onset of bombingalso joined the discussions. The tensions between Cher-
nomyrdin and Ivashov were obvious from the outset, and Chernomyrdin
disparagingly called General Ivashov "Comrade Commissar" several times
during the discussions.
Chernomyrdin again stressed that bombing was strengthening anti-West-
ern elements in Moscow and noted that some in Russia were eager for a
strategic or military confrontation with NATO that would result in a "a sea
of blood." His comments seemed directed equally at the U.S. and Russian
military officials sitting around the table. It was clear the Russian military
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 135

was riding the brake, and the body language was such that the Russian offi-
cers looked physically uncomfortable whenever Chernomyrdin displayed any
flexibility. The Russian envoy also grumbled that he did not appreciate mak-
ing repeated and dangerous visits to Belgrade with little to show for his ef-
forts. The Russian negotiators continued to resist the total withdrawal of
Yugoslav troops, and expressed skepticism that Milosevic would accept such
a deal. Talbott countered that if Milosevic could convert a small number of
military stay-behinds into a genuine military power base in the province,
NATO peacekeepers would have a potential disaster on their hands. KLA
attacks on the Yugoslav soldiers would be a certainty and NATO would find
itself in the middle of a civil war.
Chernomyrdin again raised the proposal for a bombing pause that would
be followed by intense negotiations with Belgrade, and his suggestion was
quickly rejected. Talbott's plan for exchanging a brief break in air strikes for
Russian support of a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of
"all means necessary" against Yugoslavia was not raised.
The Russians also advanced a plan to have peacekeepers from neutral
countries under UN command deployed in the traditionally Serb areas of
Northern Kosovo, while NATO countries that had not been involved in the
bombing campaign patrolled the rest of the province. Troops from the main-
stay NATO countries such as the United States and Great Britain would
remain in Macedonia and Albania to secure the border. Milosevic would
reduce his forces to peacetime levels, but not totally vacate Kosovo. The pro-
posal was quickly given the cold shoulder by the U.S. team, and Talbott was
adamant: NATO at the core was one of the "family jewels."
While NATO had clear preferences for the peacekeeping operation, its
vision of Kosovo's ultimate status was carefully hedged. NATO wanted to
keep Yugoslavia intact, and many of the Allies were firmly opposed to inde-
pendence for Kosovo. NATO feared an independent Kosovo would trigger
instability in Greece, Macedonia, Albania, and Bulgaria, while encouraging
other secessionist movements to drag the Alliance into their violent libera-
tion struggles. However, NATO also maintained that Belgrade was no longer
fit to administer the province, or as Talbott put it, "We are firing Mr. Milo-
sevic from managing Kosovo." Nobody in NATO liked the idea that Kosovo
would become a quasi-protectorate for years or decades to come, but no one
had a better option.
In the middle of the talks, Phil Goldberg, Talbott's chief of staff, received
136 * COLLISION COURSE

a call from Sandy Berger, who rather agitatedly asked why Talbott was con-
tinuing with the effort to get Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari to go to Belgrade
in light of Milosevic's indictment. Berger, who was known to get hot under
the collar, complained, "I thought there were going to be consultations,"
and then hung up. Both Berger and Albright wanted to scrub any visit to
Belgrade until after the dust from the indictment had settled, fearing that
they would appear too eager for compromise with a war criminal. Talbott,
having devoted considerable time and energy in trying to get Ahtisaari and
Chernomyrdin to launch a joint mission, was less categorical. He feared that
abandoning the trip would effectively cripple the trilateral talks and open the
door for the United Nations to take a more prominent role.
Talbott then emerged from the meeting and spoke with Berger, Albright,
and Deputy National Security Advisor James Steinberg in a tense twenty-
minute conference call. The deputy secretary did not want to pull the plug
on a possible trip and argued that it was not a decision that was entirely
Washington's to make. He noted that the two men could travel to Belgrade
and back before the news became public and argued that abandoning U.S.
support for the mission would jeopardize what progress they had been made
with the Russians. Talbott felt that a trip delayed would become a trip that
never took place.
Despite his recommendations, Berger and Albright still had serious reser-
vations. Steinberg, on the other hand, sided with Talbott. The four ended
their conversation having resolved little and, in an awkward compromise,
Talbott agreed to leave the U.S. position toward an Ahtisaari and Cherno-
myrdin trip to Belgrade open. Berger called back a short time later after hav-
ing spoken with Ambassador Holbrooke. While Holbrooke shared some of
Berger's misgivings, he urged Berger to support his negotiator, and the na-
tional security advisor said he would do so.

The CNN Effect

As the long session at the dacha ground on, it brought out interesting cul-
tural differences between the delegations. The American and Finnish staff
rooms looked much the samepeople on cell phones, typing into laptop
computers, and comparing drafts of different documents. In contrast, the
Russian staff office was filled with men reclining, chain-smoking, and watch-
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 137

ing local game shows on a television with bad reception. During a meal
served later in the day, the U.S. team almost uniformly declined the vodka
that was provided, the Finns drank lightly, and the Russians ate and drank
with gusto.
Soon the debate between Berger, Albright, and Talbott was outpaced by
events: CNN broke the story that Milosevic would be indicted the following
day. Some of the U.S. delegation members in Moscow could not resist an
obvious irony. The CNN reporter breaking the story was Christiane Aman-
pour, the wife of State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin.
The fact that the indictment was now public did little to improve the
already thorny discussions at the dacha. Chernomyrdin stepped out to take
a call from Prime Minister Stepashin, who was in President Yeltsin's limou-
sine as it was returning from the Moscow airport. Yeltsin was indignant, and
he viewed the indictment as a direct slap designed to further embarrass him
in the middle of talks. Both Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari soon backed away
from the plan to quickly visit Belgrade.
During the afternoon, Secretary Albright checked in with her fellow quint
foreign ministers from France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy.
The indictment was of foremost concern, and there was general agreement
it would cloud diplomatic efforts. Albright pointed out that the United
States had always maintained that the tribunal would follow evidence wher-
ever it led and that there was no choice but to be supportive of its decision.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer agreed. The charges were a matter
of the rule of law, and the United Nations had created the tribunalnot
NATO. The Allies would point to the indictment as a vindication of the
assumptions underpinning their air campaign against Milosevic, but the for-
eign ministers agreed they should not demand Milosevic's ouster as part of a
peace agreement. All five wondered how the news would play out in the
court of public opinion. There was some hope the indictment would seri-
ously weaken Milosevic and possibly lead to his downfall, but there was con-
cern that since the tribunal was a UN body, the Russians might become
more hesitant to support any UN resolution authorizing peacekeepers. On
the positive side, the charges might make it more difficult for the UN Secre-
tary-General Annan to dispatch his own special envoy to Belgrade.
Later in the day, Albright and British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook com-
pared notes on the climate within the Alliance. Cook had returned from a
visit with his French, Italian, and German counterparts and was upbeat after
138 * COLLISION COURSE

his whirlwind tour, feeling that if all else failed, the Italians would consider
participating in a ground war. The Germans indicated that their constitution
made it impossible to send troops as part of a ground force absent a UN
resolution, but they would probably not block NATO from moving forward.
The British felt German resolve was growing, despite obvious political dis-
comfort. Cook also felt that the French would support the use of ground
forces, but only as a last resort. Albright, while pleased that unity was hold-
ing, did her best to temper British enthusiasm for ground troops, stressing
the difficult political dynamic in many Alliance capitals. Both Albright and
Cook recognized that trying to forge a peace deal as Milosevic was declared
a war criminal was going to be difficult.
Belgrade continued to keep lines of communication open with the Clin-
ton administration. In Stockholm, the Swedish Deputy Political Director
contacted U.S. Ambassador Lyndon Olsen, as yet another prospective secret
Yugoslav envoy popped up. The Serb Press spokesman and head of the Yu-
goslav Policy Planning staff, Nebojsa Vujovic, had approached the Swedish
ambassador in Belgrade, said that he had spoken directly with Milosevic, and
that the Yugoslav president wanted to have the Swedes pass a message to the
Americans. Milosevic wanted to open a direct channel of communication
with Washington and noted that during Landrum Boiling's visit, the Ameri-
can had indicated American officials were open to the idea.
Vujovic, in a calculated dig at Chernomyrdin, noted that a number of
envoys had passed through Belgrade but that talks had led nowhere. Vujovic
insisted that Yugoslavia did not want to insult the countries sending such
envoys, but felt that direct communications and "exploratory talks" with
Washington were necessary. He suggested the new diplomatic channel could
rapidly lead to confidential talks between the United States and Yugoslavia
in a neutral location such as Sweden. Vujovic claimed that Milosevic had
designated him as the Serb representative to such talks and that he envi-
sioned a high-ranking American counterpart for the talks, but not one of
the "usual" interlocutors. The Swedish ambassador asked if that meant the
Yugoslavs did not want to interact with Ambassador Holbrooke, and Vu-
jovic confirmed that Belgrade preferred another mediator. Vujovic specifi-
cally mentioned Jim Swigert, a Deputy Assistant Secretary for European
Affairs who was traveling with Talbott, as a possible negotiator. "It might
have made sense to move to bilateral discussions if we were sure it was the
end game," Swigert would observe, but "as long as it seemed that Milosevic
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 139

was dug in and willing to tough it out, I was worried that Milosevic would
interpret any positive responses to such signals as a sign of weakness."
In a subsequent meeting several days later, Vujovic told the Swedish am-
bassador that Milosevic was eager to work out the details of a deal, including
the structure of a peacekeeping force, troop withdrawals, and the role of the
United States and the United Nations in refugee returns. Vujovic stressed
that his mandate came directly from Milosevic and that his back-channel
discussions would not come at the expense of other diplomatic efforts al-
ready underway. This message was soon passed back through Stockholm and
on to Washington. The Swedish contacts came as Landrum Boiling, the
N G O leader who had earlier met with Secretary Albright, sent a message
back to the Serb leadership on May 28: The United States was potentially
interested in opening up a secret channel for talks. According to Boiling, the
message was delivered to Bojan Bugarcic the next day and discussed directly
with Milosevic shortly thereafter. Milosevic reportedly recognized the offer
as serious because of the names and telephone numbers associated, but he
did not make a final decision.
Within the Clinton administration, there was persistent skepticism that
Milosevic would surrender to a neutral party such as Ahtisaari, and most of
the national security team felt that Milosevic would try to preserve his own
stature by engaging Washington directly. Milosevic would then be able to
claim that he had reached a negotiatednot an imposedsettlement with
NATO and improve his chances of holding on to power. However, there
were political dangers in bilateral talks for Washington. Many in the United
States would question peace talks with an indicted war criminal. Such nego-
tiations would also create some tensions within NATO itself, as allies would
be torn between eagerness to strike a peace deal and their own desire for a
seat at the table. The Allies would likely have stomached such a process if it
produced results, but they obviously preferred consultation.
Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Steinberg was skeptical of direct
talks. "We had nothing to negotiate. It would not have made it any more
likely that Milosevic would concede. Once you offered it, Milosevic would
assume, correctly, that you were prepared to negotiate. The beauty of the
trilateral talks was that it was a structure designed to show that we would
not negotiate. You had Ahtisaari there as the guy who could say, 'I talked to
the Americans and they are not going to change,' and Chernomyrdin there
saying, 'Well, Ahtisaari knows those Americans.'"
140 * COLLISION COURSE

Back in Moscow at the dacha, those self-same trilateral talks continued as


Ahtisaari, Talbott, and Chernomyrdin worked their way through a seemingly
interminable series of meetings. They shared a late dinner of deep-fried fish
and stayed in steady contact with their respective home offices. Small mea-
sures of progress appeared and receded as the discussions ran past midnight.
At around one-thirty in the morning on May 27after close to ten hours of
talksthe negotiators at Stalin's dacha finally agreed to call it a night. Ahti-
saari proposed holding a meeting later that same morning and letting "the
dust settle" before deciding about a mission to Belgrade. Both Talbott and
Chernomyrdin quickly agreed, since it would keep the diplomatic process
alive while steering clear of the political fallout from the war crimes indict-
ment. When they reconvened, the Finnish delegation would present a formal
draft of the "Reader's Digest" version of the demands, which the U.S. team
would help them prepare. With that, the bleary diplomats departed the
wooded and dark compound.
Talbott joined Ahtisaari in his limousine for the ride back through the
deserted streets of Moscow. Ahtisaari wanted to go to Bonn to meet with
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder if he did not travel to Belgrade, feel-
ing duty-bound to report the current state of affairs to his colleagues in the
European Union. The Finnish president also suggested that a journey to Bel-
grade would be more practical the following week, and he hoped that some
additional time would allow the three sides to resolve their differences. Tal-
bott returned to the Marriott Hotel a little after two in the morning and the
hotel lobby and adjacent bar were filled with a fairly sordid collection of
Moscow nightlife: expensive prostitutes hoping to land a Western business-
man, local mobsters with girlfriends in stiletto heels, and European execu-
tives having a few drinks too many. Even at that late hour, the temperature
in Moscow remained disturbingly warm, as the city continued to trudge
through a record heat wave. The trilateral process, while not dead, seemed
to be going nowhere.
Despite the late hour, Gen. George Casey and Jim Swigert of the U.S.
team joined the Finnish delegation at the Savoy Hotel to work on the paper
spelling out the demands, a process Ahtisaari described as, "your words; our
music." The U.S. delegation continued to move at a grueling pace, and ex-
haustion was setting in. Most of the team looked pale and unhealthy, having
taken on a glazed and shell-shocked look from constant travel, too much
coffee, and steady stress. One member of the team observed that the lengthy
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 141

talks often felt like a farce: "It was about buying time for bombing." This
official added, "We thought that it was important to do anything we could
to keep the Russians from jumping out the window. If this set of really frus-
trating, totally fruitless discussions was going to be the tonicit was perfect,
and we were all in love with it." The fear among the U.S. team was simply
that the Russians "would never get religion."
Despite the fatigue and frustration, the dynamics within the U.S. team
remained good. The blizzard of travel and talks had created a sense of cama-
raderie. Because the talks with the Russians had never been given much of a
chance, it seemed to pull the team closer together. The Russians were such
difficult diplomatic partners that relations within the team seemed congenial
in comparison. Much of the credit for the atmosphere belonged to Deputy
Secretary Talbott and General Foglesong, both of whom set a positive tone
and treated the group with equanimity.
At three in the morning on May 27, U.S. Secretary of Defense William
Cohen arrived in Bonn to attend a secret meeting with four of his fellow
NATO defense ministers on the sidelines of a security conference. The topic
at hand: a potential ground war. Around ten in the morning, the group gath-
ered at the German ministry of defense. The planning and logistics necessary
to put a ground force in theater would be considerable, and it would be
months before such a force could be deployed and ready for combat. Al-
though the Alliance was enjoying its best bombing weather of the campaign,
the specter of a dark and desperate winter was on everyone's mind. If NATO
was unable to bring Milosevic to heel, and was left trying to airdrop relief
supplies to refugees in the December snows of Kosovo, it would be every-
one's worst nightmare.
Although the widening air strikes were doing tremendous damage to Yu-
goslavia's infrastructure, economy, and quality of life, it was an open ques-
tion whether they would break Milosevic's will. There was every indication
that the Yugoslav president could hold on to power despite a ruined econ-
omy and a population in despair. The Yugoslav military continued to care-
fully husband its resources; tanks and troops were hidden in mosques and
schools. There were even reports that the Serbs were herding old men in
front of armored columns to prevent air strikes. While such tactics were
deeply cynical, they were effective. NATO was expected to manage house-
by-house precision with bombs dropped from an elevation equivalent to half
142 * COLLISION COURSE

the height of Mount Everest, and there was increasing skepticism that air
power alone would prevail.
Cohen and the defense ministers of Britain, France, Germany, and
Italythe five most powerful members of NATOwere briefed on roughly
the same ground war options that had been presented to President Clinton
the week before, although General Clark was conspicuously absent from the
meeting. It was made clear that Clark preferred a ground invasion of some
175,000 NATO troops largely entering from Albania. British Defense Min-
ister George Robertson was reported to have committed 50,000 British
troops to a potential ground war during the meeting, telling his fellow de-
fense chiefs that his ministry was prepared to send out 30,000 letters calling
up reservists in early June. The French and Italian defense ministers indi-
cated that they would participate in a ground invasion if it were absolutely
necessary, and some in the Italian government had come to view the conflict
like removing a Band-Aid: the more quickly it was ripped off, the better.
The Italian government also continued to publicly disavow any role for Italy
in ground operations.
The sentiments of his fellow defense ministers notwithstanding, Secretary
of Defense Cohen still had deep reservations. He was not a fan of the ex-
tended NATO peacekeeping operation in Bosnia, and he viewed Kosovo
with a jaundiced eye. The Pentagon as a whole saw the Balkans as a danger-
ous long-term entanglement for U.S. forces, and Cohen was aware of the
lack of support for a ground war both on Capitol Hill and in most European
capitals. The Clinton White House remained deeply conflicted about the
ground option. While increasingly realizing that failure was not an option,
there was little enthusiasm for a protracted military commitment and the
possibility of significant casualties heading into an election year. The savage
political battles over impeachment had left Clinton poorly positioned to rally
bipartisan support for a war that was not a pressing matter of national de-
fense. Cohen argued to his fellow defense ministers for intensifying the air
war and broadening the target list, and was mum about U.S. willingness to
lead a ground war.
After more than six hours of discussion, the defense ministers reached
consensus on one important issue: They would need a decision on ground
troops within a matter of weeks. They also took a series of steps to buy them-
selves all possible time before making that determination. They committed
their forces to intensify the work of engineers upgrading roads in Albania so
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 143

they could handle heavy tanks and transports. The Alliance also initiated
discreet discussions with countries in the region that could serve as a staging
ground for forces. Hungary indicated a willingness to let NATO to use its
territory to launch attacks if the Alliance would assure that it would use all
necessary means to protect ethnic Hungarians in Yugoslavia. With the infra-
structure improvements in Albania, coupled with the decision to expand the
deployment of peacekeepers in the region, NATO officials felt they could
push a final decision on ground troops to early or mid-June and still have
enough time to launch a ground war before the onset of winter.
After the meeting, Cohen immediately flew back to the United States,
and news of the meeting soon leaked out. Cohen and NATO officials would
remain tight-lipped about the session, saying only that it had produced an
agreement to continue and intensify the air campaign. Through back chan-
nels, Clark would receive his own read-out of the meeting, and he continued
to feel that if the United States led, the other Allies would follow.

The Germans Go Wobbly

Back in Moscow after a brief sleep, the U.S. negotiators checked out of the
Marriott Hotel by 8:30 in the morning on May 27. The team was scheduled
to depart Moscow later in the day, but their onward destination was still
uncertain and included five potential stops: Bonn, Geneva, Brussels, Vienna,
or London. Because there was still a slim hope for a Chernomyrdin-Ahtisaari
mission to Belgrade that afternoon, both Vienna and Geneva would be con-
venient locales to meet the envoys as they emerged from Yugoslavia. Bonn
was a possible stop because Ahtisaari wanted to report to Chancellor Sch-
roeder. London and Brussels were on the list for similar reasons, because
both British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and the NATO ambassadors
wanted to be updated on the negotiations. As Ambassador Richard Hol-
brooke is fond of saying, diplomacy can be like jazz.
Returning to Stalin's dacha after a brief meeting with President Ahtisaari
at his hotel, U.S. negotiators resumed talks. Meetings could endure for two
hours or twelve, and guessing the duration of the negotiating sessions took
on the flavor of an office pool for the U.S. staffers. The Finnish delegation
distributed the revised paper spelling out to the Russians the demands for
ending the war, but unfortunately between the lack of sleep, multiple trans-
144 * COLLISION COURSE

lations, and frequent revisions, they handed out the wrong version of the
document. To make matters worse, about twenty minutes elapsed before the
drafters noticed the discrepancy, and the confusion did little to improve the
mood. The Russian negotiators were already irritated by some of the tough
language contained in the draft and were further dismayed to have the Finns
quickly request to swap versions.
Staffers scrambled back and forth between the Finnish and American staff
rooms explaining what had happened and making sure everyone had copies
of the correct paper. Talbott was irritated by the delay, and those members
of the U.S. delegation not involved in the drafting process took pains to stay
out of his way. The deputy secretary very rarely raised his voice in anger, but
emitted a telltale heavy sigh when frustrated.
Eventually, the session got under way with the proper draft in hand. In
an interesting development, Foreign Minister Ivanov joined Chernomyrdin
at the talks, and the U.S. team was split on the meaning of his appearance.
From a positive perspective, Ivanov's participation could help increase the
likelihood that Russian government would speak with one voice. Others at-
tributed more Machiavellian motives to Ivanov's presence, suggesting that
he had been sent to ensure that Chernomyrdin was not too accommodating.
Even with the broader representation, the talks quickly reverted to their cir-
cular nature. The Russians repeatedly objected to the notion that their forces
would have to serve under NATO command and pushed for their own
peacekeeping sector, "just as is proposed for the big NATO powers." Again,
the Russians argued a bombing pause should precede any withdrawal of Yu-
goslav forces and insisted that KLA "terrorists" would exploit a security vac-
uum before KFOR could deploy. The Russians also produced their own
draft of the demands paper, offering modest compromises on several issues,
but hanging tough in opposing total withdrawal and NATO control of
peacekeepers.
Generals Foglesong and Casey patiently reviewed what they considered
operational flaws in the Russian approach. The peacekeeping force needed
to have a unified chain of command to be effective, and any withdrawal had
to be verified before bombing would stop because Milosevic was fundamen-
tally untrustworthy. NATO troops could move into the province quickly to
ensure there was no security vacuum.
Both Ivanov and Chernomyrdin were frustrated with the dry and techni-
cal approach of the U.S. team, and they insisted that the central issues before
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 145

the negotiators were fundamentally political, not operational. The Russians


wanted to engage in higher-level horse-trading, and insisted that NATO's
senior civilian leaders should be at the negotiating table.
Once again, the trilateral talks had produced little. As Ahtisaari described,
"The trip to Belgrade could be forgotten. The meeting made no progress;
nobody was willing to make any concessions whatsoever." Chernomyrdin
would make yet another solo mission to Belgrade to consult with Milosevic
the next day, and Ahtisaari and Talbott would go to Bonn and meet with
Chancellor Schroeder. Ahtisaari indicated that he would join Chernomyrdin
for a trip to Belgrade, possibly as soon as the Tuesday of the next week. As
the meeting concluded, Ahtisaari lamented to Chernomyrdin, "We missed
an opportunity this morning, I would have gone today if you would have
been willing to join me in a common script." As the U.S. and Finnish dele-
gations hurried out to the front driveway, Talbott lingered for a moment on
the third floor of the dacha as a small knot of nonplussed Russian military
officers stood smoking cigarettes.
Chernomyrdin appeared and asked to have a few private words with Tal-
bott. The two moved off to a small side room near one of the dining halls.
Five minutes later, the elevator opened and an agitated Ivanov and an aide
hurriedly stepped out, joining Talbott and Chernomyrdin. Both Ivanov and
Chernomyrdin expressed their mounting angst to the deputy secretary, ar-
guing that the long series of talks had nothing to show for them. Phil Gold-
berg offered Talbott a gentle reminder that they needed to leave to avoid
keeping Chancellor Schroeder waiting, and the impromptu meeting broke
up.
As they said their good-byes on the front steps of the dacha, the mood
was surprisingly light-hearted, with the negotiators relieved to escape further
long hours at the dacha. Chernomyrdin looked like a man running for office
as he good-naturedly shook the hands of all those in the U.S. delegation.
The Americans, for their part, wished him the best of luck in his journey to
Belgrade. Talbott had Goldberg place a quick cell phone call to Secretary
Albrightor "Momma Boss" as the Russians sometimes called herfrom
the steps of the dacha. The call went through and Talbott mischievously held
out the telephone halfway between Chernomyrdin and Ivanov, creating a
curious little moment. Which Russian should speak to the U.S. secretary of
state first? Which of the two men was in charge? Ivanov quickly, and rather
gracefully, suggested Chernomyrdin take the line.
146 * COLLISION COURSE a

Chernomyrdin held forth with the secretary in Russian for several min-
utes. Chernomyrdin was a big man, and the cell phone looked diminutive
in his large hand. Chernomyrdin appeared to be enjoying his role, and he
spoke in a grand voice as he joked with Albright. Chernomyrdin passed the
cell phone to Foreign Minister Ivanov, and the contrast was vivid. Ivanov
was tight-lipped, and his discussion with Albright lasted less than a minute
as he told the secretary of state that he would call her later in the day.
At The Hague, Louise Arbour of the UN International War Crimes Tri-
bunal formally announced the indictment of Milosevic, President of Serbia
Milan Milutinovic, Federal Yugoslav Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, Chief
of Staff of the Yugoslav Army Dragoljub Ojdanic, and Serb Interior Minister
Vlajko Stojiljkovic. The group was charged with masterminding the coordi-
nated campaign of terror and violence that ethnically cleansed hundreds of
thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, and the indictment included
reference to specific massacres that had been conducted in the province. Al-
though the indicted were accused of directing murders and persecution, this
initial indictment did not charge the Yugoslav leadership with genocide; later
charges based on earlier events in Bosnia would do so. Justice Arbour de-
clared that "the world is a much smaller place" for the indictees and noted
that all states, including Yugoslavia, were under treaty obligation to hand the
men over for trial. Arbour insisted that the indictment effectively precluded
any talk of immunity for Milosevic. The official Russian government daily
Rossiyskaya Gazeta assailed the charges and decried, "Washington's next step
must be a land operation against Yugoslavia."
In communications with Washington after the negotiators lifted off from
Moscowheaded for BonnTalbott informed his superiors back in Wash-
ington that "Ahtisaari remains solid as an anvil," but "there continues to be
not one iota of evidence that any of this diplomatic to'ing and fro'ing is
having any positive effect whatsoever on Milosevic." Talbott also made clear,
"If possible, we'd like to keep the Russians involved in the diplomacy, since
their disengagement is not likely to be passive or benign; it's likely to bring
with it an escalation of the wrong kind of engagement with the Serbs as well
as active sabotage of our efforts."
During the flight, Talbott turned to General Foglesong, "We may have
to go to Belgrade at some point, are you with me?"
Pausing for only a moment, Foglesong said, "I'll go."
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 147

With the trilateral talks continuing to bog down, dealing directly with
Milosevic seemed increasingly likely.
As members of the team telephoned Washington from the plane, they
were repeatedly asked if they had seen an op-ed piece authored by Cherno-
myrdin that had run in that morning's Washington Post. They had not, and
Chernomyrdin had not mentioned any such article at the dacha. Administra-
tion officials were furious with Chernomyrdin and concerned that his state-
ment amounted to a deliberate attempt to sabotage the talks. They wanted to
immediately call in the Russian ambassador in Washington to express their
outrage. Talbott, having not read the article, argued for restraint, but when
the deputy secretary finally got the op-ed in his hands before touching down
in Bonn, Washington's consternation was understandable. "Just as Soviet
tanks trampling on the Prague spring of 1968 finally shattered the myth of
the socialist regime's merits, so the United States lost its moral right to be
regarded as a leader of the free democratic world when its bombs shattered
the ideals of liberty and democracy in Yugoslavia," wrote Chernomyrdin. In
language eerily reminiscent of the Cold War he argued, "The world has
never in this decade been so close as now to the brink of nuclear war."
The next day in Washington, Tom Pickering, the Department of State's
undersecretary for political affairs, called Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov
into his office to complain about the article and questioned Russia's willing-
ness to remain engaged in the diplomatic process in light of its rhetoric. Pick-
ering queried whether the Russians were deliberately distancing themselves
from the diplomacy, and he took particular issue with Chernomyrdin's par-
allel between NATO and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Pickering,
a seasoned diplomat, completed his exhortations with an appeal to maintain
strong U.S.-Russian relations.
Ushakov, who could weather diplomatic browbeatings with an almost
masochist zeal, did his best to reassure Pickering. He implausibly claimed
that the publication of the article had taken him by surprise. Ushakov, avoid-
ing comments on substance, assured Pickering that a full report of U.S. gov-
ernment concerns would be cabled back to Moscow, and that the Russians
had no intention of breaking off talks.
As the U.S. delegation's plane touched down at the Bonn-Cologne air-
port, it parked in a far corner of the facility, next to President Ahtisaari's
aircraft. Ahtisaari's plane was rented from Finnish Airlines, which had de-
manded that the government take out a special insurance policy because of
148 * COLLISION COURSE

the potential flight to Belgrade. Ahtisaari and Talbott were each accompa-
nied by a single staffer as they quickly boarded a helicopter and headed for
Chancellor Schroeder's office. The other staff members meandered out of
the plane, and some took off their shoes and sat on a small strip of grass near
the tarmac to soak up the sun.
Domestic politics were making the Germans increasingly anxious about
the war, and many journalists were suggesting that Chancellor Schroeder was
growing desperate to find a way out. In mid-May, Schroeder had told report-
ers the use of ground troops was "unthinkable," that his government would
block any such effort, and that the discussion over ground troops was a "spe-
cifically British debate." While German parliamentarians had suggested that
Germany could not participate in a ground invasion without UN authoriza-
tion, General Clark was convinced that he could sell his plan for a ground
invasion within NATO, including to the Germans.
However, the coalition of Greens and Social Democrats that had brought
Schroeder to power was deeply uncomfortable with the war. Many of the
party members had cut their teeth as antinuclear, pro-environment activists
railing for years against Chancellor Helmut Kohl's conservative government.
A May 13 special conference of the Green Party had degenerated into catcalls
and egg throwing over Kosovo, and Foreign Minister Fischer had been
struck in the head by a red paint bomb that ruptured his eardrum. Kosovo
was a conundrum for European Social Democrats and American liberals
alike. As much as they abhorred violence and the use of military force, they
felt compelled to check Belgrade's gross human rights abuses. To do nothing
was to turn a blind eye to terrible cruelty; to act meant harming innocent
civilians.
Chancellor Schroeder wanted to appear fully engaged in the diplomatic
efforts as a means to reassure his restive supporters that he was doing every-
thing possible to end the war. Schroeder's governing coalition was extremely
fragile, and unless there was a diplomatic breakthrough by the Cologne Sum-
mit, some within the German leadership feared not only would public sup-
port for the air campaign collapse, the ruling coalition might as well.
Schroeder had earlier told Ahtisaari that he thought the war might bring his
government down by midsummer, paralyzing the European Union until the
Germans ended their term in its presidency, and possibly forcing Ahtisaari
to withdraw from his role. Ahtisaari wanted to make clear that he still had
the EU's blessing in light of the indictment, and Schroeder was support-
AN EMPTY CHAIR, NOTHING OFF THE TABLE * 149

ivea peace deal was more important than the optics of dealing with Milo-
sevic. President Ahtisaari later acknowledged that he could not take his role
for granted, "It was not always easy for some of the other EU members to
swallow the fact that a person from a small country like Finland, not a
NATO member, was suddenly asked to be involved in the diplomatic efforts.
I'm sure there were moments in this process where some of my colleagues
might have been interested in withdrawing the EU mandate for my role."
Talbott claimed that the trilateral talks were making substantial progress,
but that there were still important differences that needed to be resolved
before Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin could travel to Belgrade. While Talbott
emphasized that the war had to be concluded on NATO's terms, he feared
that Schroeder felt that stopping the bombing was more important than the
terms on which it was stopped.
After the meeting, Ahtisaari and Talbott helicoptered back to the airport,
rousing their respective staffers out of their quiet reverie. The two teams then
huddled for a meeting on the Finnish presidential plane. Ahtisaari repeatedly
stressed the importance of NATO showing some flexibility on the issue of
total Yugoslav troop withdrawal, arguing that a token residual presence
would make Milosevic far more likely to take a deal. This prompted Talbott
to ask for a few private words with the Finnish president. Ahtisaari then
instructed his whole team, including the plane's crew, to exit the plane.
Talbott gently took Ahtisaari to task, noting that he continued to explore
the issue of Serb stay-behinds with Washington, but insisting that Ahtisaari
needed to avoid the appearance of attempting to whittle down NATO's bot-
tom line. Indeed, Talbott had argued back to Washington, "my inclination
is that there is one pawn we should be prepared to sacrifice at the end of
what would still be a checkmate. That would be to convert some of the slots
designated for returnees into slots for carefully vetted, disarmed, and recon-
stituted stay-behinds; i.e., instead of making literally all Serb security types
leave, we'd be prepared to identify a few of them that were not, as it were,
indictable rapists, murderers, and ethnic cleansers, de-louse them, take away
their side arms, give them new uniformsand KFOR bodyguardsand let
them stay in the agreed functions."
However, Talbott had repeatedly emphasized in his public statements that
Ahtisaari was not negotiating on NATO's behalf, and he asked the Finnish
president to not make him a liar. Ahtisaari agreed to keep future discussions
on the issue strictly between the two of them. With that, Talbott and his
150 * COLLISION COURSE

team flew to Brussels, and Ahtisaari and his team headed north to Helsinki.
During the flight to Brussels, Talbott spoke on a secure line with Sandy Be-
rger, and expressed a note of alarm about the German "wobbliness." Berger
was concerned by the different factions, both within NATO and the admin-
istration, pulling at President Clinton, while his own position on the ground
war seemed to be slowly hardening. Where he had earlier dismissed the
ground option as a recipe for a "quagmire," a land invasion seemed to be
looming as the only way to secure a "must win" for the Alliance.
During the afternoon, Secretary Albright spoke with British Foreign Sec-
retary Cook, German Foreign Minister Fischer, and Italian Foreign Minister
Dini in their respective capitals, and much of their conversation centered on
the Russians. Albright noted that while Chernomyrdin had sounded helpful
when she spoke with him as he was leaving the dacha, she found the aggres-
sive tone of his op-ed piece "disturbing."
Dini had spoken with Ivanov during the day; the Russian foreign minister
was irritated by the indictment and complained that the West lacked the
political will to find peace. Ivanov had emphasized that Belgrade was willing
to accept the general conditions offered by the G-8, but was resisting the
more detailed demands being offered by the United States until after bomb-
ing was suspended. The ministers pondered whether the Russians would
abandon the diplomatic process altogether, a prospect that some viewed as
unlikely given the upcoming G-8 Summit and Russia's continued need for
financial assistance. There was a general agreement among the foreign minis-
ters that the Russians were committed to one more round of trilateral talks
and, if they did not see major progress, would likely abandon the process.
6
CHAPTER

On the Mountain

Patience Wearing Thin


In Moscow, U.S. Ambassador Collins met with Russian Deputy Foreign
Minister Georgy Mamedov on May 28. Mamedov was pleased that a "cer-
tain momentum" was building on the diplomatic front, but was concerned
that the war crimes indictment had been a "stupid move" that would only
serve those eager to launch a ground war. Mamedov stressed that the discus-
sions between their militaries were having a very positive impact, and he felt
such confidence building measures were vital at a time when overall relations
were strained. He suggested that the cautious military reaction to some of
the U.S. proposals reflected neither hostility nor indifference, merely the
slowness with which the Russian bureaucracy could digest detailed proposals.
Mamedov pushed for a Russian peacekeeping sector in the north of Kosovo,
and went out of his way to note that the foreign ministry had not drafted
Chernomyrdin's op-ed.
That same morning, Viktor Chernomyrdin flew to Belgrade for his fourth
mission to the Yugoslav capital. Commenting on the indictment before he
left Moscow, Chernomyrdin complained, "We knew, we warned, we asked,
'Don't do this, because it will simply complicate the process.' But we are
flying to Belgrade. We deal with the lawfully elected president of Yugoslavia
and will go on dealing with him." The obviously frustrated envoy continued,

151
152 * COLLISION COURSE

"We have been talking for over a month now, but, nevertheless, there is no
result at all." Upon touching down in Yugoslavia he told reporters, "I am
not satisfied with the fact that I have been to Belgrade for an umpteenth
time but bombings are continuing."
Chernomyrdin and his team were soon immersed in another marathon
day of diplomatic discussions with Milosevic at the presidential palace. The
Yugoslav president's calm demeanor of earlier meetings was frayed, but Mi-
losevic had, as Chernomyrdin put it, "absolutely no reaction" to the war
crimes indictment. Chernomyrdin felt that the Serb military did not give
any signs of being in serious trouble, and he believed that it was preserving
its assets as it busily prepared itself "for the worst"a ground invasion. The
Yugoslavs reportedly told Chernomyrdin that they would be ready "to kill
two or three enemies for every Serb killed."
After lengthy talks with Milosevic, Chernomyrdin told reporters that he
and Milosevic had discussed the conditions for a Yugoslav pullout of its po-
lice and military forces and the introduction of UN peacekeepers. The Yugo-
slav president agreed to the broad G-8 principles for ending the war and left
the impression that there he was open to discussion and a possible settle-
ment. The Russian envoy declared that he was "very pleased" with his visit
and indicated that Milosevic and he had "worked out in detail our actions
for the forthcoming trilateral talks." While acknowledging that "We face the
most difficult negotiations in the next few days," Chernomyrdin observed,
"I hope that next time we will come to Belgrade together with Martti Ahti-
saari. I am 95 to 97 percent sure of that."
Chernomyrdin's departure from Belgrade highlighted another source of
irritation for both the Russians and Yugoslavs: Every time the Russian envoy
left Yugoslavia, NATO immediately intensified bombing. For the Yugoslavs,
the vigorous attacks served as a powerful reminder of Russia's ineffectualness.
One of the jokes making the rounds in Belgrade was that the only sure prod-
uct of a Chernomyrdin visit was "a night in the bomb shelters." Foreign
Minister Ivanov griped, "When Mr. Chernomyrdin visits Belgrade . . . with
a mission that not only reflects Russia's interests, but the interests of many
other countries too, the intensity of bombing reaches its peak. So that raises
the question of who's trying to undermine the negotiations." Chernomyrdin
complained directly to Talbott during the talks that "in the case of all three
of his trips, he's gone, he's left and the strikes have intensified. He says the
Yugoslavs have noticed, are wondering if there's a causal connection and are
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 153

questioning whether it's a good idea to invite him back." While NATO de-
nied any such strategy, it was easy to imagine that General Clark felt com-
pelled to bring intensified military pressure to bear after every unproductive
diplomatic shuttle.
After Chernomyrdin's departure, Yugoslav officials issued a statement
calling for a negotiated settlement to the conflict and urged the UN to pass
a resolution based on the general G-8 principles issued two weeks earlier.
The press release insisted Yugoslavia's "sovereignty and territorial integrity"
were not on the negotiating table. Any hope for a breakthrough was tem-
pered by the fact that Milosevic continued to demand that United States,
Britain, France, and other "aggressor" nations be excluded from peacekeep-
ing. Officials in Belgrade also continued to push for significant numbers of
Serb troops that would be allowed to remain in Kosovo, and it appeared
Chernomyrdin's visit had produced few concessions. However, Milosevic's
apparent willingness to accept the broad G-8 guidelines for ending the war
quickly triggered a blitz of diplomatic activity.
Secretary Albright quickly called British Foreign Secretary Cook to dis-
cuss the situation and both were skeptical, noting that Milosevic had shown
no give on the two central issues: NATO at the core and total withdrawal. It
was also pointed out that Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic had
earlier made a similar statement about the G-8 principles that had amounted
to little. Both ministers were concerned that the Germans, already eager to
exit the war, might overreact. "Rhetoric alone" would not slow NATO's of-
fensive, insisted Albright.
A short time later, the core NATO ministersAlbright, Cook, French
Foreign Minister Vedrine, German Foreign Minister Fischer, and Italian
Foreign Minister Diniheld a conference call. Both Vedrine and Fischer
were in Toulouse, France, in advance of a meeting between President Chirac
and Chancellor Schroeder scheduled for the following day. Cook and Al-
bright, anticipating the French and German reaction to the news, took a
tough line. Both observed that they had not heard from either Ivanov or
Chernomyrdin and consequently had little insight into Milosevic's position.
Albright suggested that they issue a general statement welcoming the "move-
ment" by the Yugoslavs, but making clear that they would take no further
steps until hearing from Chernomyrdin.
The Allies had shared drafts of a potential UN resolution with the Rus-
sians, but like the trilateral talks, discussions had bogged down over total
154 * COLLISION COURSE

withdrawal and NATO leadership of peacekeeping. Eager to generate more


momentum for a peace deal, German Foreign Minister Fischer wanted to
hold a meeting of the G-8 political directors to discuss the draft UN resolu-
tion before Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin traveled to Belgrade. He even sug-
gested that the next round of trilateral talks be folded into a meeting of G-8
political directors. Albright, wanting to keep the United States clearly in con-
trol of the talks, argued that such a move was premature, pointing out that
if the Russians weren't willing to compromise on a UN resolution, a high
profile G-8 political directors meeting would accomplish little.
Both Vedrine and Fischer pushed for a quick meeting of the G-8 to work
on the UN resolution. However, both Albright and Cook were resolute:
"We have seen and heard absolutely nothing whatsoever signifying real
movement by Milosevic." They felt that acting without hearing from the
Russians would be ill advised.
Albright spoke with Cook several hours later. She had touched back with
Talbott, and both were worried that the German proposal to hold a G-8
political directors meeting would undercut the trilateral talks. Albright was
concerned by the near panic among some of her fellow ministers and felt
that if NATO were not careful, it would provide the Russians with danger-
ous leverage over negotiations. Cook and Albright were convinced that con-
cocting a peace deal within the framework of the G-8 would be a disaster.
The two also discussed the possibility that Russian officials were encouraging
Milosevic to keep fighting.
Shortly afterwards, all five foreign ministers again conferred, and the con-
versation picked up where it had left off. Albright claimed that they were
talking about a major shift in approach that risked jeopardizing the momen-
tum created by the bombing and the indictment based on little more than a
few news reports. French Foreign Minister Vedrine dissented and accused
the secretary of being overly cautious. He wanted to take immediate action
and informed his colleagues that the French and German political directors
had drafted a statement referring to Chernomyrdin's Belgrade visit and sug-
gesting Milosevic's announcement appeared "unambiguous and conducive
to a settlement." The statement also announced a G-8 political directors
meeting and invited Chernomyrdin to attend.
Both Cook and Albright were united against the French plan, with Cook
arguing they should not "stampede in a way that might extinguish progress."
He counseled that it would be better to have Ahtisaari travel to Belgrade
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 155

before doing anything rash. Albright suggested that the Germans, as the
chair of the EU, issue a far more guarded statement indicating that they
would immediately contact the Russians to learn details of Chernomyrdin's
discussions and to consult about the prospects for finalizing a UN resolution.
Fischer, obviously frustrated, insisted that the onus for action was directly
on the G-8 and emphasized the difficult climate of European public opinion.
He even issued a sort of threat: If the ministers could not reach common
ground, Chancellor Schroeder, as the European Union president, would act
on his own. Albright, far from being cowed, made clear that any indepen-
dent action by Schroeder as EU president was "unacceptable," and again
asked why Bonn felt compelled to act in the absence of clear information.
Fischer countered that Milosevic and Chernomyrdin were on the offensive
and that the ministers "needed to do something." Cook dismissed this as
over-dramatization, and suggested that the Allies needed to express "serious,
not hysterical, interest." The secretary urged that they all wait until they had
more information than the unconfirmed reports from Belgrade and sug-
gested that Chirac and Schroeder reiterate NATO's conditions and stress the
fact that Milosevic understood what he needed to do to fulfill those de-
mands. Fischer reluctantly agreed.
After a briefing at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Talbott and his fellow
negotiators jetted toward Washington. During the flight, Talbott polled his
delegation as to whether any of them thought Milosevic would soon accept
NATO's demands. Most dismissed the notion outright; arguing that Milo-
sevic could endure for some time, mainly because he was not concerned with
the suffering of his own citizens; Milosevic had cards left to play. General
Foglesong was the lone dissenter. Speaking slowly and with a faint touch of
a drawl he chipped in, "I wouldn't be so sure about that. With what we have
up in the air right now, the additional planes in the theater and the new
attacks routes, it is" Foglesong thought for a moment about how best to
describe the armada of planes socked in over Yugoslavia"it is awesome. I
wouldn't be so sure he doesn't take a deal."
During the flight, Talbott spoke with Ambassador Holbrooke. Holbrooke
was agitated by the Chernomyrdin op-ed, and felt that it would be "uncon-
scionable" to engage in further talks with the Russian special envoy after
such outrageous statements. However, Holbrooke had dealt directly with
Milosevic many times. Talbott disagreed with Holbrooke, maintaining that
156 * COLLISION COURSE

NATO's demands were the real bottom line, not what showed up in the
newspaper. Holbrooke was also surprised by the scope of the war crimes in-
dictments, having not anticipated that some of Milosevic's inner circle, par-
ticularly Milan Milutinovic, the president of Serbia, would be brought up
on charges. Milutinovic, a career Yugoslav bureaucrat and a close confidant
with Milosevic, was well known to Western officials. Holbrooke had calcu-
lated that Milutinovic might be a useful negotiator for talks with Belgrade,
but the indictment effectively precluded such a role. Holbrooke continued
to be troubled by the course of the war, and relations between him and Al-
bright were hitting new lows.
In the United States, the media was delivering a dismal prognosis for the
trilateral talks. The New York Times reported:

Publicly, the Clinton Administration has applauded the indictment of Slobo-


dan Milosevic, a move that appears to change the Yugoslav's status from po-
tential deal maker to pariah. But in private, administration officials say the
indictment is likely to cripple their efforts to find a diplomatic solution on the
current tracksthrough the Russian envoy, Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, and the
President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari. The indictment has much diminished
the hopes of using Ahtisaari as a go-between who could win Milosevic's acqui-
escence in a settlement.

The Times analysis suggested that the indictment would add impetus to
those calling for the use of ground troops, and quoted an unnamed British
official who suggested almost smugly that the indictment might "stiffen the
spine" of the Clinton administration. Similarly, General Clark felt that the
"indictment was a huge win," in terms of building support for a ground
operation. The concern among U.S. negotiators was that reports proclaiming
the death of the trilateral talks would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
While Talbott continued to argue to his superiors that the trilateral process
should be given time to work, the clock appeared to be running out: If the
next round of talks did not achieve a breakthrough, the pressure to try an-
other venue for negotiations would be overwhelming. Indeed, the slow prog-
ress of the talks, a steady stream of incendiary Russian rhetoric, and growing
domestic political pressure in both Moscow and Washington all combined
to create an impression that the trilateral effort was an exercise in futility.
Some on Talbott's team felt that the repeated Russian threat to abandon
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 157

diplomacy was a Persian bazaar tactic. Walking away from negotiations


would not get the Russians any closer to getting the bombing stopped and
might have the opposite effect by allowing NATO to argue that it had ex-
hausted diplomacy and should move ahead with a ground war. Russia would
be left to suffer on the sidelines, having made the case for its own strategic
irrelevance. In Moscow, Foreign Minister Ivanov vented his frustration to
the press on May 29. "I will put it straight, the situation is not easy at all.
To be even more exact, it is hard. The efforts which are being made by Rus-
sia, and in particular by the president's envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, do not
find any understanding or necessary support of NATO's leadership." Ivanov
received a call from Albright a short time later, and the Russian foreign min-
ister indicated that he would be meeting with President Yeltsin the next day.
While Ivanov initially sounded upbeat about finding a solution to the crisis,
he quickly added that weeks of arduous diplomacy had produced neither
results nor demonstrable political cover.
Albright tried to coax a report on Chernomyrdin's visit to Belgrade from
the foreign minister, but Ivanov remained coy. "Russia is neither Milosevic's
translator nor NATO's mediator," he insisted. "Finding a solution to the
crisis is more pressing than Milosevic's state of mind." When Albright again
pushed to get a sense of what had transpired between Chernomyrdin and
Milosevic in Belgrade, Ivanov only hinted that a resolution to the crisis
might be possible. Ivanov was eager to arrange a call between Clinton and
Yeltsin to discuss the situation, as a means to pave the way for an EU repre-
sentative (possibly Chancellor Schroeder), Chernomyrdin, and a "U.S. rep-
resentative" to meet in Bonn. After such a gathering, Chernomyrdin, and
perhaps Ahtisaari, could then head to Belgrade with "alternative proposals"
to end the war.
Ivanov stated flatly that he wanted a U.S. negotiator with more seniority
at the next round of talksVice President Gore was his preferred choice.
Albright pushed back. The terms for ending the conflict had been spelled
out, a draft UN resolution was on the table, and Russia needed to endorse
the demands that had been developed through the trilateral process. Talbott
was authorized to speak on Albright's behalf, and the personalities of the
negotiators mattered far less than whether NATO and Russia could close the
gap on their positions. Albright was willing to pass on the Russian plea to
engage Vice President Gore, but she was firm that its acceptance was un-
likely.
158 * COLLISION COURSE

After Albright asked if Russia would abandon its position of giving Bel-
grade a "veto" over any agreement, Ivanov insisted that Moscow was negoti-
ating in defense of its best interests, not Milosevic's. Ivanov returned to his
central theme: It was time for people empowered to make decisions to meet
and resolve the situation. He concluded the conversation by stating that if
the United States wanted to unilaterally venture into the dangerous fields of
Kosovo, Russiawhich had problems enough of its ownwould leave
America to its own devices.
Chernomyrdin and President Ahtisaari also spoke on the telephone.
Chernomyrdin claimed that some progress had been made with the Yugo-
slavs, but avoided details. Like Ivanov, Chernomyrdin made a push to di-
rectly involve Schroeder in the talks and have either Albright or Gore replace
Talbott. Ahtisaari was skeptical. The coordinated effort to get rid of Talbott
was not gaining traction.
Yugoslavia's acceptance of the G-8 parameters for a peace deal continued
to reverberate around Europe, and the reaction within NATO highlighted
the natural split within the Alliance: The United States and Britain were
unimpressed, feeling the offer was trickery, and Germany and France wanted
to convene the G-8, including Russia, to forge a common response to the
announcement and speed work on a UN resolution. Highlighting these ten-
sions, President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder did exactly what Albright
and Cook had lobbied so hard against as they concluded their meeting in
Toulouse: They declared Belgrade's announcement a step toward peace and
called for an emergency meeting of the G-8 to assess if Milosevic was willing
to accept the conditions for ending the air campaign.
The statement by Chirac and Schroeder caused instant heartburn in Lon-
don and Washington. Given continued Serb offensives on the ground and
Milosevic's long history of broken promises, the Yugoslav maneuver looked
like a ploy to exploit divisions within the Alliance. NATO military officials
insisted there would be no bombing pause until all demands were met, as
battles within the Alliance about how best to shape the upcoming week's
diplomatic agenda continued. The Germans successfully lobbied to hold the
trilateral talks in Bonn rather than Helsinki. The Germans also wanted a
seat at the table, but succeeded only in securing agreement that Chancellor
Schroeder could host a dinner for the negotiators at the end of talks.
Speaking with Secretary Albright, German Foreign Minister Fischer
noted that he had spoken with Ivanov, and the Russian had griped that
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 159

Washington refused to send a "decision maker" to the talks. The Germans


continued to be concerned that the diplomatic process was on the verge of
breakdown and felt that "if the United States is always seen as obstructionist,
the result will be counterproductive." Fischer saw NATO entering the "Ko-
sovo end game," and while he was convinced the Alliance would prevail, he
wondered "at what cost victory would come."
A short time later, Secretary Albright delivered the commencement ad-
dress at Georgetown University, and she came out swinging:

There are those who say it is not smart to stand up to ethnic cleansing in
Kosovo because by so doing, we upset powerful countries. Others say it is not
consistent because NATO does not intervene in every place where outrages
are committed. Still others say it is not prudent because Kosovo is small and
distant and the fate of its people shouldn't matter to us very much. To all this,
I can only reply with a revered term of American diplomacy: Nuts.

The speech was classic Albright: tart, pugnacious, and quick to place the
defense of human rights at the heart of U.S. foreign policy. It was a perfect
example of why Albright's substance and style had become a touchstone for
her critics and allies alike.
After the speech, Albright, Cook, Fischer, Vedrine, and Dini spoke again.
Each had talked to Ivanov during the course of the day, and his message had
been consistent: A deal was within reach and Chernomyrdin should meet
immediately with Schroeder and a senior U.S. government official. Those
talks would produce an agreement that could be taken to Belgrade by Cher-
nomyrdin and presented to Milosevic. Albright battled to keep diplomacy
within the trilateral track. Since their only reports of Milosevic's position
came from Russia, they were working through a "hazardous filter." An inde-
pendent voice such as Ahtisaari's would be crucial in determining Milosevic's
real intent, and relying on the Russians to independently broker a deal, then
hoping Milosevic lived up to its terms, was a dangerous leap of faith.
Albright suggested that Ahtisaari, Chernomyrdin, and Talbott meet as
scheduled and then confer with Schroeder at the end of their session. After-
ward, if the group agreed on the way forward, Ahtisaari would travel to Bel-
grade with Chernomyrdin. If further negotiations were needed, they could
take place at the foreign minister level, with Ahtisaari's participation. While
Fischer and Vedrine were displeased, the five foreign ministers eventually
160 # COLLISION COURSE

agreed that Ahtisaari, Chernomyrdin, and Talbott would convene in Ger-


many three days later. Schroeder would be the nominal host. Ahtisaari and
Chernomyrdin could then travel to Belgrade the following day. The G-8
political directors would gather later that same week and try to complete the
work on a draft UN resolution and lay the groundwork for a G-8 foreign
ministers meeting soon after. The United States and Great Britain had again
rolled back German and French efforts to gain a seat at the negotiating table,
but it remained unclear how long the Clinton administration would be able
to maintain its role as NATO's lead, and lone, negotiator.

Jockeying for Position


On Sunday, May 30, Yugoslav officials in Belgrade expounded on their view
of a potential peace agreement. The Serbian minister of information told
reporters that Yugoslavia had never opposed an international presence in Ko-
sovo, but quickly added, "What cannot be acceptedneveris the occupa-
tion of our territory." The ultranationalist Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia,
Vojislav Seselj, said he too would be willing to accept foreign troops in Ko-
sovo. Sounding surprisingly flip he added, "If that is the price we have to
pay for the war to end, we can let up a bit." Seselj indicated that peacekeep-
ers should not be from NATO and that some Yugoslav security forces should
be left to guard Kosovo's borders.
On Monday, May 31, positioning for the talks continued. Chernomyrdin
told reporters, "The week should bring a certain decision. . . . If everything
proceeds according to plan . . . a framework for a positive solution for a
Yugoslav settlement has been worked out." Prime Minister Stepashin told
the Russian news agency Interfax, "There are signs that even this situation,
which originally seemed to be intractable, may be settled after all."
In the United States, President Clinton presided over Memorial Day cere-
monies at Arlington National Cemetery. Standing in front of crisply dressed
soldiers, Clinton made his case for holding firm. "I know that many Ameri-
cans believe this is not our fight. But remember why many of the people are
laying in the graves out herebecause of what happened in Europe and be-
cause of what was allowed to go on too long before people intervened. What
we are doing will save lives, including American lives, in the future." While
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 161

Clinton's remarks were poignant, the setting in which they were delivered
seemed to highlight the growing threat of a ground war.
Clinton was anticipating a telephone call from President Yeltsin during
the day, but Kremlin officials informed the White House that Yeltsin would
be unavailable because of "scheduling" problems. The Russians then offered
Prime Minister Stepashin as a replacement. After some internal debate about
whether Clinton or Gore should handle the conversation, the White House
agreed to have Stepashin speak with the president. Given his persistent
health problems and Moscow's general turmoil, Yeltsin's sudden unavailabil-
ity was of concern. As much as Western officials delicately avoided the sub-
ject, Yeltsin was a sick man struggling with alcoholism, and his grip on his
faculties and presidential duties alarmingly faded in and out. While the Clin-
ton team approached Yeltsin's health as if walking on eggshells, his infirmit-
ies were hard to deny. Even in tightly controlled press events, Yeltsin was
erratic and often bellicose. His physical decline had become an embarrassing
metaphor for the Russian state. However, one administration official de-
fended the approach: "Were we supposed to tell reporters on background,
'We know the guy's a drunk, but he is the only drunk we got?' I don't think
that would have helped."
After brief pleasantries and apologies for his president being unable to
take the line, Stepashin told Clinton the situation was increasingly volatile.
He said that the Russians who had been in Yugoslavia spoke of "terrifying
scenes of destruction and death. This tragedy has to be stopped." Stepashin
reiterated Ivanov's plea to send someone more senior than Talbott to the
talks, preferably Gore. "The choice of the representative is certainly up to
you. It is important, however, that he be granted broad authority in order to
be able to take decisions on the spot." While the Russians wanted a more
conciliatory U.S. negotiator, their request was long on chutzpah. For
months, the international community had been forced to deal with a dys-
functional Russian government that was often unable to render even basic
decisions without internal discord. Debates between Ivanov, Chernomyrdin,
and the defense ministry had repeatedly brought negotiations to a stop. No
one in the Russian government was clearly in charge of Balkans policy, and
Yeltsin had just suddenly dropped out of a call with President Clinton. These
were not the hallmarks of a nation well positioned to demand that the
United States send its most senior officials to engage in line-by-line negotia-
tions.
162 * COLLISION COURSE

The president, with Deputy Secretary Talbott hurriedly scribbling notes


across the room, declined to send Gore to the talks. "I understand that you
want someone who can speak for me and make decisions in Bonn, but the
implication is that the people who are representing me, and particularly
Deputy Secretary Talbott, cannot do that. That's not the issue. He does
speak for me and my government." Clinton also noted that the real issue
was "not what we can agree to, it is what Milosevic will agree to."
Stepashin asserted that Chernomyrdin's visit to Belgrade had revealed the
time was ripe for moving forward with specific proposals, and that Bonn
would be an opportunity to take decisive action. He also hinted that Cher-
nomyrdin would arrive in Bonn with a serious new proposal. Clinton cau-
tioned that specific action to end the crisis would only be possible if the
solution met certain redlines: the full and safe return of refugees, protecting
the rights of Serb and Kosovar Albanians, and preserving Kosovo as autono-
mous within Serbia. Stepashin again stressed his hope that there would be a
breakthrough during the week, and the two men concluded their conversa-
tion.
After the call, Clinton joked with Talbott, "I guess you've gotten a reputa-
tion with those people for being a real hard ass. That's not what they say
about you around here." The president felt that the Russians and Yugoslavs
might be close to making a deal: "I'd bet they think they've got something
lined up in Belgrade and they're getting ready to nail it."
In a separate conversation, Berger, Albright, and Talbott debated the mer-
its of continuing to engage the Russians in peace talks. Berger was growing
skeptical that Moscow's positions had anything to do with Milosevic's real
bottom line, and he feared the United States was being reduced to "a delicate
negotiation with the Russians over what they think." The national security
advisor was also concerned that Chernomyrdinhalf of his hammer and
anvil strategywas in danger of becoming a "rubber hammer." Berger felt
the trilateral talks had more to do with managing Russia's domestic political
struggles than getting to Milosevic. However, he was optimistic that Bel-
grade was feeling the heat from the military campaign: "We were seeing in
the intelligence, increasingly as we got into May, the noose tightening
around Milosevic. There was a shift in public mood in Serbia that happened
about the time the lights went out. People realized that this wasn't a grand
cause; it was simply causing them suffering."
Both Berger and Albright advocated giving Ahtisaari a more prominent
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 163

role while diminishing Chernomyrdin's. The Finnish president could serve


as a direct emissary to Belgrade and provide an unvarnished report on Milo-
sevic's mood and position. He could also press Milosevic to clarify his stance
on issues such as the composition of a peacekeeping force and the withdrawal
of his forces. In doing so, Ahtisaari would also be able to determine if the
Yugoslav and Russian positions were identical. On the downside, such an
independent mission would further alienate the Russians, perhaps end the
trilateral process, and create the need for a new approach to "Russia manage-
ment."
Talbott continued to push to keep the trilateral talks alive. He felt that
the Russians might actually believe they could deliver Milosevic and were
trying to bring NATO and Belgrade's positions into alignment. He also sug-
gested a second alternative: The Russians might be looking for an excuse to
wash their hands of Yugoslavia. If Moscow deemed the diplomatic process
dead and blamed the impasse equally on the United States and Yugoslavia,
it could declare a pox on both NATO and Milosevic. Moscow could then
position itself equidistant between NATO and the Yugoslavs, grudgingly ac-
cepting that some form of international action against Milosevic was inevita-
ble. Talbott wanted to exhaust the Russia channel before abandoning it, but
he realized "time was running out, and Chernomyrdin had perhaps one
more trip to Belgrade."
Shortly after the discussion with Berger and Albright, Talbott spoke with
Ahtisaari on the phone. The Finnish president declared, "I'm ready to go
now. I've come to the conclusion I should go to Belgrade on Wednesday
whatever happens in Bonn." Berger and Albright's single envoy approach
looked like the way forward.
The Yugoslavs also weighed in on the diplomatic front, further exploring
the notion of direct talks between Belgrade and Washington. Milosevic's
chief of staff and foreign policy adviser, Bojan Bugarcic, called the State De-
partment Operations Center and spoke with American Ambassador-at-Large
James Pardew about the earlier message from Landrum Boiling. Pardew indi-
cated, "This is a serious channel for your government to meet with Ambassa-
dor Dobbins, myself, or whoever, somewhere in Europe. Such a meeting has
approval from the highest levels."
The proposal for direct talks with Belgrade had generated some dispute
within the Clinton administration. Holbrooke, Berger, and Jim Steinberg of
the NSC were all willing to give direct talks a shot. All felt that, like it or
164 * COLLISION COURSE

not, talks with Belgrade might ultimately be needed to end the war. Albright
was more reluctant, fearing that the Yugoslavs were "venue shopping" to
find the negotiators who would give them the best deal.
While the National Security Council had initially felt that Ambassador
Holbrooke would be the best U.S. representative for such talks, that plan
was eventually dropped. Holbrooke was still awaiting Senate confirmation
for his post at the United Nations, and another mission to Belgrade would
be contentious. Further, Albright personally opposed giving Holbrooke such
a role. Talbott, Ambassador Pardew, and Jim Swigert were all considered as
alternatives.
Bugarcic noted thatfor the time beinghe only wanted to confirm that
the U.S. offer for talks was genuine. He inquired how soon a meeting could
be arranged, and Pardew made clear that it could take place on literally a
day's notice. Bugarcic also asked, "Is the venue here, in Belgrade, accept-
able?"
"I would have to ask. Can you meet somewhere else?" Pardew responded.
"We have some problems here now, I'm not sure," Bugarcic laughed. "I
have to check."
Bugarcic noted that he would get "back in touch with you as soon as
possible. I need to check things here and pass some information. I would
prefer to deal with people I know."
"OK, I wish you well," responded Pardew.
"Well," Bugarcic laughed, "stop the bombing."
Bugarcic called again about thirty minutes later and indicated, "We
would like for you to come. The meeting would be here with my boss."
Pardew said he would have to see if his superiors approved. He also asked if
there was flexibility on the location or level of person at the meeting, leading
Bugarcic to reply, "No, not really, not on location, and there is no point in
meeting anyone else."
The administration was moving ever closer to launching talks with Bel-
grade, and an uneasy consensus was emerging within the administration that
if the trilateral talks falteredas many expected they wouldit might be
time to engage Milosevic.
At Andrews Air Force Base, Talbott and his team of negotiators prepared
for the overnight flight to Bonn. The negotiators exchanged small talk as
they stood on the steps of the VIP waiting area. General Foglesong caught a
few minutes of the NBA playoffs on the television in the lounge, rooting for
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 165

the San Antonio Spurs. Outside, Jim Swigert of the team pulled out a ciga-
rette. He explained to several of his fellow team members that since his wife
frowned on the habit, he only allowed himself to smoke when he traveled
abroad. When one of his colleagues helpfully noted that Andrews Air Force
Base was in Maryland, not Europe, Swigert wearily explained that he had
officially declared Andrews to be international airspace. Not much more
than a quick cigarette later, the Air Force Gulfstream jet carrying the U.S.
delegation was headed east, back toward Europe and unfinished business.

The Petersberg

U.S. negotiators touched down at the Bonn-Cologne airport early in the day
on June 1, and a motorcade quickly whisked them along a steep and winding
road to the Petersberg, a German government guesthouse nestled scenically
atop the Siebengebirge mountain range. In the aftermath of World War II,
the Petersberg had been headquarters for the Allied High Commission ad-
ministering Germany. At that time, locals, chaffing under restrictions im-
posed by the Allies, derisively nicknamed the Petersberg "Mount Veto."
After extensive remodeling in the 1980s, the Petersberg had reopened as a
guesthouse for official state visitors and a resort hotel. Its front veranda of-
fered a sweeping panorama of the Rhine River and the city of Cologne and a
spectacular setting for a round of make-or-break trilateral talks that President
Ahtisaari said he knew "would be the last one."
The U.S. delegation was the first of the three teams to arrive. The Russian
and Finnish delegations soon arrived as well, and Talbott and Chernomyrdin
headed into a one-on-one session, as last minute German pleas to be in-
cluded in the sessions were rebuffed. The trilateral military experts began
separate discussions. Gen. Leonid Ivashov was again the ranking officer rep-
resenting the Russians, General Foglesong represented the United States, and
Admiral Kaskeala represented Finland. Gen. Viktor Zavarzin, the former
Russian military liaison to NATO, also joined Ivashov. General Ivashov, in-
tent on laying down a tough marker to begin the talks, declared, "I have
come to negotiate, not to capitulate."
A member of the U.S. delegation discussed Ivashov's role in the talks:

Because so much of what the Russians do, and so much of what their princi-
pals read, is controlled by the intelligence services, Ivashov had a very strong
166 * COLLISION COURSE

voice as the formulator and leading edge of the grand conspiracy theory: Ko-
sovo as U.S. domination of Europe and the world. Ivashov is very articulate,
and I am sure he writes as well as he speaks, and he became the most articulate
and influential spokesman for the worst of Moscow's zero sum theology.

Given General Ivashov's temperament and unpleasant style, it was no sur-


prise that many of the Finns and Americans had developed a distaste for
him, with one U.S. negotiator calling him, "a crass, obnoxious, GRU [Rus-
sia's Main Intelligence Service] person who was never helpful on anything."
As one Finn had plaintively asked an American during the talks, "Can you
believe we've had to live next to these people all these years?"
However, by that point, the teams had grown accustomed to Ivashov's
abrasive tactics and assumed he was simply chest-thumping. General Fogle-
song turned the conversation to one of the major unresolved issues: the num-
ber of Serb forces that would be either allowed to stay in Kosovo or
eventually return to the province to guard key historic sites. When Foglesong
raised the issue of patrimonial sites, Ivashov sharply interjected, "You mean
you haven't bombed all these yet?"
General Foglesong had an even demeanor and was slow to anger, but his
reply had a sharp edge: "No, despite the fact the Yugoslavs are hiding com-
mand posts, communications, and weapons at these sites, we have not
bombed them."
Ivashov shot back, "Why not? You are bombing hospitals."
General Foglesong removed the reading glasses that he sometimes wore
when studying text. He gestured toward Ivashov, the blood rising in his face.
"I want to make things perfectly clear. We do not target civilian facilities. I
categorically reject your charge, General, and I also highly resent it."
Ivashov sensed that he had crossed the line, and did not challenge Fogle-
song. The atmosphere was so poisonous that it was clear the session would
resolve little, and the meeting drew to a hasty close, having lasted less than
ten minutes. General Foglesong, a professional, did not let the incident deter
him, but he was annoyed. As Foglesong told several of the team members as
they milled around after the meeting, "I have a pretty thick hide, but I was
about ready to tell him to kiss my ass."
For a week in which there were high diplomatic hopes, things were off to
a rocky start. Any hopes that the remaining differences between Russia and
the United States could be easily dispatched were dashed. At three in the
ON THE MOUNTAIN it 167

afternoon, the trilateral process got fully underway; Chernomyrdin led off
the discussion by suggesting that passing a UN resolution should be the first
step in the peace process and that such a process would allow the interna-
tional community to test Milosevic's willingness to meet the broad condi-
tions established by the G-8. The Russian envoy was adamant: After four
inconclusive trips to Belgrade, he did not want to make a fifth without some-
thing to show for it.
In a generic sense, Chernomyrdin's proposal was unobjectionable. The
G-8 conditions were broad and nonspecific, and NATO would welcome UN
support. However, Chernomyrdin's plan came with a catchRussia and
China would not support a UN resolution without a bombing pause. While
Prime Minister Stepashin had claimed that Chernomyrdin would arrive at
the Petersberg with a serious new proposal for ending the war, there was
little appeal in his latest plan. Suspending bombing in exchange for a UN
resolution whose text remained sharply in dispute was not much of a bar-
gain. There was also no guarantee Security Council members like Russia and
China would sanction the use of renewed force if Milosevic failed to meet
the G-8's conditionsmuch less NATO's.
Talbott and Ahtisaari explained that if NATO suspended its bombing be-
fore Milosevic met any demands, there would simply be no incentive for him
to slow his military machine in Kosovo. Certainly, no refugees would feel
comfortable going home in such an environment. Chernomyrdin's response
was muted, and it seemed clear that the Russian envoy was not leading with
his bottom line. However, as the negotiators discussed a possible UN resolu-
tion, the talks took an interesting twist. Chernomyrdin argued that they
needed to move beyond the idea that he and Ahtisaari would take "separate
but noncontradictory" scripts to Belgrade, where Ahtisaari would detail
NATO's demands, but Chernomyrdin would neither explicitly endorse nor
reject these conditions. Instead, Chernomyrdin was eager to establish a sin-
gle, unified set of demands that, if met, would end the war. Chernomyrdin
wanted a straightforward road mapencapsulating the joint positions of
NATO, Russia, and the European Unionthat he could take to Belgrade
for his fifth trip. On its face, Chernomyrdin's proposal seemed like common
sense. If Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin traveled to Belgrade, it was logical they
should share a unity of vision, and Ahtisaari as well had long been eager to
close the gaps between the positions of Russia and NATO.
However, the drawbacks to such an approach were equally evident. The
168 * COLLISION COURSE

lengthy trilateral talks had repeatedly verged on collapse because the three
sides had been unable to agree on two sets of talking points that met the
simple test of not being in direct contradiction. By trying to forge a set of
truly joint demands, the negotiators would only make a hard job harder.
Several people at the table pointed out exactly that dilemma, and defended
the merit of developing two noncontradictory scripts. However, after some
initial reluctance, the discussion began to revolve around a single text.
The Russians presented a revised draft of the paper the Finnish and U.S.
teams had developed the week before. If the three sides were going to concur
on a common set of demands, the devil would be in the details. The Russian
text again watered down the NATO demands. It did not insist on total with-
drawal, and the language on "NATO at the core" had been excised, as had
a number of measures designed to ensure military compliance with the agree-
ment. Chernomyrdin suggested that many of the younger refugees would
simply not want to go back to Kosovo once the war ended, and that since
Albania was so desperately poor, many Albanians without documentation
might sneak into the province. While there was some progress on the mar-
gins, none of the central issues had been resolved.
The paper itself was something of a miracle of brevity, and its text was
never more than two or three pages long. On several occasions, the drafters,
using legal-sized paper and small fonts, had even been able to squeeze it onto
a single page. Given such condensed language, every single word was a po-
tential battlefield. Talbott revisited the notion of taking two different scripts
to Belgrade, and for the next several hours the talks shifted to bilateral discus-
sion between the U.S. and Russian delegations. Chancellor Schroeder was
still scheduled to host a dinner for the negotiators later in the evening, fol-
lowed by a large press conference. German foreign ministry officials were
dismayed to learn that their chancellor would not be in a position to an-
nounce a breakthrough.
The Russian and American teams continued their attempts to hash out
the careful language of demands. Given Milosevic's long history of exploiting
loopholes in diplomatic agreements, U.S. negotiators wanted to ensure the
paper left no wiggle room. For example, General Foglesong not only insisted
on the total withdrawal of Serb troops, but on a strict and rapid timetable
for such a pullout, broad authority for NATO-led peacekeepers to use deadly
force, and clear rules governing the small number of any Serb troops that
might eventually be allowed to return. The Russians repeatedly countered
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 169

with softer language, claiming that Milosevic would be far more likely to
accept looser terms that allowed him to save face.
Not long before the dinner was scheduled to commence, Talbott joined
Ahtisaari in his suite, followed a short time later by Chernomyrdin, and the
three continued negotiations. The previous week's dynamics now played out
in reverse. Ahtisaari was enthusiastic to go to Belgrade as soon as the next
day to gauge Milosevic's reaction. Chernomyrdin dug in his heels, complain-
ing that NATO had not made significant concessions, and insisting that a
trip made no sense until they had developed an acceptable set of demands.
Having a weak negotiating position, Chernomyrdin consistently tried to
use emotional arguments. The Russians did not want to be associated with
pressuring the Milosevic regime or to acknowledge that they were doing so.
Chernomyrdin tried to gain ground by constantly recasting the same argu-
ments. Talbott commented:

I liked Chernomyrdin. I found him wonderfully Russian and kind of a blunt


instrument. There were no great mysteries about what was going on. When
he was being tactical I understood his tactics and I also understood the strate-
gic goal, which I supported: to end the bombing. All I had to do, which was
a lot, was to convince him that the way to do that was to accept these condi-
tions. . . . I knew what he was up to. He wanted the best possible deal but
still one that ended the bombing as quickly as possible, preferably before the
Cologne summit.

Just after 7:30 in the evening, Chancellor Schroeder's helicopter hovered


above the lawn of the Petersberg as scores of journalists, security personnel,
staffers, and curious onlookers crammed the elegant central lobby of the Pe-
tersberg. The peaceful mountaintop resort had taken on the atmosphere of
a circus as reporters and camera crews jostled for position. Ahtisaari, Cherno-
myrdin, and Talbott remained closeted in the Finnish president's suite, send-
ing the German protocol officers into an escalating panic. Foreign ministry
officials repeatedly went to the door of the suite to petition the three negotia-
tors to come downstairs and greet the chancellor upon arrival. Senior aides
to the trio repeatedly turned them away. "We are going off to eat dinner
instead of carrying on with the important work," harrumphed Cherno-
myrdin.
In a bit of comic opera, the protocol officers continued to scramble back
170 * COLLISION COURSE

and forth between the door of the suite and the hotel lobby. Schroeder had
landed and there were still no negotiators on hand. To the horror of the
Germans, Chancellor Schroeder strode into the Petersberg's lobby, amid a
brilliant fusillade of flash photography, to find no one. Several awkward and
confused minutes passed as his aides debated whether Schroeder should go
upstairs or simply wait. Eventually, the trio of reluctant negotiators made its
way downstairs. Ahtisaari later noted the whole scene was "a bit embar-
rassing."
At the dinner, Schroeder requested a status report on the talks and tried
to engage in negotiations. He was disappointed that he would have neither
a deal to announce nor a role in the talks. Talbott stressed that the interna-
tional community needed to be firm with Milosevic and not send any mixed
signals. The dinner was brief and Ahtisaari observed, "The atmosphere was
rather lame, as the solution appeared to be out of reach."
In the main conference hall, more than a hundred reporters and camera
crews assembled for the press conference, but there was little news. Schroeder
insisted that "Substantial progress has been made," but Ahtisaari, Talbott,
and Chernomyrdin, wanting to get back to work, were tight-lipped. After
the press conference concluded around quarter to ten, Talbott briefly partici-
pated in a conference call with Albright, Berger, and Jim Steinberg, who
were all meeting in the White House Situation Room. Talbott briefed the
group on the talks and was not optimistic about reaching a deal. A solo Ahti-
saari trip was looking more probable.
Talbott asked for clear instructions on how far he could go in reaching a
deal, and he received authority to essentially put the issue of Russia's role in
KFOR to the side while focusing on resolving the issues of NATO at the
core and total withdrawal. The wiring diagram for how Russia participated
in the peacekeeping force could be dealt with after they had made more
progress on getting Milosevic to accept the demands. Talbott recognized that
there might have to be direct discussions between NATO and Yugoslav mili-
tary officials to finalize the technical details of any agreement. In the end, he
was given continued authority to hammer out a position that would allow
for either a joint trip to Belgrade or a solo mission by Ahtisaari, and again
Jim Steinberg was a key ally.
Not only was it down to crunch time for the peace talks but for planning
a ground war as well. NATO Secretary-General Solana had spoken with Sec-
retary Albright earlier in the day, and he had indicated that he would need a
decision about which nations would participate in a ground offensive within
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 171

four or five days. Secretary of Defense Cohen had expressed some frustration
with the slow pace of planning for ground troops at NATO headquarters,
but Solana wanted to avoid putting a formal vote on ground troop planning
on the table for fear that it might be rejected. From Solana's perspective,
three or four countries would need to produce the bulk of the force, and
some of them were already moving forward with preparations. Albright
urged Solana to keep moving ahead at full speed, and both acknowledged
the tremendous amount of work that would need to be done in the respec-
tive NATO capitals to bring everyone on board.
Just after ten in the evening, the trilateral talks resumed. The throng of
media and the large entourage that had accompanied Chancellor Schroeder
had departed, and the Petersberg was suddenly deserted. For the weary nego-
tiators settling in around the conference table, the long day would only con-
tinue. The marathon talks, heavy travel schedule, and intense pressures had
frayed nerves and left the negotiators physically and emotionally drained as
they soldiered on into the night. The Russian military officers were in a foul
mood because they felt Chernomyrdin was too weak to deal with the West.
Chernomyrdin was angry that NATO refused to make meaningful conces-
sions. Ahtisaari and Talbott were frustrated that despite their best efforts the
talks were on the verge of collapse. The exhaustion and aggravation provoked
ever more colorful language from Chernomyrdin. The Balkans would be
transformed into a vast "sea of blood." Kosovo would be NATO's Vietnam,
its Afghanistan, its Waterloo. A ground invasion would result in tens of
thousands dead. Serb guerillas would fight for a thousand years. Waves of
terrorism would sweep across Europe. NATO had gone insane. The bomb-
ing had to be stopped.
Talbott again suggested returning to adopting two noncontradictory texts.
Russia did not have to endorse all of NATO's conditions; it only had to refrain
from disagreeing with these demands in front of Milosevic. Chernomyrdin
resisted. He wanted a single text to take to Belgrade. Chernomyrdin looked
Talbott in the eye and said, "I want your word that if Milosevic agrees to this
document that we're working on, if he agrees, then sticks by his agreement, if
it's implemented, that the NATO bombing will stop." Talbott gave his word,
but with a clear caveat: First there had to be full agreement on the demands.
At the Petersberg, the clock rolled past midnight. The composition of the
peacekeeping force and NATO's demand for total withdrawal of Serb forces
remained at the center of disagreements. Around two in the morning, the
172 * COLLISION COURSE

teams took a brief break. Some staff members used the opportunity to tele-
phone their home offices, several sat in the lobby's overstuffed chairs bleary-
eyed and trying to focus, and others slipped out to the balcony for a cigarette.
The conference room in which the negotiators worked was a disarray of
papers, laptop computers, notebooks, and half-finished cups of coffee. The
toll of the talks was obvious on the pale faces of the negotiators. During the
break, President Ahtisaari lost his footing on a throw rug in the lobby, falling
heavily on the hard floor. A small angry knot swelled on his forehead as aides
scrambled to find an icepack. Chernomyrdin could be heard blowing up at
Ivashov in a sidebar conversation, yelling, "I'm not anybody's puppet. You
assholes can do this thing without me."
Tempers continued to flare as the talks resumed. Chernomyrdin insisted,
"I still don't understand what you want and what you're demanding . . . let's
just get it simple." He spoke of not only abandoning the joint mission to
Belgrade but of walking away from the diplomacy entirely. Ahtisaari made
clear that he wanted to go to Belgrade with or without Chernomyrdin, and
he carefully noted that if Chernomyrdin withdrew from the talks, it would
not terminate his own involvement. Ahtisaari argued that NATO would
have no choice but to go forward with more extreme military measures if
Russia did not help Belgrade come to an agreement.
Chernomyrdin himself repeatedly raised what he saw as the near inevita-
bility of NATO launching a ground war, arguing that it would place NATO
and Russia on a military collision course, and compared a potential NATO
invasion of Yugoslavia to Germany's assault against Russia during World
War II. Talbott and Foglesong both countered that while they welcomed a
continuing role for Russia in the diplomacy, if Moscow gave up on negotia-
tions, it would further bolster NATO's case for the use of force. As Talbott
argued, "We are prepared forindeed, we'd prefera diplomatic conclu-
sion to the crisis, and the sooner the better, but only on our bottom line
terms. We're equally prepared for a militarily imposed conclusion, however
long it takes and whatever the military means." Milosevic's resistance could
trigger a green light for the ground war.
Both sides had gone as far as they were willing to go. Further progress was
impossible without either Moscow or Washington making concessions, yet
neither nation wanted to take that hard extra step. Chernomyrdin and Tal-
bott were being asked the near impossiblethey were trying to strike a deal
without compromise.
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 173

It was at that late hour, almost 3:30 in the morning, that General Fogle-
song insisted that any set of joint demands would have to include specific
provisions to ensure that Milosevic complied with the agreement. Milosevic
would only be allotted one week for the total withdrawal of Serb troops and
air defense systems, and the Yugoslav military would be banned from enter-
ing a twenty-five-kilometer "safety zone" along Kosovo's border. Cherno-
myrdin erupted, raging against "these new and unilateral U.S. demands."
Foglesong countered that Chernomyrdin wanted a document that would
end the war, and NATO needed to impose exacting terms to ensure that
Milosevic abided by the agreement.
Chernomyrdin, furious, closed his portfolio and stood up. Pushing away
from the table, the Russian envoy looked as if he were going to quit the
negotiations. Chernomyrdin was fed up with Talbott and Ahtisaari, with the
obstructionist military officers in his own delegation, and with a process that
kept him stuck in stuffy rooms for hours on end. With the blood rising in
his face, he protested, "This is your war, it's not our war, and it's going to
end in disaster for everyone, including you. You do this without me."
What had been billed as a week for a breakthrough verged on breakdown.
The Finns and Americans worked hard to calm the burly envoy. Talbott
and Ahtisaari contended that the hour was late and that they were all fa-
tigued. They praised Chernomyrdin and his tireless efforts, insisting the di-
plomacy was too important to abandon. Gradually, and to the obvious
dismay of the Russian military officers, Chernomyrdin was soothed. The ne-
gotiators agreed that one of the problems was that the teams were working
from a series of papers that had been repeatedly revised in different lan-
guages. They concurred that the teams should take their respective drafts,
reconcile their changes, and translate the document overnight. Then, after a
few hours of sleep, the working groups would reconvene at ten in the
morning.
At four in the morning on June 2, the session broke up for the night.
The tired and dispirited negotiators drifted off toward their hotel rooms and
slumber. The trilateral diplomacy appeared to be coming unhinged.

Should 1 Stay or Should I Go?


The day lurched into action unmercifully quickly for Talbott. At seven in
the morning on June 2, the telephone on his nightstand rang. A CNN corre-
174 * COLLISION COURSE

spondent in Brussels had managed to patch a bedside call through to Talbott


and wanted the deputy secretary to comment on reports from Moscow that
the trilateral peace talks had ended in failure and the Russian delegation was
preparing to fly home. Talbott, fighting through the cobwebs of sleep, and
lacking any information on the actual situation, observed that he had been
given no indication that the talks had terminated. He hastily concluded the
interview.
Talbott roused his staff to find out if the Russians were pulling out, which
they were not. The claim appeared to have been spread by Russian officials
eager to derail the talks. Around 9:30 in the morning, the still bleary-eyed
working groupsabsent Chernomyrdin, Ahtisaari, and Talbott
reassembled to pick up where they had left off the night before. U.S. team
members blackly joked that they had become trapped in the movie
"Groundhog Day"forced to relive the same day over and over again.
The day's first breakthrough came in the form of a single word. For the
first time, the Russians had placed the word "all" next to Yugoslav troop
withdrawals in their text. Moscow had agreed to a total pullout of Serb forces
from Kosovo. The concession breathed new life into talks that had appeared
doomed to failure only hours before. The possibility that Chernomyrdin and
Ahtisaari might travel to Belgrade, perhaps even later that day, had been re-
vived.
Yet, while Russian agreement on total withdrawal was crucial, the negotia-
tions quickly stalled on other fronts. The composition of the peacekeeping
force and the timing of a withdrawal in conjunction with the suspension of
bombing quickly became sticking points.
A large contingent of media was camped out on the front lawn of the
Petersberg, and journalists anticipated that the day would lead either to a
joint trip to Belgrade or the end of talks. Chernomyrdin's spokesman, Valen-
tin Sergeyev, looking weathered and gaunt, told reporters that "new and par-
tially unacceptable U.S. demands" were slowing the process. Between half
past ten and noon, the working groups continued to haggle over details as
Chernomyrdin was on the telephone with Moscow. While it was unclear to
whom Chernomyrdin spoke, the dilemma facing the Russians was apparent.
By pressuring the United States to spell out its demands in specific detail,
Moscow had opened the door for shaping a joint document that looked a
lot more like NATO's terms than Russia's.
At noon, shortly before the full trilateral session was to resume, Cherno-
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 175

myrdin suddenly told both the Finnish and American delegations that the
Russian language version of the demands was unacceptable. The day's prog-
ress was on the verge of being washed away. Around 12:30, Chernomyrdin,
Ahtisaari, and Talbott resumed tense talks. Along the front drive of the Pe-
tersberg, the Finnish and Russian motorcades stood poised to speed to the
airport. Separate Russian and Finnish planes were fueled up and ready to go,
but it was uncertain if Chernomyrdin's destination would be Moscow or
Belgrade.
The demands were undergoing another evolution with the addition of
two footnotes to the text. The additional terms that Foglesong had raised
the evening before were included as a footnote spelling out the "further nec-
essary conditions" that Milosevic would have to meet to secure a bombing
pause, including the total withdrawal of Serb forces and air defenses and
the deployment of an international security presence in Kosovo. The second
footnote noted that NATO would constitute the core of the peacekeeping
force. However, it also recognized that Russia's relationship to the peace-
keeping force would be finalized in additional agreements, and that the Rus-
sian peacekeeping contingent would not be under NATO command.
The thinking behind the second footnote was multifaceted. On one level,
the U.S. and Finnish negotiators had always maintained the exact nature of
the peacekeeping force was none of Milosevic's business. If Belgrade wanted
the bombing stopped it needed to meet NATO's terms, and the Yugoslavs
would not be given any say as to whether Kosovo was occupied by a purely
NATO force, a UN peacekeeping operation, or some hybrid of NATO and
Russian forces cooperating under a yet to be determined agreement. By
agreeing to further discussions with Moscow on Russia's relationship to
KFOR, the negotiators also removed the largest single stumbling block pre-
venting Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari from traveling to Belgrade. Whether it
was wise to defer resolving this fundamental disagreement before attempting
a Belgrade mission was a matter for debate.
The footnotes offered distinct advantages and disadvantages for both the
United States and Russia. The Russians now had a clear roadmap for getting
the bombing stopped. By putting the more onerous demands upon Milo-
sevic and the matter of the KFOR's composition in a footnote, they also
bought themselves a small measure of political breathing room. However,
the Russians knew that the tough terms in the paper would mean that they
would be seen by many as endorsing NATO's bottom line: all Serb forces
176 * COLLISION COURSE

out; NATO troops in; all refugees allowed to return. Russia would be endor-
sing demands far tougher than any Milosevic had signaled a public willing-
ness to accept.
The footnotes posed complications for NATO as well. By formally ex-
pressing its demands, there was always the prospect Milosevic could find a
loophole. He might fulfill some of NATO's demands, but not all of them,
and create growing political pressure within the Alliance to offer a temporary
bombing pause. Securing continued support for air attacks from Italy, Ger-
many, and Greece in the face of partial concessions from Belgrade would be
extraordinarily difficult. NATO might be forced to end its bombing without
achieving its goals.
General Foglesong continued to fight hard over the details. NATO's air
strikes were growing more effective and the threat of a ground war was now
crediblethe Alliance could negotiate from a position of strength. U.S. of-
ficials at the talks felt that any agreement had to be clear, tough, and unam-
biguous. While Foglesong and Talbott were willing to put the language on
NATO at the core in a footnote, they realized that a powerful NATO force
on the ground would be the single most important element of a successful
operation.
The delegations continued to haggle, and the emotions within the Rus-
sian team ran increasingly high. Both Chernomyrdin and General Ivashov
recognized that the talks were at a make-or-break point. Ivashov, who had
come tantalizingly close to his goal of scuttling the talks, now saw all three
sides pushing hard to finalize an agreement. The general was infuriated by
the decision to yield on the issue of total withdrawal. The U.S. team was
concerned that the Russian delegation was trying to drag the talks out so that
it would be too late in the day for Ahtisaari to head to Belgrade on a solo
mission. Foglesong noted that the day's window for flying to Belgrade was
quickly closing, and he pointed out that NATO and Yugoslav military offi-
cials would need detailed flight plans to ensure the safety of the planes. Gen-
eral Ivashov became both more irritable and outspoken as the talks
continued. He repeatedly challenged Chernomyrdin, but the Russian envoy
was in no mood to brook interference. Dismissively waving Ivashov off,
Chernomyrdin pronounced, "If you don't like these developments, go out
in the hallway and smoke a cigarette."
After silencing Ivashov, Chernomyrdin uttered the words many of the ne-
gotiators thought they would never hear: "The agreement is acceptable as it
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 177

stands." The Russian envoy suggested that he would not specifically endorse
NATO's demands, but would indicate to Milosevic that they were the ele-
ments to which Belgrade had to agree for bombing to end. The path was
clear for Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari to travel to Belgrade.
Ivashov, desperate, made a final gambit to derail the agreement. He an-
nounced loudly that he could not endorse the demands because they did not
reflect the thinking of the Russian military and had not been approved by
the Russian minister of defense, Marshall Igor Sergeyev. Yet again, the diplo-
macy was at a critical moment and the Russian team was in chaos. Ivashov's
outburst was all the more ironic, given that Russian Prime Minister Stepas-
hin had begun the week by pleading with President Clinton to send an
American representative to the talks who was empowered to make decisions.
Chernomyrdin bulled his way through and angrily lashed out at Ivashov.
The deal would stand. Talbott, still harboring the affront that the Russians
tried to have him replaced at the talks, declared that he wholeheartedly em-
braced the agreement as a plenipotentiary of the U.S. government. Ahtisaari
also consented, and at 1:57 in the afternoon, it was done. Negotiators for
Russia, the European Union, and NATO held in their hands a simple two-
page document outlining the conditions for ending the air campaign against
Yugoslavia. Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari would travel to meet with Milo-
sevic that afternoon.
The Finnish president observed, "I'm still surprised that it worked and so
was Strobe. It was not easy for the Russians to accept the paper. If one looks
at the discussions we had, there were very few issues that they were pushing
that could be incorporated." He added, "I didn't believe for a moment that
Milosevic would accept the paper, that's why I was telling Strobe to be pre-
pared for the next round. Perhaps they would demand that at least Albright,
if not Gore, get involved at that point."
The demands struck at the Petersberg were a clear evolution of the earlier
statements made at the NATO Summit and by the G-8 foreign ministers on
May 6. Like the earlier proclamations, they called for an immediate and veri-
fiable end of violence and repression in Kosovo, the safe return of all refu-
gees, and establishment of an interim civil administration under the aegis of
the United Nations. Beyond these obvious similarities, the paper contained
a far greater level of specificity.
The Yugoslav troop withdrawal was to include "all military, police, and
paramilitary forces according to a rapid timetable," with seven days cited as
178 * COLLISION COURSE

a rough time frame for a pullout. After withdrawal, an agreed number of


Yugoslav and Serb personnel"hundreds, not thousands"would be al-
lowed to return to serve as liaisons with KFOR. NATO and Yugoslav forces
were called on to establish a "military technical agreement" that would set
specific timetables and ground rules for implementing the accord.
International civil and security presences would be deployed in Kosovo,
acting as "may be decided under Chapter VII of the Charter," which would
allow peacekeepers broad authority to use force. The short document's sec-
ond footnote stressed, "It is understood that NATO considers an interna-
tional security force with 'substantial NATO participation' to mean a unified
command and control and having NATO at the core. This in turn means a
unified NATO chain of command under the political direction of the North
Atlantic Council in consultation with non-NATO force contributors."
NATO units would be under NATO command. However, the paper also
made clear that "Russia's position is that the Russian contingent will not be
under NATO command and its relationship to the international presence
will be governed by relevant additional agreements."
The paper had failed to resolve Russia's peacekeeping role, a development
that would have explosive consequences. Yet it is also important to remember
that few thought the text forged at the Petersberg would be the final say from
either Moscow or Belgrade. Expectations that Yugoslavia would accept the
agreement were low. Whether it would have been sage to demand closure
from Russia on its participation in KFOR at that time remains to be seen.
Resolving this additional, and very difficult, issue would likely have pulled
the plug on talks already on life support.
The document, through some deliberately vague wording, acknowledged
Yugoslav sovereign authority over Kosovo, while effectively making the prov-
ince an international protectorate for the foreseeable future. While the failed
Rambouillet accords had proposed a nonbinding referendum related to Ko-
sovo's status, the revised demands dropped all such references, and the prov-
ince's status would be determined through an ill-defined future political
process. Milosevic would be "fired" as Kosovo's administrator, but the Koso-
var Albanians would not be given independence. NATO had maintained its
careful strategic hedge.
In their totality, the demands represented major progress for NATO. For
an Alliance that often struggled to maintain its resolve, the conditions it set
for Milosevic were largely unequivocal. Equally important, the oft-ques-
ON THE MOUNTAIN * 179

tioned strategy of diplomatic engagement with Russia had begun to bear


fruit. While the Russians continued to bitterly oppose bombing, they had
now acknowledged the precise conditions that would have to be met for it
to stop. Russia had yielded on NATO's major pointstotal withdrawal and
NATO at the core. The demands were tougher than anyone had reason to
believe the United States could extract from the Russians.
At the Petersberg, the U.S. and Finnish negotiating teams, momentarily
stunned at having reached agreement, quickly swung into action, making
sure everyone had copies of the final document and its proper translation.
General Foglesong and his traveling assistant, Col. Guy Bourne, huddled
with Russian and Finnish military aides as Foglesong pointed to Colonel
Bourne and observed, "If you are flying into Belgrade, this man is your best
friend. I would make absolutely sure he has your most accurate flight infor-
mation. Your greatest danger is Yugoslav antiaircraft firethose guys are
pretty spooked, they will shoot at anything that moves."
In a separate conversation, Foglesong gave Finnish Admiral Juhani
Kaskeala a small but important slip of paper with several telephone numbers
printed neatly across the page. Foglesong's instructions were simple: If they
accepted the deal, the Yugoslavs needed to call General Clark to set up a
meeting to finalize the military elements of an agreement.
As the three teams spilled out of the conference room, several members
of the Russian delegation were visibly upset. General Ivashov scowled and
grumbled to his colleagues. Boris Ivanovsky, Chernomyrdin's foreign minis-
try advisor, told U.S. and Finnish negotiators, "Goodbye, that's all. Milo-
sevic will accept this document, and I'll be fired. I'm going to Siberia."
Amid the flash of cameras and shouted questions from reporters, Presi-
dent Ahtisaari departed the Petersberg around 2:30. Half an hour later,
Chernomyrdin headed off. The American delegation was left, exhausted, at-
tempting to interpret the sudden turn of events. A handful of team members
ate lunch at a small cafe at the back of the Petersberg, trying to piece together
why the Russians, as Toria Nuland put it, had "caved on everything."
To a person, none of the team expected Milosevic to accept the demands
as presented, and all expected further manipulations on his part. At best, the
Americans hoped the mission to Belgrade might be the beginning of the end-
game. As they ate their lunch, a tour bus dropped several score of German
pensioners at the cafe for afternoon tea. The tired negotiators looked out of
place and deflated among the sea of gray-haired women.
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7
CHAPTER

Belgrade

Diplomacy and Force


On June 2, National Security Adviser Berger assembled a group of distin-
guished international policy experts from outside the government at the
White House to discuss Kosovo. Included in the briefing were former UN
Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and former NATO commander Gen. George
Joulwan. Before the meeting, Berger had spoken with President Clinton, tell-
ing him that he would inform the group that the administration was pre-
pared to use all necessary means to prevail in Kosovo, including ground
troops. Clinton agreed with the wisdom of the approach, and the White
House was now prepared to send its clearest signal to date that it was willing
to move forward with an invasion of Yugoslavia.
A decision on ground troops was close at hand as Berger pointed out:
"We had a window of about two weeks from that point, not only to make
that decision, but to rally the country and the Congress behind that decision.
I think that we would have had some heavy lifting to do with the American
people, some heavy lifting to do with the Congressin a very short period
of timebut we probably would have prevailed." It was no accident that
Berger would choose to tip his hand to this particular group of outside ex-
perts. Most of the invitees felt the Clinton administration had been too timid
in its approach to the war and had advocated moving forward with the

181
182 * COLLISION COURSE

ground option. Berger insisted that victory would be secured "in or outside
NATO," and "a consensus in NATO is valuable. But it is not a sine qua
non. We want to move with NATO, but it can't prevent us from moving."
Berger later added, "We had to prevail, even if it meant preparing for a
ground option. We all recognized this."
The comments by both Clinton and Berger need to be viewed in the con-
text of the continued reluctance of Secretary Cohen to endorse the ground
option and the splits between the Pentagon and Clark over invasion plan-
ning. In some ways, the Berger briefing appeared as a classic administration
trial balloon. A hard decision on the use of ground troops was at hand, and
the national security team wanted to gauge public reaction. If the ground
option was universally unpopular, the administration would still be in a posi-
tion to disavow such an approach. If it looked like ground forces were neces-
sary and politically viable, the president could continue to shift his tone and
make a high-profile case for invading Yugoslavia both within the Alliance
and to the American public. Clinton was holding his decision until the last
possible moment, and the operational window to successfully deploy forces
into the region before the onset of winter was growing incredibly tight.
After Berger's session, he chaired an internal meeting to discuss ground
troops. There was a general consensus among White House officials that the
war needed to be concluded in 1999. Maintaining an air campaign until the
spring seemed untenable. The costs of an extended warin terms of Alliance
unity, politics, and refugee sufferingwould be too high. Even Vice Presi-
dent Gore and his staff, who had initially been wary of the ground option,
now argued that if it needed to be pursued, it should be done so quickly.
Berger was convinced that only one option would ensure the war's conclu-
sion before the end of the year.
Berger also confirmed General Clark's assessment that a decision on
ground troops would soon have to be made. However, General Clark was
deeply concerned that he was being cut out of the decision-making on
ground troops. He later complained that the "Army was campaigning furi-
ously against Option B-," and he feared that the decision would be prepared
against the ground option before he could get in to make his case.
Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin traveled on separate planes to Belgrade
both wanted to be able to head in different directions upon departure. The
pent-up frustration among the Russian delegation quickly spilled out during
the flight, as Chernomyrdin and Ivashov reportedly engaged in a shouting
BELGRADE * 183

match. Chernomyrdin was enraged by Ivashov's outrageous behavior during


the talks, believing the military members of his team had been directly insub-
ordinate. Ivashov bellowed back at the Russian envoy, arguing that Cherno-
myrdin's weakness in dealing with the West was nothing short of a betrayal.
After the back-and-forth, Ivashov grumbled to one of his colleagues, "I'd like
to kill that son of a bitch." After the war, Ivashov was blunt in describing
his feelings. "I felt as if I were the defeated one. . . . I felt that evil was
triumphing over good." Ivashov added, "We kept telling Chernomyrdin and
Yeltsin that Talbott was a thief who was picking our pocket."
Much of the tension within the Russian team stemmed from the continu-
ing confusion over Chernomyrdin's mandate. Chernomyrdin, by most ac-
counts, had been given a direct presidential sanction to find a way to get the
bombing stopped, but his authority had never been formally conveyed to the
foreign and defense ministries. During much of the crisis, there had been
daily morning meetings on Kosovo with Chernomyrdin, Foreign Minister
Ivanov, Defense Minister Sergeyev, and representatives of the intelligence
services. Yet, despite those attempts at coordination, it was never clear who
would have final say in the negotiations, making bureaucratic turf battles all
too predictable. President Ahtisaari also questioned the lines of authority
within the Russian team. "I was asking myself what conclusions one should
draw from Ivashov's behavior. He had such a mandate that he could oppose
the president's envoy and say, 'I cannot accept this, and neither should you.'
I don't know where this mandate came from; it is still a bit of a mystery to
me."
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic and a large media contin-
gent greeted Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari at the Belgrade airport. As they
sped to the presidential palace, the Finns were struck by the relative nor-
malcy of life in Belgrade. There were people and traffic in the streets, and a
few pedestrians talking on cell phones; other than a few heavily damaged
buildings in the heart of the city, the Yugoslav capital was largely unscathed.
After weeks of wild speculation in the European press that the Yugoslav
president had suffered a stroke, been wounded, or slipped into deep depres-
sion, a calm and courteous Milosevic greeted Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari.
Ahtisaari felt Milosevic looked the same as when he had last seen him in
1993. Joining Chernomyrdin, Ahtisaari, and their respective delegations
were senior members of the Yugoslav government including Milan Miluti-
novic, the president of Serbia; Mirko Marjanovic, the prime minister of Ser-
184 * COLLISION COURSE

bia; Foreign Minister Jovanovic; Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, the chief of staff
of the armed forces; and Bojan Bugarcic, Milosevic's chief of staff and for-
eign policy adviser. Ahtisaari did not think the presence of such a large Yugo-
slav delegation augured well; he had found that Milosevic preferred to do
serious business with few people in the room. It had long been speculated
that Milosevic's cabinet was split on the conduct of the war. Milutinovic,
Marjanovic, and Jovanovic were all said to be eager to strike a deal. General
Ojdanic and the head of the special police forces, Interior Minister Stojilj-
kovic, wanted to continue the fight.
The three delegations sat at a long rectangular table, separated from each
other by a sprawling floral arrangement. Ahtisaari started the session by care-
fully noting that Kosovo was part of Yugoslavia, and he read the demands
paper to Milosevic. He methodically covered the text, save the material that
appeared in the second footnote concerning Russia's role in KFOR. Milo-
sevic asked for a copy of the demands and was given one over the protesta-
tions of Chernomyrdin.
It was a remarkable moment. Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin had gone from
endless, abstract debates over NATO's demands to presenting Yugoslavia's
senior leadership with the terms for its capitulation. While Milosevic had
obviously been kept informed of the contours of an agreement as it evolved,
to see NATO's terms set to paperand to know that Russia had played a
role in defining themmust have been bracing. Ahtisaari made clear that
NATO would be at the core of the peacekeeping force and that KFOR
would deploy across every part of Kosovo. He explicitly spelled out each of
the demands. The reaction from the Yugoslavs was measured, and they re-
sponded with questions, not outrage.
Milosevic, drawing on a cigarette as he spoke, asked why Yugoslav troops
had to withdraw before the UN could approve a resolution. Ahtisaari ex-
plained that the entire agreement hinged upon the ability of NATO to verify
that the demands were being met. Ahtisaari was also queried about Russia's
participation in KFOR, and he noted that the issue of Russia's role in KFOR
had yet to be resolved but that any accommodation would be consistent with
NATO command and control. He also noted that the UN secretary-general
was only willing to accept a robust deployment similar to NATO-led opera-
tions in Bosnia. President Ahtisaari essentially acknowledged to Milosevic
that he was simply too slippery for the United Nations to handle.
During a brief break, Chernomyrdin pulled Ahtisaari aside. He told Ahti-
BELGRADE it 185

saari that President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Stepashin were convinced the
Yugoslavs were ready to make a deal. Chernomyrdin grasped Ahtisaari's
hand and asked conspiratorially, "Is this for real? Do you really think they'll
accept this?" While the Russians and Yugoslavs acted in close collaboration,
Milosevic remained tantalizingly enigmatic.
As the session resumed, some of the Yugoslav representatives expressed
concern about the reference to the Rambouillet accord in the paper, noting
that it was illogical for them to endorse a proposal they had earlier rejected.
Ahtisaari countered that the Kosovar Albanians had signed on to the agree-
ment at Rambouillet, and the paper mandated the KLA's demilitarization.
This prompted Milosevic to launch into a long and invective-laced discourse
on the KLA. "Serbs have always been the real victims in Kosovo,'.' he said.
The KLA was "filled with terrorist criminals killing innocent Serb civilians,
running guns and drugs for Muslim fundamentalists, the worst kinds of
people."
President Milosevic, Serb President Milutinovic, and Foreign Minister Jo-
vanovic asked most of the questions. Milutinovic sounded irritated, while
Milosevic conducted himself politely. They inquired suspiciously why the
agreement referred to Kosovo having "substantial autonomy within the Fed-
eral Republic of Yugoslavia," and not within Serbia. The Yugoslavs feared
that if Montenegro broke away from Serbia, Kosovo would be in a position
to argue that it was independent because the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
no longer existed.
The three delegations covered subjects large and small. Why would an
interim political authority be put in place? Would the withdrawal have to
take place in exactly seven days? What about air defenses? If Kosovo was to
remain part of Yugoslavia, why did NATO refer to the boundary between
Kosovo and Serbia as a border? How many essential personnel would be able
to return to Kosovo, and when? Would NATO or the United Nations verify
the Serb troop withdrawal? The Yugoslavs did not question the matter of
total withdrawal, and there was no mention of the war crimes indictment.
Ahtisaari and his delegation answered almost all of the questions. Cherno-
myrdin did not raise any objections, nor did the military members of his
team. Ahtisaari must have been pleased, and a bit surprised, by the restrained
atmosphere.
Milosevic was curious about the sequence of events, and Admiral Kaskeala
spelled out NATO's proposal: The Serbs would withdraw; NATO would
186 * COLLISION COURSE

verify that they had done so, and then the bombing would pause. NATO
military planners knew Milosevic was good at the endgame, and they had
always viewed the events around a bombing pause as particularly ripe for
treachery. Chernomyrdin weighed in as well, indicating that the schedule for
withdrawal would be set in a military technical agreement between NATO
and Yugoslavia. The Russian envoy added that a UN Security Council reso-
lution would need to be passed before those events could take place.
Ahtisaari, gently but firmly, interrupted. A UN resolution would follow,
not precede, an agreement on withdrawal and its onset. Chernomyrdin did
not object to Ahtisaari's clarification, although it was not clear he agreed
with it. The Finnish president also pointed out that the Yugoslav military
would need to contact General Clark directly to discuss how withdrawals
could proceed and that such a conversation should take place as soon as pos-
sible. Finnish Admiral Kaskeala slid General Clark's telephone numbers
across the table. If the Yugoslavs wanted the bombing stopped, they had to
call Clark.
As time wore on, Milosevic dominated the conversation, unequivocally in
charge. He was clearly suspicious that the agreement would provide NATO
with a foothold to dominate Yugoslavia and remove him from power.
"NATO is killing civilians, innocent people," he protested. "NATO is an
aggressor and a murderer. We have not done anything wrong in Kosovo. I
do not believe [the] western Alliance. They will not carry out this agreement.
I just can't believe them. They will occupy Kosovo and drive away Serbs
entirely. Kosovo will be lost forever."
Ahtisaari countered, "That's why there is a condition about the presence
of Russian troops. The U.S. and NATO agreed with it." Ahtisaari also noted
that Finnish troops would take place in the operation and that of course
Finnish and Russian troops would not fight each other; "What better guar-
antee might there be?" Milosevic then asked if the demands could be im-
proved, and Ahtisaari replied that such an endeavor would be useless. The
Finnish president insisted that neither he nor Chernomyrdin had authority
to revise the text, and that the precise language before Milosevic represented
the fruit of long and difficult negotiations. Showing quiet strength, Ahtisaari
explained, "This is the best offer you will get," and made clear that if Milo-
sevic continued to hold out, the terms would grow harsher, and NATO
would have little choice but to escalate its military response.
Grudgingly, Chernomyrdin concurred that further improvements in the
BELGRADE * 187

document were unlikely. Behind the scenes, he was alleged to have also told
Milosevic that it would not be long before the Allies were irrevocably com-
mitted to a ground invasion and that Russia would not be in a position to
block NATO.
"Is it really true that you cannot change this?" Milosevic asked the Rus-
sian envoy.
"Yes," Chernomyrdin replied with a shrug. The long effort to get Russia
to affirm NATO's demands had come to fruition.

Sleep for Ahtisaari; None for Berger

It was growing late in Belgrade, and Milosevic had smoked more than half a
pack of cigarettes during the discussions with Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari.
The Yugoslav president asked his guests to join him for a late dinner, but
Ahtisaari demurred, suggesting that the Yugoslav president would instead
want to confer with his colleagues. Because of the hour, both the Russian
and Finnish teams would need to overnight in Belgrade, and the Russians
appeared somewhat nervous about the prospect. One of Ahtisaari's aides
noted that the staff at the Finnish ambassador's residence had all been evacu-
ated except the janitor, but the president insisted that if they needed to, they
could sleep on the benches of the building's sauna. This prompted Milosevic
to offer one of his guesthouses to the Finns. The Russians would stay at a
hotel downtown.
The Yugoslav president informed the negotiators that he would meet with
the leaders of several of the major Yugoslav political parties to see if they
would support sending NATO's demands to the parliament for approval.
Both the Finns and Russians knew Milosevic would only put the document
before parliament for one of two reasons: Either he wanted to spread the
blame for its acceptance or he wanted to use the legislature as political cover
for rejecting the demands. Milosevic suggested the three delegations meet
again the next morning around nine.
The session had stretched more than four hours, and it took another curi-
ous turn: Milosevic offered President Ahtisaari the opportunity to present
NATO's demands in an address to the Yugoslav parliament. It was a unique
proposition. Ahtisaari, perhaps only for a fleeting moment, must have toyed
with the thought of delivering a dramatic address to a clamorous Serb parlia-
188 * COLLISION COURSE

ment in a final bold stroke to deliver peace. Few politicians have ever been
offered more historic stages for their orations. However, Ahtisaari diplomati-
cally evaded the proposal by noting that under Finnish law he was forbidden
from entering his own parliament other than to open its first session every
year. Consequently, Ahtisaari insisted, he made a point of avoiding parlia-
ments as a whole.
The session concluded. It had gone reasonably well, but it remained un-
clear if Milosevic would accede to the demandsmuch less abide by them.
The Russian and Finnish delegations retired to their lodging.
Ahtisaari described the scene at the Yugoslav guesthouse where he spent
the night: "At half past nine, there was a brief power failure. At ten, an air
raid alarm. After eleven, we heard antiaircraft fire, but did not see planes.
The weather was warm, some lights could be seen in the city, and in the
neighborhood voices of people happily celebrating were heard." Ahtisaari
continued, "It sounds strange, but I slept well in Belgrade."
Back at the presidential palace, Milosevic gathered his allies among Ser-
bia's political leadership, a group that had controlled Yugoslavia for the bet-
ter part of a decade, including Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, the head
of the Yugoslav United Left Party. Also in attendance was Vojislav Seselj, the
chief of the Serbian Radical Party, and Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the Ser-
bian Renewal Movement. Draskovic had been ousted from the cabinet ear-
lier in the conflict but had never completely severed his ties with Milosevic's
inner circle. Milosevic ran Yugoslavia with an authoritarian hand, but took
great care to wrap his actions in a gauze of democratic rhetoric.
According to a Washington Post account, Milosevic told the others that
there were few remaining alternatives and that they would not be able to
withstand NATO indefinitely. Under the proposed peace plan, he argued,
Yugoslavia would still exert sovereignty over Kosovo, although that authority
would be largely symbolic in the short term. The United Nations would
have a large role, and the peace accord would represent the will of the inter-
national community, not simply NATO's prerogatives. Rejecting the terms
could mean the end of Yugoslavia as a nation. Milosevic wanted to accept
the demands.
Milosevic's wife was a notorious hard-liner, but she supported her hus-
band. She argued that agreeing to the terms was not surrender, merely the
abandonment of an ineffective policy. Seselj, a virulent nationalist, voiced
strenuous objections: "The document means capitulation. It is a shameful
BELGRADE * 189

document." This in turn angered Draskovic, the most moderate of the


group: "This is the capitulation of your policy, of your dream of converting
Serbia into a Gulag separate from Europe." Draskovic agreed that they
should accept the demands. Milosevic asked Seselj to abstain from voting
against the pact, but Seselj did not provide Milosevic any assurances. The
meeting broke up soon after, with Milosevic having secured enough votes to
push the agreement through.
Theories abound as to why Milosevic decided to accept NATO's de-
mands. Most frequently cited: the growing effectiveness of air attacks, the
threat of a ground war, strikes on the electrical grid, and mounting divisions
among Milosevic's inner circle. Some point to the resiliency of the KLA,
Russian support for NATO's demands, and even the war crimes indictment
as key factors. The least complicated rationale for his decision is probably
the most compelling: The Yugoslav president calculated that the cost of con-
tinuing the war outweighed its benefits. Milosevic had determined that a
peace deal was the best wray to ensure his continued hold on the presidency.
U.S. negotiator Jim Swigert noted, "Having the UN involved gave Milo-
sevic some cover and an ability to save a certain amount of face. He wanted
to be able to tell his own people that he didn't surrender and didn't capitu-
late to NATO's terms, while portraying the outcome as a victory. It was a
thin veneer that people saw through quite easily, but he did it for his own
psychology."
In Washington, the issue of ground troops was coming to a head. As Na-
tional Security Advisor Sandy Berger remarked, "It was a race of diplomacy
and force converging, and they were about to intersect." Secretary of Defense
Cohen was doing his best to tamp down the growing speculation surround-
ing a ground offensive, as word had gotten out that a major White House
meeting on the issue was scheduled for the next day. He assured reporters,
"There is not a consensus for a ground operation," and Pentagon spokesman
Ken Bacon echoed those sentiments: "Nobody is talking, except the press at
this stage, about sending an invasion force to Kosovo." However, both
Cohen and Bacon's comments stood in stark contrast to those of Sandy
Berger earlier in the day, when the national security advisor had told senior
foreign policy experts that the administration was willing to pursue ground
troops. The signals coming out of the Clinton administration were schizo-
phrenic as it tried to keep a lid on the increasingly serious planning for an
invasion.
190 * COLLISION COURSE

As the evening of June 2 wore on in Washington, the slightly disheveled


Sandy Berger toiled away in his White House office, scribbling intently on a
yellow legal pad. In his hands was the draft of a document that could funda-
mentally alter the course of the war. "I stayed in the White House most of
the night writing a memo to the president outlining what our options were
if Milosevic did not raise the white flagand none of them were very good,"
says Berger.
Berger sketched out three possible options. The first was to arm the KLA.
However, Berger felt that, much like the United States's effort to arm the
Afghans to fight the Soviets, the threat of eventual blowback and intensified
conflict from a proxy war was too profound. Berger argued arming the Koso-
vars "would cause a chain of events that would produce a war that would
last for years." The second option was to put off a ground invasion until the
spring, giving the air campaign longer to succeed and allowing NATO more
time to mobilize its troops and heavy equipment. Berger also viewed this
approach as unworkable. Protecting and assisting the hundreds of thousands
of Kosovar Albanian refugees in Albania and Macedonia during the dead of
winter would require a massive effort. The hundreds of thousands more Ko-
sovar Albanians homeless and trapped within the borders of Kosovo would
face appalling hardships. Alliance unity would be extraordinarily difficult to
maintain through seven or eight months of continued bombing. The third
option was the one that the White House had long hoped to avoid and Gen-
eral Clark had repeatedly advocateda ground invasion of Kosovo with a
force of some 175,000 ground troops, including roughly 100,000 U.S. sol-
diers: Option B-. Most of the troops would spearhead up through Albania
and Macedonia. It would take close to three months to assemble the tanks
and troops that would drive Yugoslavia's forces from Kosovo.
However, one White House official claimed, "I think there was tremen-
dous resistance to, and skepticism about, General Clark's specific plan." The
Pentagon had good reason to be uneasy about a ground war. Yugoslavia was
well defended, with a professional army and defenses designed to withstand
a Cold War assault. Serb forces had already demonstrated a willingness to
commingle civilian populations with military assets, and Yugoslavia's geogra-
phy was unforgiving. Few of Yugoslavia's neighbors wanted to serve as stag-
ing grounds, and only Albania, with a miserably deficient road system, was
eager for that duty.
To invade Yugoslavia from the broad plains bordering Hungary was the
BELGRADE * 191

easiest option from a military perspective, but since such an approach would
entail an entry into Serbia proper, it would commit the Alliance to seizing
all of Yugoslavia, not just Kosovo. Berger maintained, "I think the president
had crossed the Rubicon in his own mind that if that was necessary he would
launch a ground war. It would have been a very costly and expensive proposi-
tion, with 100,000 to 150,000 American troops going up over those moun-
tains. I think it was an enormous undertaking and one that was not desirable
if there was an alternative. Once we were on the ground, our advantage
would go from 1,000 to 1, to more like 3 to 1."
"It was a pretty depressing memo," Berger observed. "I said we basically
should go ahead with what Clark had proposed" if the mission to Belgrade
by Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin failed. Berger felt strongly that President
Clinton would agree with his conclusions to move forward with a ground
war. "The president, I think, had made clear to me in principle that we
could not lose." At the White House, the clock slipped past midnight.
Berger was recommending to President Clinton that the United States move
forward with troop deployments and the other steps necessary for a ground
operation. Although the national security team had yet to forge a consensus
on the ground campaign, and there were still intense debates within the mili-
tary about Clark's plan, Berger felt that there was no choice but to put the
wheels in motion.
As Berger toiled away at the White House, Milosevic again met with Pres-
ident Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin at nine in the morning in Belgrade. Cher-
nomyrdin told Milosevic in a private conversation that if he had specific
objections to NATO's demands, he should write them out and Russia would
raise them in the UN Security Council. As they sat down with President
Ahtisaari, Milosevic launched into a rambling lecture on Kosovo, Bosnia,
and the merits of Serbia's democratic process. The monologue was familiar
to Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin; this was Milosevic as historian, play actor,
black humorist, and demagogue. Ahtisaari grew impatient as Milosevic's
well-worn exhortations dragged on, and he curtly interrupted, "What's the
situation?"
Milosevic was taken aback.
"Our paper," Ahtisaari continued, "Whether you like it or not, you can-
not come up with a better document. Viktor Chernomyrdin and I have
worked hard for hours and hours. What's the situation with regard to the
paper?"
192 * COLLISION COURSE

Milosevic leaned back in his chair, pausing for only a moment of reflec-
tion before calmly replying:

Mr. President, the answer to your question, as representative of the European


Union, it is our position that we are going to make a proposal to parliament.
We will send the document to parliament and have an answer by eleven in
the morning. I hope the parliament accepts your side's proposal. The Yugoslav
side has accepted the document you brought. Parliament should accept this
agreement because it says important things about Yugoslav sovereignty and
the role of the United Nations. The Yugoslav government has accepted the
document you have brought.

Milosevic's comments were delivered with little flair, and he added almost
as an afterthought, "This is the first step in building peace." Without miss-
ing a beat, the Yugoslav president then resumed his long oration on Serbian
history and the collected misfortunes of his people. Ahtisaari, Chernomyr-
din, and their delegations were stunned. Milosevic then again asked Ahtisaari
if he had any interest in attending the session of parliament scheduled to
begin at ten, and the Finnish president declined. Milosevic suggested the
parliamentarians "would approve the proposal as a proposal for peace."
The session of Yugoslav parliament that followed was the first meeting of
that body since March 23the day before the air campaign had begun
when Milosevic had offered the Rambouillet accords to the parliament for
their approval, while working to ensure that such an endorsement would not
be forthcoming. The June 3 parliamentary debate over NATO's demands
was closed to the press and the public, but there were numerous reports that
the session threatened to degenerate into fistfights during a raucous debate.
Ultimately, the legislature ratified the agreement by a vote of 136 to 74, with
most of the 74 votes against the agreement coming from Seselj's Serb Radical
party. After the emotional ballot, Seselj hinted darkly that KFOR would not
"feel safe in Kosovo."
After the parliamentary vote, Ahtisaari and his team returned to the presi-
dent's office for a short meeting with Milosevic and his senior leadership.
Just before the meeting began, air raid sirens blared across the city. General
Ojdanic, the Yugoslav army chief of staff, had attended the session the night
before dressed in civilian clothes. For this gathering, Ojdanic was joined by
several other generals, and all appeared in full uniform. Milosevic, slightly
BELGRADE * 193

ruffled by the acrimony expressed on the floor of the legislature, did not look
as calm as he had the night before. Milosevic had good reason to be anxious.
Another large swath of Yugoslavialike Slovenia, Bosnia, and Croatia be-
fore Kosovowas slipping from his control. Losing Kosovo was all the more
damaging given that the Yugoslav president's rise to power had been engi-
neered through xenophobic appeals that portrayed the province as the Serb
people's religious and cultural cradle.
Milosevic sat down at the broad conference table directly across from
President Ahtisaari and Special Envoy Chernomyrdin. Speaking in measured
tones he announced, "The federal government and the parliament have ap-
proved the peace offer you have brought us." Yugoslav General Ojdanic,
the hardened combat veteran who had personally directed the expulsion of
hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians, was near tears. Milosevic had
handed his sword to Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin.
Ahtisaari requested a copy of the document that was ratified by the parlia-
ment, to ensure that it was identical to the terms they had brought from the
Petersberg, and he again stressed that the Yugoslav generals needed to con-
tact General Clark to arrange a military meeting to finalize the details of a
withdrawal. "Parliament adopted the conditions without any statement. I
was surprised very much," Chernomyrdin later observed, "Why wasn't there
any statement or request? I didn't expect it."
The meeting at the presidential palace was brief, and both the Finnish
and Russian delegations soon sped to the airport. Before their departure, the
Finns met with Foreign Minister Jovanovic, who Ahtisaari knew well be-
cause the two had worked together when Ahtisaari served a diplomatic post-
ing in Namibia. Ahtisaari stressed that anything short of full compliance by
the Yugoslavs would be unacceptable. "The president made a decision yes-
terday. The details will not stand in the way," claimed Jovanovic.
"You'd better see to it, or there will be grave consequences," Ahtisaari
replied.
"The details will not be a problem," insisted Jovanovic.
Ahtisaari found Jovanovic gracious for a man who had just been forced to
"drain a bitter cup." The Finnish delegation yet again reiterated the impor-
tance of placing a call to General Clark to arrange a meeting between NATO
and the Yugoslav military, prompting Jovanovic to plaintively inquire,
"Can't we call someone other than that barbarian Clark?" Chernomyrdin
194 * COLLISION COURSE

and Ahtisaari's planes departed a short time later, Ahtisaari's bound for Co-
logne, Chernomyrdin's for Moscow.
Back in Washington, Sandy Berger was concluding what he called, "the
longest night" of his tenure as national security advisor in the early hours of
the morning of June 3. Later in the morning a secretary retyped his scribbled
notes, and then the "go/no-go" memo was officially formatted and sent over
to the Oval Office for a decision by the president. "As I was working on this
memo at four or five o'clock in the morning, the telephone rang, and I
learned that Milosevic had agreed to the terms," says Berger, and his relief is
evident to this day. "I'm glad that we did not have to go to the ground
option. We would have won, but it would have been terribly costly, and the
legacy of that in terms of American engagement would have been very, very
lasting."

No Champagne

At the Petersberg, the American delegation greeted the CNN reports that
the Yugoslav parliament had accepted the deal with equal parts amazement
and skepticism. Every cell phone carried by the team immediately started
ringing. Of all possible contingencies, the delegation was perhaps least pre-
pared for success. No one had thought Milosevic would throw in the towel,
and the sketchy reports of the rapidly unfolding events in Belgrade were as-
sumed to be some sort of ploy. Just after noonbefore Milosevic had sat
down with Chernomyrdin and AhtisaariChernomyrdin had called Talbott
from Milosevic's office. Talbott described the conversation:

It was Mr. Chernomyrdin calling me from right outside of Milosevic's office,


he was calling me on a cell phone and kind of whispering to me, and I could
hear voices jabbering away in Serbian in the background, and Mr. Cherno-
myrdin said, "I think we've done it," and he said, "Now we've got to imple-
ment. Can you, Strobe, make sure that your military, and that means NATO
high command, is prepared to deal directly with the Yugoslavia high com-
mand and work out the terms so that there is a cessation of hostilities?" and I
said, "Absolutely Viktor Stepanovich, I will get on it right away."

In Washington, the White House Situation Room placed 6:30 A.M. tele-
phone calls to the Clinton administration's national security team informing
BELGRADE * 195

them that the Yugoslav parliament had approved the accord. This triggered
a flurry of telephone calls across Washington and across the Atlantic. In short
order, Secretary Albright spoke with Talbott, Foglesong, Secretary-General
Solana, Foreign Ministers Fischer and Cook, Foreign Minister Papandreou
of Greece, and Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy of Canada. Albright and
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook were also wary of Milosevic's inten-
tions, with the secretary of state arguing, "If the Serbs have merely accepted
one point from column A and one from column B, which is possible, there
will still be a big push to stop the bombing and have a de facto pause." When
Cook noted that there was already "quite a demand" to halt the bombing
with the news that Milosevic had accepted NATO's terms, Albright made
clear, "That's not the deal."
Albright urged the Alliance to exercise caution and avoid proclaiming any
sort of victory until representatives spoke directly with Ahtisaari, and both
ministers wanted to make sure that KFOR was ready to enter Kosovo on
short notice. Both agreed it would be unacceptable for NATO to keep
bombing simply because it was unprepared to move peacekeepers into place.
Cook also wanted to ensure that targeting was limited to minimize the risks
of collateral damage at such a crucial juncture. The German foreign ministry
would later weigh in with a similar request, much to the irritation of General
Clark who wanted to sustain maximum military pressure on Belgrade. Cook
and Albright also discussed the Russian role in the peacekeeping force and
were adamant they needed to avoid any arrangement that would partition
the province. They also agreed that if KFOR deployed quickly the Russians
would not have time to bring in troopsan added benefit.
In Moscow, a weary and resigned Chernomyrdin told reporters, "We did
everything that had to be done," noting that a UN Security Council resolu-
tion would be needed to finalize the agreement. General Ivashov, on the
other hand, later complained, "Each of us should answer this question in his
own soul: Have we betrayed Yugoslavia or not?" Ivashov's answer to that
particular question was not in doubt, and the general maintained Yugoslav
troop withdrawals would "threaten the lives of the 250,000 Serbs living in
this region."
For his part, President Ahtisaari was flying to Cologne for two reasons:
first, so he could meet with Talbott and debrief him on the discussions with
Milosevic; and, second, so he could report to the EU heads of state who were
gathered in Cologne for a regularly scheduled meeting. After consultations
196 * COLLISION COURSE

between the State Department, the Pentagon, NATO headquarters, Hel-


sinki, and the U.S. delegation at the Petersberg, it was determined that Tal-
bott would meet Ahtisaari when he touched down at the Cologne airport
before the Finnish president headed downtown to brief the EU. Talbott and
his delegations would then continue on to Brussels, where they would brief
the NATO ambassadors.
As Talbott's delegation sped toward the airport, the American team and
German foreign ministry officials engaged in an ugly spat regarding the logis-
tics of the meeting between the deputy secretary and Ahtisaari. The Ger-
mans, as hosts of the EU gathering, did not want Talbott to meet with
Ahtisaari before the Finnish president briefed his fellow heads of state.
Schroeder was eager to sell the potential peace deal as a triumph of German
diplomacy and hoped to push any meeting with Talbott to the margins. In-
deed, the Germans had started proclaiming the potential peace deal as "the
Petersberg Agreement" in an effort to put Schroeder's stamp on the diplo-
macy.
German officials suggested Ahtisaari could brief Talbott in the limousine
as the Finnish president headed downtown. Adding insult to injury, they
recommended Talbott be dropped on a street corner several blocks from the
hall where the heads of state were meeting, and take another vehicle back to
the airportall so he would not be photographed emerging from the car at
the event. It was finally agreed that Talbott would meet with Ahtisaari at the
airport with no media present.
The U.S. delegation arrived at the airport about thirty minutes before the
Finns' plane touched down, and waited in a large white VIP tent that had
been set up just off the tarmac for arriving EU dignitaries. The accommoda-
tions resembled a corporate tent at a major sporting event, as white-jacketed
waiters served refreshments for a sparse crowd. A row of European flags flut-
tered outside, and twenty German motorcycle police in Day-Glo vestments
assembled in formation ready to guide Ahtisaari's motorcade downtown. A
little before 6:30, the Finnish plane touched down. As it taxied to a stop, the
motorcade swung around to the foot of its steps. In the lead limousine, Tal-
bott, his executive assistant, Phil Goldberg, and the German chancellor's for-
eign policy advisor, Michael Steiner, continued to debate about how a
meeting should be arranged. Eventually, they agreed that Steiner would go
up the steps and greet Ahtisaari. Ahtisaari gestured to Talbott from the top
of the steps that he should come aboard as well, but Talbott had assured
BELGRADE * 197

Steiner he would not. Once on the plane, Steiner told Ahtisaari that the
French had complained about the prominent role the United States had
played in the war and its diplomacy and asked the Finnish president to break
the news of the peace deal "to Europe before America." After several min-
utes, Ahtisaari creakily worked his way down the steps and climbed into the
car with Talbott.
With sirens blaring and lights flashing, the twenty motorcycles and the
motorcade set off. However, Ahtisaari was equally keen to talk to Talbott,
and the motorcade only traveled several hundred yards before it lurched to a
stop. Much to the dismay of the Germans, the two men simply sat in the car
and talked. The motorcade drivers, like the heads of state downtown, waited.
Ahtisaari indicated that Milosevic had accepted the document "as isno
change, no dilution, no ambiguity" and that General Clark's numbers had
been relayed along with clear instructions. However, as one member of the
U.S. delegation, sounding a bit like Yogi Berra, admitted, "I didn't believe
it until we saw the Finns at the airport, and then I still didn't believe it."
Ahtisaari and Talbott knew that they would get little in the way of peace
for a more extended exchange and soon concluded the harried meeting. Ah-
tisaari's motorcade screamed toward downtown Cologne and his eagerly
awaiting fellow heads of state. Before boarding the small Air Force jet that
would take him to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Talbott spoke with Presi-
dent Clinton, Berger, and Albright from his car. Several of Talbott's staffers
stood outside on the tarmac in a light rain as the day's light dwindled. Tal-
bott told the president that Ahtisaari was confident that Milosevic's accep-
tance of the deal was genuine, but the deputy secretary stressed that the Serbs
still had to prove themselves. Clinton agreed the administration's public pos-
ture should remain muted with "no popping of champagne corks." At a
quarter after seven in the evening, the U.S. plane lifted off from Cologne for
the short flight to Brussels.
Talbott and Albright spoke again in a curt conversation after the plane
was airborne. Albright was irritated that Talbott had been the one to deliver
the news of a peace breakthrough to the president. Just before eight, the U.S.
plane touched down in Brussels. The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Sandy
Vershbow, greeted Talbott at the plane and asked, "Strobe, is this too good
to be true, or too true to be good?"
After rushing to NATO headquarters, the deputy secretary was greeted by
a wall-to-wall crush of journalists. Although accustomed to press attention,
the team realized that the events had suddenly spun into a worldwide media
198 * COLLISION COURSE

event. Without taking questions, Talbott headed to Secretary-General Sola-


na's office. Solana and Talbott were close friends, and Solana had labored
mightily to maintain cohesion within the Alliance during the course of the
air campaign. His low-key style was a much-needed complement to General
Clark's hard-charging intensity: Solana was allowed to play the good cop to
Clark's bad. In the small waiting area outside the secretary-general's office,
Talbott and Solana greeted each other with a bear hug, the sense of relief and
emotion stark on their faces.
This was the first moment the two men dared hope there might be light at
the end of the tunnel. During their short meeting in Solana's office, General
Foglesong showed Solana a copy of the paper with Clark's telephone num-
bers that he had given to Admiral Kaskeala, and Solana, almost shyly, asked
for his own copy, noting that it might be a nice thing to put in a scrapbook
some day. Around 8:30, Solana and Talbott walked downstairs to brief the
NATO ambassadors, and Foglesong slipped away from the group to see if
the Yugoslavs had called Clark. Talbott began the briefing as the nineteen
ambassadors and their staffs packed the large hall. General Clark had yet to
arrive.
Talbott told the ambassadors that Ahtisaari had said that Milosevic had
accepted the demands and urged the ambassadors to quickly forge a military
technical agreement with the Yugoslavs to finalize arrangements for troop
withdrawals and suspending bombing. He made clear that Milosevic's ac-
tions would have to be "confirmed, clarified, and verified," and that NATO
should avoid proclaiming, "success, victory, or peace." Praising Russia for its
role in the diplomacy, the deputy secretary insisted that there was no misun-
derstanding with Moscow as to the meaning of NATO at the core, although
arrangements for Russia's peacekeeping role would have to be worked out.
As Talbott spoke, General Foglesong appeared and slipped Talbott a note:
The Yugoslavs had called General Clark to arrange a meeting. Talbott slid
the note to Solana.
As Talbott finished his presentation, General Clark strode purposefully
into the room, sitting at the head of the table next to Solana. All tycs turned
to the wiry general, as Solana asked him if he had any news that he wished
to report. Speaking in clipped tones, Clark informed the ambassadors that he
had just received a telephone call from Yugoslav Army chief of staff, General
Ojdanic. Excited whispers swept through the room. A crisis that had the
BELGRADE * 199

potential to unravel the Alliance appeared to be defusing. All the clashes of


ego and policy could be forgiven if victory was at hand.
The Yugoslavs wanted to arrange a face-to-face meeting, and Clark indi-
cated that such military technical talks would establish instructions for with-
drawal and spell out a more detailed annex to the demands reached at the
Petersberg. NATO's supreme commander assured the allies that the agree-
ment would give KFOR wide discretion to use force and Clark, with a barely
discernible hint of a smile, noted that Ojdanic had initially invited him to
Belgrade for talks. Clark declined the invitation, suggesting that the Yugoslav
capital was an inappropriate setting for discussions. Clark's unwillingness to
travel to Yugoslavia for talks had an added benefit: Alliance officials would
be spared meeting directly with any indicted war criminals, because none
of them would dare venture out of the country. The NATO commander
recommended that the two sides gather on the Kosovo-Macedonia border.
Ojdanic had proposed holding the meeting two days later, leading Clark
to reply, "I'll meet with you when you want. However, every hour we don't
have the meeting is another hour I will spend dismantling and destroying
your military machine." Ojdanic then suggested moving the meeting up a
day. To a group of ambassadors that was visibly relieved with the prospects
for peace, Clark then urged a step they greeted with disbelief: He wanted to
further escalate air strikes until Milosevic's forces had quit Kosovo.
Clark would not get such authorization, but there were clearly fears that
Milosevic still had more tricks up his sleeve. The German ambassador, Joa-
chim Bitterlich, citing a proverb that encapsulated the sense of both enthusi-
asm and caution that suffused the room, observed that it was wise "to never
praise the day before the evening." While NATO hoped that everything
would work out for the best, recent history had been full of bitter Balkan
lessons. From the disaster of UNPROFOR, to the slaughter at Srebrenica,
to the deaths of special envoys, reporters, and countless civilians, the bottom
line in Yugoslavia had been constant: Every sin was imaginable, every word
could be turned treacherous, every victory could be undone.
Most of the assembly appeared to concur that the first of NATO's 50,000
peacekeepers might be able to enter Kosovo within a weekif Milosevic
held up to his end of the bargain. As the meeting concluded, Talbott and
Solana again hugged outside the hall. General Clark was in a different state
of mind, and he and General Foglesong engaged in an intense eyeball-to-
eyeball discussion about the military technical talks. Clark had not been en-
200 * COLLISION COURSE

tirely pleased with the document that the U.S. negotiators struck at the Pe-
tersberg, claiming that it had "maintained the redlines I had established, but
just barely." As he put it, "It is the fear of every commander, I suppose, that
what was won on the battlefield would be lost at the peace table."
Clark then turned his attention to Talbott. "I hate to be the bearer of bad
tidings, Strobe, but Milosevic is going to cheatyou watch; he'll play us for
a sucker." The general pressed his case for intensifying the military cam-
paign, and complained that Washington continued to drag its feet on
ground operations. Talbott was taken aback that Clark was pushing the
ground option on the same day that it appeared Milosevic might have capit-
ulated. Clark's approach again made sound military sense but was directly
out of line with what the political traffic would bear.
At 10:30, Talbott conducted a brief stand-up press conference in the front
hallway of NATO headquarters before his departure. The foyer was clogged
with cameras and reporters. Since the text of the agreement passed by the
Yugoslav parliament was public, there was great interest in the document's
footnote and its potential ambiguities. Talbott only took two questions and
was quizzed regarding the outstanding differences between Russia and
NATO over Russian participation in KFOR. He suggested the peacekeeping
operation in Bosnia provided a good model of cooperation, and most in
NATO assumed that Russia would end up acceding to a similar deal. Con-
ventional wisdom was that Yeltsin would again force his generals to accept
some thinly disguised NATO command. However, Milosevic's rapid capitu-
lation had caught NATO by surprise, and there would be far less time to
reach an accommodation with Russia than anyone had imagined. With the
press conference concluded, the delegation hustled back into its motorcade
as a heavy rain started to fall, and they lifted off for Helsinki a short time
later.
In the Rose Garden, President Clinton declared:

Movement by the Serbian leadership to accept these conditions, established


by NATO and the international community, is, of course, welcome. But based
on our past experience, we must also be cautious. First, we must have clarity
that the Serbian leadership has fully accepted these conditions and intends
to fully implement them. Until then, and until Serb forces begin a verifiable
withdrawal from Kosovo, we will continue to pursue diplomacy, but we will
also continue the military effort.
BELGRADE * 201

After his statement, the president quickly turned and stepped away, ignoring
the shouted questions of reporters.
The president met in the late afternoon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in
a meeting that had originally been scheduled to discuss the option of using
ground troops. General Clark, the most vocal advocate of that option, had
not been invited to the gathering. Instead, the session largely focused on the
possible deployment of peacekeepers, and the follow-up necessary to strike a
military technical agreement. However, Clark would subsequently complain,
"In the June 3 White House meeting that I was not allowed to attend, Gen-
eral Dennis Reimer, the Army Chief of Staff, was reportedly briefing the
president that he didn't feel it would be possible for the army to deal with
the rugged terrain of northeast Albania."
Given the diplomatic events, it was agreed to put off a final decision on
ground troops for ten more days. Another engineering battalion would be
deployed to Albania in an effort to buy more time, and air strikes would be
intensified if Milosevic backed away from a deal. National Security Advisor
Berger's memo recommending a ground war was on hold.
NATO air strikes continued into the night, although they were scaled
back and concentrated in the areas of Kosovo where fighting on the ground
was still intense. All targets posing a significant risk of collateral damage were
avoided, particularly those in Belgrade. Behind the scenes, military officials
indicated that bombing would be restrained as long as Milosevic appeared
to live up to the deal. If the Serbs quickly began a withdrawal, a bombing
pause could come within days. French President Chirac publicly noted that
European Union leaders had agreed that while NATO bombing should con-
tinue until there was a full Serb withdrawal, it should be limited to "strictly
military targets." General Clark's pleas to further escalate pressure on Milo-
sevic fell on deaf ears.
Just before two in the morning on June 4, the plane carrying the U.S.
negotiators touched down at the largely deserted airport in Helsinki, Fin-
land. Eric Edelman, the U.S. ambassador to Finland, greeted the group. His
work as a constant conduit between the U.S. and Finnish governments had
been an invaluable contribution to the diplomatic process. At four in the
morning, just as the sky was growing light around the horizon, the last of
the team members celebrated the day's event with a vodka toast from their
mini-bar and retired for the evening.
At nine in the morning, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, James Collins,
202 * COLLISION COURSE

called Talbott. The deputy secretary and the ambassador discussed the situa-
tion in Russia, where the peace deal was being greeted by a buzzsaw of criti-
cism. Gennady Zyuganov, the Russian Communist Party leader, belittled
Chernomyrdin as an "opportunist" and declared the agreement an outrage.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Avdeyev publicly disassociated the minis-
try of foreign affairs from the agreement, complaining to reporters the de-
mands were a "vague formulation" that allowed NATO to continue
bombing. Chernomyrdin aggressively defended his actions, arguing Russia's
weak strategic position left it with "two options: either to stop the war by
political methods or to fight, to put on our greatcoats and march ahead."
Speaking about the potential of Russia waging war in the Balkans, Cherno-
myrdin added, "I don't think that this way suits the Russian people today."
Chernomyrdin later stubbornly added, "My whole life people have been try-
ing to push me aside. Those who can push me have yet to be found."
Chernomyrdin called Talbott a short time later. Ahtisaari had invited the
Russian envoy to meet with him and Talbott in Helsinki, but Chernomyrdin
explained he would be unable to make the trip because of the continued
political fallout. Chernomyrdin apologized, and both Talbott and Ahtisaari
were sympathetic. President Clinton and Secretary Albright would call Cher-
nomyrdin to congratulate him on his efforts later in the daysmall comfort
for the embattled envoy.
Albright also spoke on the phone with Foreign Minister Ivanov. Citing
the diplomatic breakthroughs with satisfaction, she observed that President
Yeltsin would achieve a major triumph if Milosevic followed through with
his promises. She asked Ivanov to use his influence to ensure that Milosevic
lived up to his commitments, and noted that a verifiable troop withdrawal
could allow NATO to conclude bombing in a matter of days.
Ivanov was restrained, suggesting that the military talks between NATO
and Yugoslavia would follow their due course, and that Russia's involvement
was unnecessary. He tiredly maintained that Russia could "neither speed the
withdrawal of Serb troops nor stop NATO bombs." The G-8 foreign minis-
ters were scheduled to gather in Cologne two days later in an effort to finalize
a UN Security Council resolution, and the two discussed the possibility of
meeting before that session. Ivanov insisted Russia would not work on a res-
olution until the bombing stopped, while Albright countered that any delay
in passing a UN resolution would slow the implementation of the peace deal
and rob President Yeltsin of his diplomatic achievement.
BELGRADE * 203

Albright also inquired if the Russians intended to send a representative to


the military talks at the border between NATO and Yugoslavia, and Ivanov
said he could not answer with any certainty until after he met with Yeltsin
the next day. Albright insisted that it would be a shame if Russia could not
be a part of the final steps of the victory, leading Ivanov to respond acidly
that "victory" was not an appropriate term to describe the situation.
In Helsinki, the U.S. and Finnish delegations gathered in a high-ceilinged
and decorative hall on the second floor at the presidential palace in Helsinki
around two in the afternoon. Given the harried nature of their airport meet-
ing, Ahtisaari and Talbott still had a lot they wanted to discuss. General
Foglesong led off the meeting with a piece of welcome news: A large delega-
tion of Yugoslav military officersforty stars worthwas headed to the talks
at the Macedonian border. It seemed unlikely that Milosevic would dispatch
such a senior group if he were not serious about finalizing an agreement.
Foglesong briefly discussed the contours of the military talks that would
take place at the border, which he, as well as several Finnish military repre-
sentatives, would attend. The first task was to get the Yugoslavs to agree to
the modalities for the withdrawal of their forces and air defenses and then to
have them sign off on the KFOR mission. General Foglesong suggested that
agreement on the core issues could potentially be reached within a matter
of hours, with some final details being resolved as the withdrawal moved
forward.
Ahtisaari was pleased the G-8 had begun work on a draft UN resolution,
and he urged Foglesong and his fellow NATO officers not to leave the border
talks until they had an agreement. The meeting paused for a moment as
Derek Shearer, the former U.S. ambassador to Finlandand Talbott's
brother-in-lawcalled to congratulate Ahtisaari on his diplomatic efforts.
Ahtisaari was self-deprecating as he turned an American movie cliche on its
head: "They did all the work. I was the mailmanbut as you know from
the movie, the postman never rings twice."
Foglesong turned to the question of integrating Russia into KFOR, and
Ahtisaari pointed out the Russians had to get on board quickly or risk exclu-
sion. There was some doubt that the Russians could actually be ready to
move peacekeepers into place in a matter of days, and, like Cook and Al-
bright, the group at the presidential palace agreed that it would be easier to
negotiate Russia's role once KFOR was in place throughout Kosovo.
The two delegations retired to a different room for lunch, and dove was
204 it COLLISION COURSE

the main coursequickly leading to a number of jokes about devouring the


bird of peace. The negotiators were lighthearted, exhausted, and slightly
punch-drunk. The meal was punctuated by a call from President Clinton,
who congratulated Ahtisaari on all his hard work. The Finnish president
again demurred that he was "just the mailman," leading Clinton to note that
Ahtisaari was "the biggest, strongest mailman I've met in a long time." Just
before 5:00 P.M., the U.S. delegation split up at the airport, with Generals
Foglesong and Casey, joined by Colonel Bourne, heading for the border
talks, while Talbott and the others returned to the States.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon signaled that 2,000 U.S.
Marines, the first of the 7,000 American troops slated to participate in
KFOR, were aboard three ships bound for Greece. Bacon announced that
the Marine expeditionary units would be able to off-load in Thessaloniki,
Greece, within forty-eight hours.
Secretary Albright spoke with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook near
midday. Strains were still pulling at the Alliance. French President Chirac
had complained that the United States and Great Britain continued to direct
air strikes more broadly than the NATO ministers had agreed, while Clark
was upset that he could not bomb more aggressively. Timing was also be-
coming a problem. The French insisted they would block NATO from mov-
ing forward with finalizing a military technical agreement with Yugoslavia
until a UN Security Council resolution had been adopted. However, U.S.
officials made clear to the French that bombing would continue until the
Serbs withdrew from Kosovo and that, in turn, the Serbs would not com-
mence withdrawal until there was a military technical agreement. It was also
pointed out that Milosevic could manipulate any rifts within the Alliance
and create further trouble between NATO and Russia.
Late in the day, the core NATO foreign ministers spoke on the telephone.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine indicated that the French would
no longer block a military technical agreement from moving forward. The
group also discussed the possibility the Russians might boycott the G-8
meeting to finalize a UN resolution. German Foreign Minister Fischer saw
three possible choices: The Russians could change their mind and attend the
G-8 meeting before the bombing stopped, the meeting could be canceled,
or NATO could suspend bombing to jump-start the diplomacy. Cook and
Albright immediately vetoed any bombing pause. Albright pushed further in
the opposite direction, arguing KFOR needed to be ready to deploy in Ko-
BELGRADE * 205

sovo if the Serbs withdrew whether a UN resolution was ready or not, a


suggestion that Vedrine vehemently opposed. Dini, Cook, and Albright
countered that the G-8 had never insisted that deploying peacekeepers re-
quired UN approval if an agreement was reached with Belgrade. All pointed
out that the Alliance would look incredibly foolish if it failed to deploy
peacekeepers after bombing for more than two months for the right to do
so.
It was agreed the Russians needed some time to sort out their internal
situation and that a G-8 meeting should be proposed for June 6 or 7, which
would allow time for U.S., Japanese, and Canadian representatives to travel
and begin further work on the resolution behind the scenes. The foreign
ministers reasoned that the Russianswho had spoken so many times of the
dangers of a security vacuum in Kosovowould not stand in the way of a
granting KFOR a UN mandate.
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8
CHAPTER

Breaking Through

On the Border
On Saturday, June 5, NATO and Yugoslav military officials gathered in the
town of Blace, Macedonia, in an effort to finalize the remaining military
details of the peace agreement. NATO officials had high hopes the pact
could be secured quickly. Gen. Mike Jackson, the British commander of
KFOR, had placed his headquarters on twenty-four-hour deployment alert,
and the Alliance was willing to suspend bombing as soon as Yugoslavia deac-
tivated its air defenses and began pulling out its troops. NATO pilots had
already sharply reduced attacks on Yugoslavia and significantly curtailed
their rules of engagement.
Several cars carrying Yugoslav officials and a security detail were supposed
to arrive around nine in the morning to begin discussions, but delays
cropped up immediately. The Yugoslav delegation raised concerns that the
small cafe that NATO had designated for the talks was not fully in the neu-
tral zone between Kosovo and Macedonia, leaving them vulnerable to as-
saults by KLA forces.
The talks eventually began around eleven when the Yugoslav delegation
entered the Europa 93 snack bar, a drab two-story building on the border.
The ranking officers in the Yugoslav delegation were Gen. Obrad Steva-
novic, the assistant secretary of the interior, and Gen. Blagoje Kovacevic,

207
208 * COLLISION COURSE

representing the general staff. Other Interior, Army, and foreign ministry
officials rounded out the Yugoslav team. The fact that Stevanovic and Kova-
cevic led the Yugoslav team was a direct consequence of the war crimes in-
dictments, since the two men's direct superiorsSerb Interior Minister
Vlajko Stojiljkovic and Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanicrisked arrest if they trav-
eled out of Yugoslavia.
The negotiators sat at a U-shaped table, with the Yugoslavs across from
General Jackson and a number of other NATO generals, including Doc
Foglesong. Finnish Admiral Kaskeala also joined the talks. Early in the ses-
sion, the Serb delegation was presented with a six-page document outlining
the terms for the withdrawal of the Yugoslav security forces.
Most of the discussion centered on the logistics of a Serb pullout, and
Yugoslav officials expressed concern about trying to organize and commence
a withdrawal while air strikes were ongoing. This was a legitimate issue, since
many of the normal preparations for withdrawalsuch as the massing of
troops and transportswould make these forces vulnerable. NATO officials
assured the Yugoslavs that they would not be attacked during withdrawal,
but General Jackson made clear that NATO bombing would sharply escalate
if Belgrade reneged on the deal. Jackson's incredibly weathered face showed
little emotion as he delivered his ultimatum: Unless the document was
promptly signed, Yugoslavia's water, telephone, and electrical systems would
be destroyed.
The Yugoslavs expressed a number of practical concerns with the docu-
ment, including the seven days allotted for withdrawals and the forty-eight-
hour period for dismantling air defenses. Several times during the meeting,
both Yugoslav and NATO officials excused themselves from the restaurant
to engage in radio conversation with their superiors. NATO officers present
at the initial meeting found the Yugoslavs cooperative and workmanlike, and
it looked like they were close to accepting the peace agreement. General Jack-
son even said that there was some flexibility with regard to granting addi-
tional, but very limited, time to withdraw troops and air defenses. However,
the Yugoslav officers balked at finalizing an agreement, claiming that they
lacked authority to accept the clauses that dealt with NATO's role in KFOR.
Around four in the afternoon, most of the Yugoslav delegation headed
back over the nearby border, saying they needed to consult with their leader-
ship. When they did not return for several hours, it was agreed that the talks
would resume the next day. After the five-hour meeting, KFOR spokesman
BREAKING THROUGH * 209

Lieutenant Colonel Robin Clifford was optimistic, telling reporters that


NATO and the Serbs had concurred on all except "one or two minor de-
tails."
As the border talks took place during the day, some 2,000 British and
German peacekeeping troops arrived in Macedonia. Ken Bacon announced
that the contingent of 2,200 U.S. Marines had not yet arrived in Greece but
that he expected "they will arrive tomorrow afternoon or evening."
However, Thessalonikithe main Greek port of entry for troops and
supplies designated for KFORwas fast becoming a bottleneck. The Greek
government had suspended off-loading operations at the port in an effort to
minimize widespread public anger over the air campaign in the run-up to
the elections for the European parliament scheduled for eight days later, on
June 13. The Greeks had not indicated publicly when they would lift the
ban, but they had reassured NATO officials that the troops would be able to
transit. Both the U.S. ambassador to Greece, Nick Burns, and Deputy Secre-
tary Talbott had lobbied Greek Foreign Minister Papandreou on the subject
with limited results.
Very early in Washington on June 5, Secretary Albright spoke on the tele-
phone with Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Foreign Ministers Fischer
and Dini to discuss a difficult set of interlocking diplomatic issues. Albright
suggested that if the Yugoslavs finalized a military technical agreement the
next daySundaythe G-8 could then meet to discuss a Security Council
resolution on Monday and NATO could declare a bombing pause. However,
the Germans were concerned that if Serb forces withdrewbut did not sign
a military agreement and the G-8 could not agree on a Security Council
resolutionthere would be no legal basis for KFOR's deployment. Albright,
Dini, and Cook countered that since Milosevic had accepted the document
Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin had brought to Belgrade, which directly en-
dorsed a peacekeeping force, there was already sufficient legal basis for dis-
patching KFOR.
Unfortunately, the diplomacy was becoming increasingly circular and
dominated by disagreements over sequence. The Russians did not want to
talk about a UN resolution until the bombing stopped. NATO was unwill-
ing to stop bombing until it had proof the Yugoslavs had begun their with-
drawal. The Yugoslav military didn't want to begin withdrawals until the
bombing stopped and it had assurances KFOR would be in place to keep
210 * COLLISION COURSE

the KLA in check. Even some of the Allies were reluctant to put KFOR into
place until there was a Security Council resolution.
NATO military planners insisted that if the Serbs withdrew, KFOR had
to deploy, with or without authorization. NATO would look ridiculous if it
won the war but refused to keep the peace. All of the foreign ministers agreed
that, at a minimum, it would be helpful to have the Yugoslavs sign a docu-
ment indicating they accepted an international security presence. The group
was also acutely aware that Russia's role in KFOR had not been resolved.
There was some hope the Russians would be more conciliatory once the air
campaign was completed, but NATO knew it had to move ahead with or
without Russia. There was deep anger in Moscow that the bombing was still
going on despite Milosevic's apparent willingness to accept the deal, and
there were even fears that the Russian foreign ministry might go so far as to
reject the agreement that Chernomyrdin had helped craft. Nevertheless, later
in the day, Foreign Minister Ivanov indicated that he would attend a G-8
meeting in Cologne on Monday.
President Ahtisaari called Milosevic in Belgrade. It was the first of a series
of conversations between the two men over the following days concerning
sequencing issues and the border talks. Milosevic insisted that it was not nec-
essary to finalize a military technical agreement to get the bombing stopped.
He felt that it should suffice if the Yugoslav military began to withdraw and
the United Nations passed a Security Council resolution. Ahtisaari made
clear that no UN resolution would be passed until a military technical agree-
ment was signed and the withdrawal had begun, leaving Milosevic to
grumble, "We were not terribly pleased by your peace offer, as you know."
On Sunday, June 6, the border talks between NATO and Yugoslavia re-
sumed at 8:30 in the morning at a new location, a large tent at Kumanovo
airport, a French airfield just east of Skopje, Macedonia. Yugoslav Army
Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Svetozar Marjanovic joined General Stevanovic
of the Ministry of the Interior and General Kovacevic of the army as the
senior Yugoslav representatives. The Yugoslav position began to shift as the
talks got underway. General Marjanovic increasingly limited the discussion
to focus on details surrounding the troop withdrawal, efforts to disarm the
KLA, and the eventual limited reintroduction of Serb forces into Kosovo.
The Yugoslavs insisted that the broader aspects of the military technical
agreementsuch as the nature of the international peacekeeping force
could not be resolved until after a UN resolution had been passed. The dele-
BREAKING THROUGH * 211

gation had new instructions from Belgrade, and the endgame to the war
seemed to be dissolving into a Catch-22. Yugoslavia would not sign a mili-
tary technical agreement without a UN resolution. NATO was equally ada-
mant that bombing would continue until there was an agreement at the
border and the onset of a withdrawal. Milosevic and the Russians both ap-
peared to be having second thoughts about the demands to which they had
agreed, feeling they might get better terms in a UN resolution.
The atmosphere at the border talks further deteriorated with the arrival of
Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Barmyantsev, the Russian military attache from Belgrade.
Upon his arrival, Barmyantsev immediately went into a private meeting with
the Yugoslav delegation. After the talks resumed, the Yugoslav officers contin-
ued to backpedal. General Marjanovic suggested that Yugoslavia reduce its
troop levels in Kosovo down to prewar strength of some 15,000 to 20,000
until after a UN resolution was passed, a plan that seemed to come directly
from the Russians. The Yugoslav delegation and the Russian attache were also
eager to flesh out Russia's role in KFOR. Would Russian troops be given their
own sector? Would they be under an independent command? Both the Rus-
sians and Yugoslavs urged a large contingent of Russian forces be placed on
the northern border of Kosovo, a suggestion that quickly led to the familiar
counterarguments about the dangers of partition.
Moscow and Belgrade eagerly revisited the same issues that Chernomyr-
din had earlier resolved. In some cases, Barmyantsev openly encouraged the
Yugoslavs to reject NATO's terms, and the Russian general insisted that for-
eign troops could only enter Kosovo with UN authorization. In the after-
noon, a NATO spokesman announced there would be a two-hour break to
allow the Yugoslavs to "reassess their position," and a short time later, Col.
Carmine De Pasquale, the head of the Italian KFOR contingent, announced,
"Problems have cropped up that can only be resolved by the president of
Yugoslavia."
When the meetings resumed, the Serbs continued to insist that there
could be no forward movement without a UN resolution, and that their
troop strength should only be reduced to prewar levels so civilians would be
protected until KFOR deployed. The Yugoslavs also wanted all references to
KFOR removed from the military technical agreement, and suggested that
the United Nations would need to spell out the scope of the duties for peace-
keepers.
Such an approach would allow Belgrade to maintain 20,000 troops in
212 * COLLISION COURSE

Kosovo, get the bombing stopped and then use the Russians to block the
UN resolution and KFOR's deployment. In essence, the situation on the
ground would be the same as before the warexcept the better part of a
million Kosovar Albanians would never be able to return home. General
Jackson quickly rejected the Serb proposal. The increasingly rancorous tone
of the talks sparked a torrent of diplomatic and political activity. President
Clinton, who was spending the weekend at Camp David, quickly returned
to Washington, and he spoke on the telephone with British Prime Minister
Tony Blair, Canadian Prime Minster Jean Chretien, and Italian Prime Min-
ister Massimo D'Alema. Afterward, Blair announced, "The Serbs should not
underestimate our total determination to see this thing through, and we still
have the forces and the weapons in the area, and the planes, if necessary."
In Brussels, the NATO ambassadors discussed the stalled border talks and
considered the possibility of dropping leaflets on Belgrade explaining to citi-
zens why the peace deal had foundered and why bombing would be intensi-
fied. The group discussed both the hardening Russian position and the
unsavory prospect of deploying KFOR without a UN resolution. While the
French insisted such an approach was "unthinkable," others recognized that
there might be no alternative.
Secretary Albright and British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook debated ask-
ing President Ahtisaari to travel to Belgrade to clarify Milosevic's position,
and both agreed that concerted action between Belgrade and Moscow was
behind the setbacks. Bombing might need to be intensified within twenty-
four hours. President Ahtisaari, who had planned to travel to China during
the day to seek Beijing support for a UN resolution, abruptly postponed his
trip.
Albright spoke with Foreign Ministers Vedrine, Dini, and Fischer, as well
as Foreign Secretary Cook, in a conference call later in the afternoon. They
agreed that the Yugoslavs needed to abide by the terms spelled out at the
Petersberg; permitting Russia to renegotiate the deal through the mechanism
of the UN Security Council was unacceptable. As one of the ministers be-
moaned, all the progress of the previous several days seemed to have evapo-
rated, "like the last seventy days never happened." The fear was that with
Chernomyrdin on the sidelines, Milosevic might again believe that Russia
had a veto over NATO. President Clinton wrote to Yeltsin expressing his
own concern with developments and asking the Russian president to keep
their work on track.
BREAKING THROUGH * 213

President Ahtisaari again spoke with Milosevic on the phone, and the Yu-
goslav president continued to resist the need for signing an agreement at the
border. Milosevic argued that he was being blackmailed, and Ahtisaari
pointed out that the Yugoslav president was the only one who could ulti-
mately get the bombing stopped. Ahtisaari maintained that the talks at the
border had soured when Russian Lt. Gen. Barmyantsev had appeared, but
Milosevic insisted that he could not control the talks "far away in Macedo-
nia." Milosevic claimed that NATO had no right to negotiate the parameters
of KFOR, feeling such a decision should rest with the United Nations. The
tone of the conversation gradually turned harsher, and eventually an agitated
Ahtisaari argued that because of Milosevic's attitude, "We will not get any-
where. We are about to return to day one." Milosevic was stonewalling.
Secretary Albright departed Washington in the evening for Cologne to
meet with her fellow G-8 foreign ministers to forge a draft UN resolution,
and with the continued difficulties at the border talks, the process had a new
urgency.
At the Kumanovo airport in Macedonia, the border talks had taken on
the demeanor of the trilateral negotiations, slipping past midnight, as Sun-
day turned into Monday, June 7. The Yugoslavs continued to insist that
seven days was not enough time to withdraw and that thousands of their
forces should be allowed to stay until the United Nations authorized KFOR.
For ten hours, the respective delegations haggled over the military technical
agreement, and the Yugoslavs seemed content to move neither forward nor
back, leading to speculation that they were stalling to buy more time for
mop-up operations against the KLA.
At three in the morning, the talks collapsed, and both sides were quick to
point fingers. Standing outside of the camouflaged hangar General Jackson
declared, "Our job has been to translate the political agreement into a work-
able military reality on the ground," but the "Yugoslav delegation presented
a proposal that would not guarantee the safe return of all the refugees or
the full withdrawal of Yugoslav forces." The KFOR commander announced,
"NATO, therefore, has no alternative but to continue, and indeed intensify,
the air campaign until such time as the Yugoslav side are prepared to agree
to implement the agreement fully and without ambiguity. . . . I frankly have
no more to say to them."
Both General Clark and General Jackson were now of one mind: NATO
214 * COLLISION COURSE

needed to amplify its attacks to send an unambiguous message to Belgrade


that the Alliance would use all necessary means to secure its terms. With his
brief statement completed, General Jackson turned sharply and headed for a
nearby helicopter, and, over its whine, the Yugoslav Deputy Foreign Minis-
ter Nebojsa Vujovic also spoke to the press, "We will continue with our
constructive effort, and we are ready to talk further." Vujovic insisted that
the NATO proposals called into question "the full respect of the sovereignty
and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, of which Kosovo is an integral part."
The Yugoslav delegation piled into their cars and headed back over the bor-
der into Kosovo.
NATO responded to the breakdown in the talks at the border by striking
targets around Belgrade for the first time since Ahtisaari and Chernomyrdin
had left Yugoslavia's capital four days earlier. Cruise missiles hit an oil refin-
ery on the outskirts of Belgrade and NATO attacked military barracks and
an airfield in Serbia, but not all in NATO were comfortable with the return
to a more aggressive military posture. French President Chirac feared intensi-
fied Allied attacks might compel the Russians to balk from sending Ivanov
to Germany for the G-8 meeting, and there appeared to be implicit agree-
ment within NATO to not ratchet air strikes up to their highest levels as
long as Ivanov stayed at the negotiating table.
However, General Clark was chafing at what he felt was a weak response,
arguing, "We're encouraging Milosevic to stall by not following through
with the ground option." That morning he directed that all the engineering
units dedicated for Option B- continue to flow toward Albania, insisting,
"We had to use this period to intensify the pressure on Belgrade." Clark
appealed to Chairman Shelton for permission to return to Washington so he
could "work on the naysayers" in the Army who continued to object to his
plans for a ground campaign.

Building the Trojan Horse

As the sun came up in Pristina, Kosovo, there were reports of Yugoslav forces
looting Kosovar Albanian homes and businessesa perverse but positive
sign troops might be preparing to pull out. There were also reports from
within Kosovo that the Serbs were trying to destroy evidence of atrocities by
digging up mass graves and relocating bodies, a charge substantiated by
BREAKING THROUGH * 215

NATO aerial photographs. During the day, President Ahtisaari and Milo-
sevic again spoke on the telephone. It had been decided that the Finnish
president did not need to visit Belgrade, and Ahtisaari found Milosevic in a
more constructive mood. Milosevic told Ahtisaari that, despite the lingering
difficulties, he felt that a deal would soon be reached at the border. Ahtisaari
conveyed this message directly to the G-8 foreign ministers shortly before
departing for his rescheduled trip to China.
The G-8 foreign ministers gathered in Cologne to collaborate on the de-
tails of a Security Council resolution, and Foreign Minister Ivanov arrived
in Germany grousing, "NATO is trying unilaterally to say in this document
[the UN resolution] that an international force will be based on NATO units
and have the right to use force," which was true. The G-8 foreign ministers
met in a lunchtime session at the Petersbergthe site of the earlier talks
between Chernomyrdin, Ahtisaari, and Talbott. In a side conversation, Iva-
nov pressed Albright to finalize an agreement on Russia's role in KFOR by
resuming U.S. and Russian military-to-military talks in Moscow. After
speaking with Berger and Talbott, Albright told Ivanov that the United
States was prepared to continue negotiations as soon as the draft UN resolu-
tion was complete. The United States was not willing to hold the UN resolu-
tion hostage to a final agreement on Russian participation in KFOR.
The Russians arrived at the Petersberg with some twenty objections to a
draft UN resolution that was thirty-three paragraphs long. Early in the G-8
session, Ivanov told his colleagues that agreeing to some of the terms in the
agreement would exceed both his authority and instructions, leading some
of the ministers to fear further discussions would be fruitless. Albright re-
layed back to Washington that Clinton should call Yeltsin to urge him to
give Ivanov clear marching orders. The remaining disagreements were an
outgrowth of the earlier trilateral dialogue. Russia still objected to any men-
tion of NATO constituting the core of the peacekeeping force and preferred
broader language that placed overall authority with the United Nations. Iva-
nov sought to have the peacekeepers' authorization limited to a single year, at
which point it would be subject to renewal. The other ministers recognized if
KFOR required annual reauthorization, it would only be a matter of time
before that approval could be blocked.
Ivanov objected to peacekeepers and civilian authorities being granted
Chapter VII authority, which would allow for the robust use of force. Al-
bright and the other ministers countered that Chapter VII authority was ab-
216 * COLLISION COURSE

solutely essential to make KFOR effective. Because NATO forces would be


the ones in harm's way, the Alliance wanted to ensure its forces had the
broadest possible discretion to use force when they saw fit. They were ada-
mant in opposing any arrangement where both the NATO commander and
UN authorities had to approve the use of forcethe "dual key" model that
had made UNPROFOR in Bosnia a debacle.
The timing of events also remained central. The continued Russian reluc-
tance to finalize a resolution raised fears that any pause in bombing would
allow the Russians to take a "go slow" approach to granting UN approval
for the peacekeeping effort. If NATO stopped bombing, and the Russians
continued to drag their feet, Milosevic would be given time to exploit his
advantage on the ground without fear of military reprisal. British and Ameri-
can officials continued to insist that if the Serbs started to withdraw, KFOR
had to deploy regardless of whether or not the United Nations had signed
off. Other NATO members, foremost Germany and France, were appalled
by the thought that NATO might deploy peacekeepers without UN authori-
zation, particularly at a time when that mandate seemed within reach. The
Russians seemed to understand that if push came to shove, KFOR would
likely deploy without their support.
President Clinton called President Yeltsin from Washington. Clinton
stressed that the situation was at a critical juncture and that Russia and the
United States stood on the verge of a great achievement. Clinton immedi-
ately noticed that Yeltsin sounded either sick or drunk, or both, and the Rus-
sian presidentnot known for his mastery of Englishanswered some of
questions even before they were translated. Yeltsin acknowledged that the
two sides had come a long way and that the only thing remaining was to
finalize their work. Clinton agreed and noted that if the G-8 could produce
and agreement on a UN resolution that day, everything would be fine. Clin-
ton wanted to ensure Ivanov was doing everything possible to reach an agree-
ment and pointed out that Yeltsin was setting the stage for a great Russian
diplomatic triumph. Yeltsin observed that it would be extremely dangerous
if they did not resolve the matter.
Again, President Clinton agreed and noted that he had urged Albright
and the other ministers to do everything within their power to strike a deal.
He hoped Yeltsin would similarly compel Foreign Minister Ivanov, and
Clinton claimed that if an agreement on the resolution could be reached, the
details of sequencing could be resolved. The beginning of a withdrawal
BREAKING THROUGH * 217

would allow for a bombing pause, passage of the UN resolution, and then
the deployment of peacekeepers. Clinton stressed the urgency of impressing
upon Milosevic that backsliding was unacceptable and claimed that if Milo-
sevic had lived up to his word, the bombing would have already stopped.
Both presidents agreed to ask their foreign ministers to redouble their efforts.
Back at the G-8 meeting, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine pro-
posed a solution to the sequencing dilemma similar to the one set forth by
President Clinton: A UN resolution would be finalized and ready for ap-
proval, but the vote on its passage could be delayed until NATO confirmed
troops were withdrawing. The other ministers, including Ivanov, expressed
some concerns but generally agreed such a formulation could break the im-
passe. Albright pushed to conclude the negotiations, but Ivanov deferred,
insisting that, despite Yeltsin's assurances to Clinton, he still had not received
instructions from Moscow on a number of key points. The long and some-
what frustrating session concluded with the ministers agreeing on the major-
ity of the resolution's text, but the Russian's still objecting to five critical
points: Chapter VII authority for peacekeepers; mandated cooperation with
the war crimes tribunal; the scope and nature of the peacekeeping force; the
total withdrawal of Yugoslav forces; and the duration of the mission's autho-
rization. The group agreed to reconvene the next day.
Vice President Gore spoke with Chernomyrdin on the telephone several
hours later and again raised the matter of the UN resolution: "Viktor Stepa-
novich, we are so close, and I admire so much what you have done. The
remaining differences do not seem insurmountable and time is of the es-
sence." Chernomyrdin did not think that Milosevic would "backtrack on his
commitments," but noted that Russia would "still commit all our efforts and
resources" to prevent the Yugoslav president from exploiting the situation.
Gore pleaded to have Yeltsin call Ivanov and give him clear instructions.
While Chernomyrdin was sympathetic, he mentioned sheepishly that he was
"not able to directly contact President Yeltsin," but remained "confident he
will issue the proper authority."

Cloak and Dagger

As the diplomatic efforts to break the gridlock continued, the Russian gov-
ernment was moving forward with a dramatic and secretive plan with the
218 * COLLISION COURSE

potential to shatter the peace deal and bring Russian and NATO forces into
a direct clash. While some of the details remain shadowy, the Kremlin tasked
the Russian military and intelligence services to come up with a covert strat-
egy that would enable Russia to both save face and secure a better bargaining
position with NATO in Kosovo.
Hurried planning was undertaken between the Russian Ministry of De-
fense, general staff, and intelligence services. Foreign Minister Ivanov was
not involved in putting the strategy together and was conspicuously kept in
the dark about the potential operation, although there is wide speculation
that Deputy Foreign Minister Avdeyev was privy to some of the discussions.
Key players in the closely held decision-making included General Staff Chief
Anatoly Kvashnin; Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev; Russia's representative
to NATO, Gen. Viktor Zavarzin; the head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence
Service, Vyacheslav Trubnikov; and the Russian military attache in Belgrade,
Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Barmyantsev, who was representing Russia at the border
talks between NATO and Yugoslavia.
The group devised a simple but direct plan code-named Operation Trojan
Horse. A brigade of Russian soldiers serving as peacekeepers in Bosnia would
cross overland through Serbia and seize Kosovo's largest airfield at Slatina.
This was a key strategic bridgehead and would allow Russia to bring in para-
trooper reinforcements to bolster its initial force. Once the Russian troops
were in place, it would be very difficult for NATO forces to move them out
without risking a direct military confrontation. The troops at the airfield
would then facilitate the immediate arrival of at least 600 Russian paratroop-
ers flown to the site from Russia aboard six IL-76 transport planes. Russia
would be able to negotiate its role within KFOR after having already created
new facts on the ground.
The operation, as drawn up by Russian security establishment, called for
the troops to enter Kosovo simultaneously with KFOR. Once this forward
deployment was in place, an additional 7,000 to 12,000 Russian airborne
troops would be readied for immediate deployment, potentially leaving Rus-
sia in military control of much of the traditionally ethnic Serb portions of
northern Kosovo. The plan would also provide an opportunity for Yugoslav
forces to remain in the northern portion of Kosovo if Moscow and Belgrade
wished to partition the province. Thousands of Russians troops on the
ground would provide Moscow and Belgrade with effective control of large
BREAKING THROUGH * 219

swaths of Kosovo and humiliate NATO at what was supposed to be its mo-
ment of greatest triumph.
The plan was beautiful in its simplicity. It would demonstrate Russia's
ability to rapidly project force and provide much needed leverage in negotiat-
ing command and control arrangements with NATO. The surprise opera-
tion was also designed to show Russian voters that President Yeltsin would
not be pushed around. The Russian military attache to Belgrade, Lt. Gen.
Yevgeny Barmyantsev, played a key role in coordinating the potential troop
movement with the Yugoslavs, and his role in planning the operation also
helps explain why the military technical agreement talks had stalled.
President Yeltsin broadly endorsed Trojan Horse while asking few ques-
tions about its operational details or international ramifications. As one
Western official observed derisively after the war, the Russian military and
intelligence services knew "how to present something in a way and a time to
get approvalyou send the bottle of vodka in first, and then the memo."
However, Yeltsin did make clear that the ministry of defense and the intelli-
gence services would be held accountable if the operation failed.
The operation carried serious risks, yet remarkably little consideration was
given to its broad foreign policy implications. While some Russian advisors
were reported to argue the plan could easily backfire, because it would give
NATO further justification for obstructing Russia, Trojan Horse was a dan-
gerous and impulsive plan pieced together by military and intelligence opera-
tives with little foreign policy input and a heavy emphasis on Russian
domestic politics.
Yeltsin said that he gave broad approval for the plan on June 4. Debating
the merits of the operation in his memoirs he reflected:

I hesitated for a long time. It seemed too dangerous to send our men in early.
Furthermore, why were we demonstrating military boldness and waving our
fists after the fight was over? Still, I decided that Russia must make a crowning
gesture, even if it had no significance. It was not a question of specific diplo-
matic victories or defeats; it was a question of whether we had won the main
point. Russia had not permitted itself to be defeated in the moral sense. It had
not let itself be split. It had not been dragged into the war. This last victory
was a sign of our moral victory in the face of the enormous NATO military,
all of Europe, and the whole world. I gave the order: go.

President Ahtisaari would later argue that he felt the only reason that Mi-
losevic accepted the agreement that he and Chernomyrdin brought to Bel-
220 * COLLISION COURSE

grade was because of the Russian plan to potentially partition the north of
Kosovo and place it under Russian and Serb control:

I could not find any other reason why Milosevic took the deal. I was continu-
ally asking myself, "Why did he agree?" And I could not find anything other
than the Russian plan. I tried to see some logic in the events, because in the
negotiations, the Russians were in favor of division and having their own sec-
tor. They could not agree on the command structure of KFOR at the Peters-
berg because they had a plan to rush their troops to Kosovo immediately.

Around June 7, the commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces in


Bosnia, Maj. Gen. Roman Yepifanov, told his troops they needed to prepare
to move on short notice. Because the operation was designed to influence
negotiations with NATO, Moscow had told General Yepifanov that he
would have to remain highly flexibleit was possible his troops would need
to cease, hold, or accelerate their operation on a moment's notice.
The wheels were in motion.

Reaching Agreement
On Tuesday, June 8, the G-8 ministers began their second day of meetings
on the draft UN Security Council resolution, having moved their discussions
from the Petersberg to the Guerzenicha medieval banquet hall in Cologne.
Foreign Minister Ivanov arrived ready for business, with a complete set of
alternative language for addressing those issues still in dispute. The Russians
had again consented to a total withdrawal. The other ministers quickly hud-
dled to review Ivanov's proposals, hoping to strike a careful balance between
the risk of offending the Russians and the dangers of watering down the
resolution.
Once the session resumed, Foreign Secretary Cook spiritedly advocated
the entire resolution be placed under Chapter VII authority, and Ivanov con-
tinued to object. During the long discussions, Ivanov and others periodically
left the room to telephone their respective capitals for further instruction.
Around five in the afternoon, Ivanov barged into the conversation of several
of his fellow foreign ministers. In what Cook later described as a "tense"
scene, Ivanov blamed the United States and NATO for the impasse at the
BREAKING THROUGH * 221

border talks, and huffed that if America could not move the situation for-
ward, "Russia would." With that, Ivanov indicated that Moscow would vote
in favor of the draft resolution as it stood immediately after NATO sus-
pended bombing operations. The logjam was broken.
The group spelled out the sequence of events that would follow. First, the
draft resolution would be completed. Second, the military technical agree-
ment would have to be finalized at the border talks. Third, the Yugoslav
forces would begin a full withdrawal. Fourth, once NATO verified the pull-
out had begun, it would stop bombing. Fifth, the UN Security Council
would adopt the resolution. Sixth, KFOR would move into Kosovo.
While the Russians had softened the tone of the resolution's text and
moved some of its more important language into annexes, the document
hewed closely to the broad strokes of the earlier demands. The resolution
was mandated under Chapter VII authority, allowing for the broad use of
force, and instructed the UN secretary-general to appoint a special represen-
tative to coordinate civil affairsranging from elections to reconstruc-
tionin Kosovo. The resolution certified, as had the conditions paper, that
an agreed-to number of Serb personnel could return to Kosovo after the
withdrawal was completed. The civil and security presences were authorized
for an initial period of one yearbut the mandate for these operations
would not automatically expire and were "to continue thereafter unless the
Security Council decides otherwise."
On balance, NATO had preserved its bottom lines. However, the resolu-
tion's language caused a degree of subsequent confusion and concern. While
the main body of the resolution authorized the deployment of a peacekeep-
ing force under UN auspices, it did not refer to NATO's core role. Secretary
Albright and others were quick to point out that the second annex to the
resolutionthe paper drafted by Ahtisaari, Chernomyrdin, and Talbott and
included in its entiretywas explicit in spelling out NATO's centrality. Al-
bright told reporters, "It is in the appendix to this resolution that it has
NATO at the core, and NATO will be the military leader." Alliance officials
also pointed out that they were rapidly moving forward with deploying
KFOR and that it would include at least 44,000 NATO troopsclear
NATO domination. It is reasonable to question why the Alliance ministers
"buried the lead" with the reference to NATO not appearing until the sec-
ond annex. By the same token, this clause was still included and explicitly
endorsed by the Russiansno small feat.
222 * COLLISION COURSE

Others took issue with the fact that NATO's demands had evolved from
the earlier, and failed, Rambouillet accords and further muddied the issue of
Kosovo's political status. The UN Resolution created a civil presence to pro-
mote "the establishment, pending a final settlement, of substantial auton-
omy and self-government in Kosovo." This civil authority was to take full
account of the demands paper and the Rambouillet accords, as it oversaw
and organized the development of "provisional institutions for democratic
and autonomous self-government pending a political settlement, including
the holding of elections." The final status of Kosovo was left open, with the
civilian representative charged with "facilitating a political process" whose
exact nature was left uncertain.
The resolution dropped the proposal for a nonbinding referendum on
Kosovo's ultimate status after three years, as had been included in the Ram-
bouillet proposals. By turning Kosovo into a de facto international protector-
ate, NATO had simply pushed the issue of Kosovo's status down the road,
an understandable decision given the overall difficulty of the situation, but
one that may have deleterious consequences over the long term. The Balkans
offer all too many examples of problems left for a later day that have only
amplified in their intensity, consequence, and violence.
The UN resolution also did not clarify Russia's role in KFOR, with that
issue again set aside for later negotiations. The matter of how the KLA would
be disarmed would also need to be formalized in a subsequent agreement as
well. But on balance, the UN resolution was tougher on Belgrade than the
Rambouillet accords. It demanded the total withdrawal of Yugoslav forces
and the insertion of a large and robust international peacekeeping force with
an open-ended mandate. Reaction within NATO to the UN resolution was
jubilant. German Foreign Minister Fischer called the agreement "a genuine
breakthrough" and "a very decisive step toward peace." Ivanov was relieved
but not pleased: "This sort of document hardly ever satisfies those who take
part in the negotiations."
At the White House, President Clinton spoke on the phone with Presi-
dent Yeltsin for the second straight day, and again the Russian president
sounded badly under the weather. The conversation began with mutual con-
gratulations, and President Yeltsin credited himself with telling Ivanov that
he should not come back from Germany without a deal. Clinton said that
he was thrilled that they had reached agreement, and Yeltsin made clear that
he felt Russia had lived up to its end of the bargain; Clinton now needed to
BREAKING THROUGH it 223

stop the bombing. However, the U.S. president cautioned that the military
technical agreement with the Serbs first had to be finalized.
Yeltsin's mood immediately soured. "Bill, just a second, Bill." Yeltsin in-
sisted that they had agreed that once the resolution was completed, the
bombing would be stopped. Yeltsin grumpily inquired if Clinton was draw-
ing back from their agreement. Clinton tried to calm Yeltsin, and reassured
him that as soon as the Yugoslav troops began to withdraw things would
work out. Strobe Talbott and his team would be dispatched to Moscow to
finalize the details of Russia's involvement in KFOR.
There were further signs that Serb forces in Kosovo were preparing for a
withdrawal, as heavy military transport vehicles were mobilized and Yugoslav
officers in Pristina were spotted loading trucks with furniture and personal
effects. The Serbs also reinforced positions in western Kosovo in what looked
like an effort to protect their flank in case of a withdrawal. At a Pentagon
briefing, a reporter noted that KFOR would be ready to deploy in a matter
of days, and that no Russian troops were pre-positioned in the area, leading
to an inquiry if KFOR would move into Kosovo without the Russians.
"That is safe to assume, yes," spokesman Ken Bacon dryly replied.
Bacon also told the press that U.S. Marines would be ready to deploy into
Kosovo within ninety-six hours of receiving orders to move, although they
still remained at sea, hoping to offload at the Greek port of Thessaloniki
before moving over land to their temporary base in Macedonia. Pentagon
officials noted that if the Yugoslavs started withdrawing within forty-eight
hours, U.S. troops would not be ready to be part of KFOR's vanguard,
largely because the Greek government had delayed disembarkation. British
and French officials also noted with some satisfaction that KFOR would be
ready to go before that timewith or without the U.S. forces.
All eyes turned again to the Kosovo-Macedonia border, where talks on a
military technical agreement resumed at a little after nine in the evening of
June 8 at the muddy military heliport near the town of Kumanovo, Macedo-
nia. The first hours of the meeting were spent with the Yugoslav officers
reviewing changes that NATO officials had made in the draft document. The
issues of border control, the size of a buffer zone along Kosovo's border, the
timing of the troop withdrawal, and bombing pause continued to dominate
discussions. The proposed buffer zone would ensure that air defenses, partic-
ularly surface-to-air missiles, were kept far enough away from Kosovo's bor-
der with Serbia that NATO planes could patrol without threat while pushing
224 * COLLISION COURSE

Yugoslav troops further back into Serbia, reducing the potential for cross-
border adventurism by Milosevic.
The Yugoslavs tried to reopen the issue of total withdrawal by insisting
that they needed Yugoslav security forces at Kosovo's borders to ensure they
maintained their sovereignty. General Foglesong and the others countered
that Milosevic had already accepted total withdrawal in his sessions with Ah-
tisaari and Chernomyrdin and accused the Yugoslavs of stalling. The Yugo-
slav officers also insisted that seven days was simply too brief a period to
withdraw all their forces, given fuel shortages and the threat from the KLA,
preferring seventeen days for a pullout. NATO planners were unsympa-
thetic, pointing out that most of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who
had been driven out of Kosovo had crossed the province in a matter of days.
Several times, General Foglesong, Finnish Admiral Kaskeala, and a Yugo-
slav representative crossed over to the Serb side of the border and sat in a
small cafe in side discussions designed to jump-start the process. Once again,
the talks labored past midnight as an expectant world awaited news from the
camouflage tent. The discussions were painstakingly detailed, and coordinat-
ing the finer points of a massive troop withdrawal necessitated consideration
of road conditions, timetables, exit routes, and methods for verifying the
pullout. The negotiators pored over maps and aerial photos and consulted
with military engineers. The talks finally adjourned around seven in the
morning on June 9without an agreement.
President Ahtisaari again telephoned to prod Milosevic. To the Finnish
president's frustration, Milosevic quibbled over a series of largely minor and
technical points contained in the border agreement. Milosevic and Ahtisaari
went back and forth at length on sequencing issues, the UN resolution, and
border security. After several testy exchanges, a still recalcitrant Milosevic
declared that he would keep the process moving forward.
In Cologne, Albright started her day by meeting with Foreign Minister
Ivanov at seven in the morning at the Renaissance Hotel, joined by Deputy
Foreign Minister Mamedov, Ambassador Mayorsky, and several senior State
Department officials. Ivanov almost immediately asked when the United
States wanted to vote on the UN resolution. Albright noted that a quick vote
might not be possible owing to changes that were being proposed by the
Chinese who were urging, as the Russians had, that KFOR's mandate be
limited to a year, with the possibility of subsequent renewal. The Chinese
BREAKING THROUGH * 225

were also trying to soften the language criticizing Yugoslavia and to limit the
circumstances under which force could be used by peacekeepers.
The Russian foreign minister suggested that if the sequence of events to
which they had already agreed was altered, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin
would need to concur on the new timetable. Ivanov did not want Russia to
be forced to abstain from voting for the UN resolution, and he spelled out
the sequencing as he had understood it. The draft resolution would be sent
to New York. The military technical agreement would then be signed. The
withdrawal would begin and the air strikes would be suspended. The UN
resolution would then be passed and KFOR could deploy. Subsequently, the
withdrawal of Yugoslav forces would be completed. Finally, NATO's mili-
tary operation would be formally terminated.
Albright agreed and pointed out that the Serbs were the only complica-
tion, since Milosevic's generals seemed to be working hard to undermine
an agreement. Ivanov questioned why the bombing could not be suspended
immediately, leading Albright to point to the sequence he had just de-
taileda withdrawal needed to commence before bombing stopped. Ivanov
observed that Russian public opinion was blithe to the intricacies of diplo-
macy and UN voting procedures, and stressed that he had already surpassed
his own authority in the matters before them. He asked what would happen
if the resolution was passed but the bombing continued, and the secretary
reiterated the bombing would pause when there was a withdrawal. As long
as Milosevic did not resort to any stunts, there would be no problems.
The discussion turned to Russian participation in KFOR. The secretary
agreed it was an important topic, noting she was dispatching Deputy Secre-
tary Talbott and a team of military experts to Moscow later that day for talks
on Thursday and Friday with Ivanov and Russian military officials. Ivanov
indicated that he would be headed out on a tour of the Baltic capitals on
Friday, giving them limited time, and Albright asked for assurances the Rus-
sian negotiators would be provided with clear instructions. Ivanov noted that
even the hawkish General Ivashov thought the discussions were going well.
The border talks resumed around midday on June 9, allowing negotiators
only several hours of sleep, and the increasingly edgy military representatives
plowed over familiar ground. During the course of the afternoon, it again
appeared the discussions might collapse as the Yugoslav delegation an-
nounced they needed to consult with Belgrade and promptly left the base.
NATO officers speculated that they might not return, and a NATO spokes-
226 * COLLISION COURSE

man announced to the media that the talks had adjourned for the day. But
the Serb officials traveled only as far as the border crossing where they made
a series of telephone calls to Belgrade, and they returned to the base an hour
later. Negotiations resumed.
Just before ten at night, General Jackson emerged from the tent to address
the media. "I have some very good news," he said. He announced that a
military technical agreement had been signed: "NATO's resolve in conduct-
ing a sustained air campaign has finally achieved this agreement, and now it
is time to look ahead." With that, Jackson briskly folded up the prepared
statement, told reporters there was no time for questions, and strode quickly
off into the night. He again boarded a helicopter waiting to whisk him from
the scene.
Yugoslav General Marjanovic also spoke briefly with reporters, and his
words were nearly drowned out by the sound of Jackson's departing helicop-
ter as dark storms clouds hung low and lightning roiled the sky in front of
the tent. "It means the war has ended," Marjanovic said, "The policy of
peace has prevailed, the policy of peace which is conducted by the Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia and President Milosevic." The Yugoslav general also
declined to take questions.
In the six-page military technical agreement, the Yugoslav military had
agreed that an international military force, commanded by a NATO general,
would occupy the province. General Jackson, as KFOR's commander, was
given extraordinarily broad sanction, with "authority to take all necessary
action to establish and maintain a secure environment for all citizens of Ko-
sovo"; including the use of military force. The agreement outlined a strict
timetable for withdrawal, with the first of the Yugoslav forces to depart
northern Kosovo within twenty-four hours and calling on all 40,000 Serb
troops to pull out via four designated exit routes by June 21. NATO and
the Yugoslavs had split their difference on the time allotted for the pullout,
ultimately settling on eleven days.
The agreement also established a five-kilometer buffer zone within Serbia
that would be considered a "no-go" zone for Yugoslav forces, again splitting
the difference between the positions of the two negotiating teams. In addi-
tion, all aircraft and air defense systems had to be pulled back from a twenty-
five-kilometer zone that extended beyond the province border into the rest
of Yugoslavia. KFOR was given control of the borders with Albania and
Macedonia, ensuring that Yugoslavia would have no voice in determining
BREAKING THROUGH * 227

what refugees would be allowed to return. It was agreed that NATO Secre-
tary-General Solana would declare a bombing pause if the Yugoslavs began
a pullout from northern Kosovo within twenty-four hours, meeting the first
phase of the agreement's demands. NATO could resume air attacks if Gen-
eral Clark determined that the Yugoslavs failed to meet any of the terms of
the agreementa light tripwire. Although the KLA was not mentioned in
the agreement, the Yugoslavs were given direct assurances that the rebels
would be demilitarized, and those guarantees were crucial in allowing the
agreement to move forward.
In signing the agreement, NATO had assumed responsibility for Kosovo's
security. For better or worse, the Alliance had made the daily operations of
the province its own problem. General Clark was upset that some of the
terms of the military technical agreement had been softened and he com-
plained to the Pentagon, "Mike Jackson doesn't have enough strength on
the ground to make an opposed entry on the ground if there is a problem
with this agreement." He also complained, "The real weak point was that
NATO command and control was not explicitly recognized. That meant we
would still have to work with the Russians to define their participation."
In Yugoslavia, state-run television interrupted broadcasts to report the
agreement: "Dear viewers and listeners, the aggression against Yugoslavia is
over." For the first time in ten weeks, the streetlamps of Belgrade blinked
on, as cheering crowds shot fireworks into the night air. Drivers joyously
honked car horns as soldiers fired antiaircraft tracer bullets into the sky. The
Yugoslav capital was awash with relief.
In Washington, the Pentagon reported that the roughly 2,000 Marines
that had been waiting off the coast of Greece had finally landed, and were
prepared to move into Macedonia. Additional elements of U.S. forces would
be arriving on transport planes from Germany, and moving over land
through Albania. Secretary Albright, who was in Cologne, spoke with For-
eign Secretary Cook late in the day. Secretary-General Solana was getting
pressure from some of the Allies to declare an immediate pause in the air
campaign and notify UN Secretary-General Annan he had done so. Albright
felt that such a move was premature because General Clark would not be
able to verify the Serb withdrawal until the light of day. Both the United
States and Great Britain urged Solana to hold firm until morning.
Deputy National Security Adviser Jim Steinberg called Deputy Secretary
Strobe Talbott, who was airborne for Moscow, informing him that the mili-
228 * COLLISION COURSE

tary technical agreement had been signed. In one of his more demonstrative
moments, Talbott let out a whoop of excitement, surprising his colleagues
on the small Air Force jet. Soon General Foglesong called the plane from the
Macedonian border to share the good news as well, and he informed Talbott
that he would link up with the deputy secretary in Moscow.
For the small team of U.S. negotiators, it looked like the mission to Mos-
cow would bring closure to their diplomatic odyssey. They only had to final-
ize the details of Russia's participation in KFOR, and the existing
peacekeeping arrangements in Bosnia seemed to offer a clear road map for
such a deal. The plane carrying the U.S. delegation toward Moscow headed
steadily eastward into the fading light, and the members of the traveling
team drifted into various states of half-slumber in the comfortable confines
of the Gulfstream jet. Yet, as Talbott headed to Moscow, Russian peacekeep-
ers in Bosnia were poised awaiting secret orders to rush toward Kosovo.

Back to the USSR?

NATO air strikes came to a standstill with the formal acceptance of the mili-
tary technical agreement. Although there were still reports of sporadic Yugo-
slav artillery fire, NATO officials dismissed the activity as defensive cover. At
half past seven in the morning on Thursday, June 10, Talbott's delegation
touched down in Moscow. As the team's motorcade sped toward downtown
one more time, the group was energized. With the finish line in sight, and
back in their rhythm of travel, they were able to shake off their collective
weariness.
The visit was slated to be a brief one, with the delegation planning to
return to the States by the weekend. As the team sat down with Ambassador
Collins at the Marriott Hotel, Talbott asked the ambassador if it was possible
to pick up a bottle of champagne to present to Chernomyrdin when they
met later in the day and, as he put it, "Get something nice, nothing local."
The U.S. delegation then went in two directions: Half the team headed for
the military-to-military discussion on the details of Russian participation in
KFOR, and the others, including Talbott, went to meet with Chernomyrdin.
At eleven in the morning, in room 503 of the Russian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, the military-to-military talks began. Before the meeting, General
Ivashov told reporters, "The Russian contingent is under Russian com-
BREAKING THROUGH * 229

mand," adding, "it cannot be otherwise." General Ivashov was in an uncom-


promising mood as the discussions got off to a rocky start. Ivashov wanted
the United Nations to be given broad control over the military operationa
position directly at odds with the UN resolution his own foreign ministry
had just endorsed. He also insisted that Russia be granted its own geographic
sector to patrol in Kosovo, just as was slated for the United States, Great
Britain, Germany, France, and Italy. Ivashov saw no way Russia could serve
under NATO's command. With some irritation, the negotiators reviewed
why each of Ivashov's demands was unacceptable. The Russian Ministry of
Defense had put out a series of contradictory signals regarding the number
of troops they would be willing to commit to KFORranging from 2,500
to 10,000 soldiers. Few analysts thought Russia could afford to muster
10,000 troops in the Balkans indefinitely without financial assistance from
the international community. There were also reports in Moscow during the
day that Defense Minister Sergeyev had issued preliminary orders for air-
borne troops from three divisions to prepare to deploy to Kosovo.
Around noon, Talbott met with Chernomyrdin in his office in the Gaz-
prom building. Both men were relaxed and upbeat. Chernomyrdin's role was
largely completed and he was not taking part in the negotiations on Russia's
role in KFOR. Chernomyrdin laughingly gave the deputy secretary a hard
time about his reservations at the Petersberg concerning forging a single set
of demands to take to Belgrade, and the Russian insisted that the group un-
cork the bottle of champagne to celebrate the conclusion of their joint ef-
forts, despite Talbott's objections that many things could still go wrong.
Chernomyrdin told the deputy secretary, "We've been through something
very difficult and very dangerous, but we avoided something much, much
worse."
Around the same time as Talbott and Chernomyrdin met, the Russian
Duma convened to condemn Chernomyrdin's efforts and the peace agree-
ment as a whole, passing by a large margin a nonbinding resolution request-
ing President Yeltsin sack Chernomyrdin as special envoy to Yugoslavia.
Sergei Ivanenko, a centrist parliamentarian, maintained that Russian defense
and foreign ministry officials had presented materials suggesting Cherno-
myrdin "made a number of concessions that were not necessary." After their
meeting concluded, Talbott and Chernomyrdin held a short press conference
and the Russian envoy was immediately quizzed as to his reaction to the vote.
Chernomyrdin thanked the parliament for its opinion and calmly noted, "I
230 * COLLISION COURSE

work for the president, and not the Duma." Chernomyrdin felt that an ac-
commodation would be worked out for Russian participation in KFOR and
that "Russian troops will have their own zone of responsibility, most proba-
bly close to Kosovo's administrative border with Serbia." Talbott carefully
made the distinction that Russia would not be given its own sector in Ko-
sovo, but would have an area where its role was "manifest." Asked about the
possibility of a unilateral deployment of Russian forces, Talbott stressed that
such a move would be "quite dangerous."
Around two in the afternoon, the military talks at the foreign ministry
recessed for a two-hour break. U.S. negotiators were concerned by the hard-
line Russian approach and feared that if the talks collapsed the Russian gov-
ernment might refuse to vote for the UN resolution. The team agreed that
they should string the talks out long enough for the resolution to be passed.
In Kosovo, the 40,000 Yugoslav army and police forces began to with-
draw. Moving out from carefully concealed positions, military and police
forces laughed and flashed victory signs at television cameras as their convoys
headed toward Serbia. The roads quickly became clogged with military vehi-
cles and fleeing Serb civilians. For many Kosovar Serbs, the notion of living
in Kosovo without the protective cloak of Yugoslav armed forces was un-
thinkable. The returning refugees would want to settle blood scores, and
Serb civilians would be attractive targets.
The onset of the withdrawal triggered a series of interlocking events. Not
long after the pullout began, NATO Secretary-General Solana declared,
"Milosevic has complied with the five conditions the international commu-
nity has placed," and he instructed General Clark to suspend NATO air op-
erations. UN Secretary-General Annan was also informed of Solana's
determination. Solana declared, "It is a great day for the Alliance," as he
warned both Milosevic and KLA that "violence or noncompliance by any
party will not be tolerated." The KLA quickly announced a cease-fire. In
Washington, at just after ten in the morning, President Clinton spoke from
the White House briefing room: "NATO has suspended its air campaign
against Yugoslavia. An international security force, including American
troops is preparing to enter Kosovo."
President Clinton spoke briefly with President Yeltsin on the telephone,
and Clinton thanked Yeltsin for his work. He noted the Serb withdrawal
had commenced, the bombing had been suspended, and passage of the UN
resolution was imminent. Yeltsin observed, "It would have been a real trag-
BREAKING THROUGH * 231

edy for us if our ways had gone in different directions, because we have been
working for many years." The relieved Russian president enthused, "I would
like to hug and kiss you."
"Thank you, Boris," Clinton replied. "Our friendship will never be bro-
ken as long as we are honest with each other." The two men did not discuss
the continuing difficulties in resolving Russia's role in KFOR, and there was
no hint of the Russian troops who were scrambling to deploy from Bosnia.
In Bosnia, the commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent called
an urgent meeting of his senior staff to discuss the closely guarded Trojan
Horse operation's move into Kosovo. The march was provisionally sched-
uled to begin the next dayJune 11at four in the morning. In New York,
the United Nations lurched toward formal approval of the Security Council
resolution. Most of the twenty representatives to the Security Council gave
speechesstretching over five hourswith the overwhelming majority de-
fending passage. In Belgrade, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ad-
dressed the nation from the presidential palace. Dressed in a blue suit, he
stood stiffly before an ornamental fireplace and declared to the people of
Yugoslavia, "Dear citizens, the aggression is over. Peace has prevailed over
violence." Milosevic spoke of the Yugoslav people as heroes, and testified to
the honor of those who had died defending the state:

We have not given up Kosovo. The Group of Eight most developed countries
of the world and the United Nations guarantee the sovereignty and territorial
integrity of our country. . . . The Belgrade agreement has closed the open
issues of the possible independence of Kosovo at the time prior to the aggres-
sion. The territorial entirety of our country cannot be threatened. We have
preserved and succeeded in defending the country because we brought the
entire problem to the summit of the world authority, the United Nations, and
handed its resolution to be sought under UN auspices and in keeping with
the UN charter.

KFOR troops18,500 out of a force expected to eventually grow to over


50,000were poised to move into Kosovo. NATO military officials said
British and French troops would be the first to enter the province, with U.S.
forces not far behind. General Jackson announced, "We shall be off quite
quickly, and what we do in Kosovo, I assure you, will both be robust and
quite even-handed." NATO flirted with the notion of moving its forces into
232 * COLLISION COURSE

Kosovo as early as the morning of the next day, Friday, with British forces
massed at Skopje securing the main highway running from Pristina to the
border in a helicopter lift. However, NATO officials delayed the plan largely
because they were still waiting for U.S. Marines to arrive from Greece. The
United States, having carried the bulk of the campaign's military load, did
not want to see European forces go into Kosovo without them. General Jack-
son was infuriated by the delay, although at the time, a setback of thirty-six
hours seemed of minor consequence.
It looked as if all the carefully choreographed diplomacy was neatly falling
into place. Events were unfolding as scheduled, and all of the parties to the
agreementthe United Nations, the Yugoslavs, the KLA, NATO, the G-8,
and Russiaseemed to be honoring their commitments.
In Moscow, just after five in the evening, Deputy Secretary Talbott
headed to the Russian White House for a meeting with the new prime minis-
ter, Sergei Stepashin. Stepashin had worked at senior levels in the intelligence
services, had the pale, bland features of a lifelong bureaucrat, and was an
unproven quantity in his role. Stepashin began the session by noting that he
hoped Talbott had brought "good news" and said, "It appears that we have
avoided an escalation in Kosovo just as we avoided such an escalation in
the Cuba crisis long ago." However, he added, "I understand from Defense
Minister Sergeyev that the talks between our military representatives are
complicated and experiencing some difficulties," largely, he felt, because
U.S. military planners continued to push for Russian participation along the
lines of the model used in Bosnia.
Stepashin also observed that Germany's harsh treatment at the end of
World War I by the Allied powers fueled the extremism that brought Adolph
Hitler to power. He was quick to observe that while the comparison to Wei-
mar Germany was obviously not exactand he was emphatic in assuring
that no Hitler would rise in Russiahe stressed, "The psychology is simi-
lar." Talbott went out of the way to object to Stepashin's analogy, insisting
that the comparison was inaccurate "strategically, historically, and morally."
An aide walked in the room and passed Talbott a note: The UN Security
Council had passed the Kosovo resolution by a vote of 14-0, with China
abstaining. Shortly after the UN vote, NATO ambassadors put another piece
of the puzzle in place by issuing the final activation order, or "ACTORD"
in NATO parlance, for KFOR. This activation order effectively transferred
command of these troops from their national commands to KFOR and Gen-
BREAKING THROUGH * 233

eral Jackson. With authorization orders in place, NATO announced it was


poised to enter Kosovo by Saturday.
Prime Minister Stepashin raised several non-Kosovo issues that he
thought should be addressed before Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin met at
the G-8 Summit scheduled for ten days later. The imminent G-8 Summit
drove the diplomatic process on a number of levels. Everyone in the meeting
knew that in ten days, Yeltsin and Clinton would likely be in the same room,
and Kosovo would be an important topic. Some saw the summit as harden-
ing the position of the Russian negotiators at the military talks, because they
knew Clinton wanted to arrive in Cologne with a deal in hand. The Russians
could use the potential embarrassment of a failed summit as leverage with an
American president who saw himself as a peacemaker. Others saw less
strength in the Russian position, arguing that the peacekeeping effort would
move forward regardless of Moscow's stance and that Russia's military was
in no position to turn the affair into a test of wills. The last thing the Russian
hard-liners wanted was for Clinton and Yeltsin to negotiate the final aspects
of peacekeeping arrangements, because the U.S. president had already
proved that he could secure favorable deals when dealing with Yeltsin di-
rectly.
Talbott suggested to Stepashin that Russia and the United States were
potentially in a "win-win" position. He shared the news that the UN resolu-
tion had passed and observed that the international community's goals had
been achieved through an effective combination of diplomacy and force. Tal-
bott noted that although Moscow had consistently and eloquently opposed
the bombing, it had been Russian diplomacy that helped broker the peace.
The deputy secretary stressed operations were moving into an equally impor-
tant phase. The military teams had been working together for weeks trying
to resolve how Russia could participate in KFOR, and they would continue
their efforts the next day, but NATO's bottom line was unchanged: The
arrangements had to provide a secure environment and be militarily effec-
tive. KFOR had to be in every geographic part of Kosovo, with a NATO
commanding officer who received instructions from the North Atlantic
Council. Talbott said he appreciated Russia's desire to have its troops based
in the northern part of Kosovo, but partnering these forces with other inter-
national contingents, including those of NATO, was vital. He also noted
that General Foglesong would arrive from the border talks in several hours,
joining General Casey for the negotiations with Ivashov.
234 * COLLISION COURSE

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Avdeyev weighed in with a few


thoughts, contending that the Russian Federation Council might not ap-
prove funding for Russian peacekeepers if they were operating under such
conditions. He also claimed that with the passage of the UN resolution, it
would not be long before troops moved into Kosovo: "If we keep talking
and talking, KFOR will get all the goodies." He insisted, "We need to agree
on the Slatina area with its airport as the area where we will be present."
This caused Stepashin, with some irritation, to quickly cut off the deputy
foreign minister. Stepashin conceded there would be NATO troops and gen-
erals in every sector, but remained less satisfied with KFOR's command and
control arrangements. With that, the meeting concluded. The U.S. team felt
that the meeting with Stepashin had gone as well as could be hoped, and
while the prime minister was still unhappy about NATO's overall control of
the operation, he was reassuring about Russia's cooperation.
The military-to-military talks reconvened at the Ministry of Foreign Af-
fairs. General Ivashov, no longer restrained by Chernomyrdin, gruffly pre-
sented his bottom lines: Russia had repeatedly compromised, now NATO
needed to do the same. KFOR must not deploy until there was an agreement
on Russia's role, and if NATO moved into Kosovo before an agreement was
reached with Moscow, Russia would have no choice but to unilaterally de-
ploy.
While accustomed to Ivashov's negotiating style, the U.S. delegation was
alarmed. During the last half-hour of the session, General Casey tried to
summarize those areas where there was agreement between the teams, but
even that effort was stillborn. The Americans still wanted to string out the
process, but the situation was deteriorating. Upon his departure from the
ministry, General Ivashov asked reporters, "What is Russia supposed to do,
are we to beg for scraps from NATO?"
Talbott and his team headed for Spaso House, Ambassador Collins's resi-
dence. Deputy Foreign Minister Avdeyev had tried to call Talbott on an ur-
gent basis, but ended up speaking to Ambassador Collins. Avdeyev had
passed on a set of principles concerning Russian participation in KFOR and
suggested there could be a synchronized deployment of peacekeeperseven
without an agreement on the Russian role. He also stressed the need for inte-
grated political control over operations, with Russia being given its own sec-
tor and a voice in senior-level military decisions. In addition, Avdeyev passed
on a paper that placed great emphasis on the Russians being given a role at
BREAKING THROUGH * 235

the Slatina airfield, and a member of the U.S. delegation admits that at that
point, "There was a lot of confusion as to where Slatina even was." Although
Avdeyev's credibility was never high, this was one of the first points at which
U.S. military officials began to seriously consider the possibility that Russian
troops might move from Bosnia into Kosovo.
Between eight and ten, Talbott held two long briefings for the media at
the ambassador's residence. There were repeated questions on the progress
in finalizing an agreement with Russia and the deputy secretary maintained,
"We feel very strongly, and I think our Russian colleagues agree, unity of
command is very important, and unity of command means all of Kosovo
will be under one command arrangement." He added, "Russia is not inter-
ested in a partition of Kosovo."
In the middle of the session, General Foglesong and Colonel Bourne
strode into the room, fresh from the military technical talks in Macedonia.
Foglesong wore a flight suithis favorite travel attire.
At around a quarter past ten, the second press conference concluded. The
U.S. delegation milled around upstairs in a living room as Foglesong and
Bourne shared a few stories from the border, snacking on finger food and
drinking beer. While Foglesong was concerned that Ivashov seemed "to have
a whole new lease on life," and the state of the talks with the Russians was of
obvious concern, General Ivashov's threats were nothing new. The American
delegation headed back to the hotel, hoping to get a rare full night's sleep.
Back in Washington, President Clinton addressed the nation at eight in
the evening and told his fellow Americans, "Tonight for the first time in
seventy-nine days, the skies over Yugoslavia are silent. The Serb army and
police are withdrawing from Kosovo. The one million men, women and
children driven from their land are preparing to return home. The demands
of an outraged and united international community have been met." Clin-
ton continued:

When I ordered our armed forces into combat, we had three clear goals: to
enable the Kosovar people, the victims of some of the most vicious atrocities
in Europe since the Second World War, to return to their homes with safety
and self-government; to require Serbian forces responsible for these atrocities
to leave Kosovo; and to deploy an international security force, with NATO at
its core, to protect all the people of that troubled landSerbs and Albanians
alike. Those goals will be achieved.
236 * COLLISION COURSE

Yet, when the bombing had begun on March 24, Clinton had emphasized
three altogether different military objectives: demonstrating the seriousness
of NATO's opposition to aggression; deterring Milosevic from continuing
and escalating attacks on civilians; and damaging Serbia's capacity to wage
war against Kosovo in the future. Clinton's comments were flawed by need-
less political sophistry. There was no need to duck the fact that NATO's
goals, and the means to achieve those aims, had evolved because the situation
on the ground had dramatically changed.
9
cHAPTER

Deception and Confrontation

Cheshire Cats
Around one in the morning on Friday, June 11, General Casey was the first
of the U.S. negotiators in Moscow to have his dream of a good night's sleep
shattered, as the telephone broke the silence of his hotel room in the Moscow
Marriott. The U.S. liaison to the Russian contingent of peacekeepers in Bos-
nia, Maj. Ken Chance, relayed urgent news: A Russian battalion of some 186
peacekeepers in Bosnia was preparing to move. The NATO division com-
mander in Bosnia would later specifically request that the Russians refrain
from crossing into Serbia, but he knew there was no legal restriction prevent-
ing them from doing so. General Casey informed some of the other team
members of the news, and the day was off to an alarming start. As a U.S.
diplomat pointed out, "We had picked up that there were preparations by
the Russians to move part of their force, but there was no indication of where
they were going or what they were doing." Because the U.S. delegation was
somewhat isolated in Moscow, Washington was more aware than the team
that trouble was brewing.
Just before four in the morning in Bosnia, almost six A.M. in Moscow, the
Russian forces left their base, traveling overland with a convoy of vehicles
toward the border with Serbia. Russia's ultimate intentions were murky, but
the move sparked furious contingency planning within NATO. General

237
238 * COLLISION COURSE

Clark stressed, "The danger was that if the Russians got in first, they would
claim their sector and then we would have lost NATO control over the mis-
sion."
At nine in the morning, Talbott met with Ivanov at his office. The foreign
minister maintained that Russia had two options: It would either secure an
acceptable deal with NATO for participating in KFOR or it would not send
troops to Kosovo. The foreign minister assured Talbott there would be no
unilateral deployment of Russian forces. Talbott replied that while Russian
participation in KFOR was not necessary, NATO viewed it as desirable, and
General Foglesong would work to facilitate a deal. The deputy secretary pro-
posed that a Russian unit jointly deploy with a U.S. unit as the Serbs com-
pleted their withdrawala process that would take eleven days. This would
allow the Russians to move into Kosovo with KFOR, while not prejudicing
the ongoing discussions about the command and control arrangements for
Russian participation.
Talbott raised the movement of Russian forces in Bosnia. The Allies were
very concerned about the situation, and he cited the need to brief the North
Atlantic Council of NATO as one of the reasons he would be departing Mos-
cow later in the day. He also asked that Russia keep the lines of communica-
tion with NATO open. Ivanov maintained the troops were simply preparing
either to participate in KFOR or to be brought home; which course they
took would be determined by NATO's willingness to put an acceptable for-
mula on the table. Ivanov appeared relaxed and his tone was nonconfronta-
tional. Talbott expressed his hope that the bilateral relationship would soon
be able to move on to matters beyond the Balkans, and he would subse-
quently characterize the meeting as his best exchange with Ivanov in two
months.
Unfortunately, the atmosphere at the concurrent military talks was sour
as General Foglesong, General Ivashov, and Finnish Admiral Kaskeala met
in a small gathering. Foglesong made clear that NATO would play the lead
role in KFOR, and that a NATO nation would be in charge of every sector.
Ivashov countered that there was nothing in the UN resolution that gave
NATO such a role and that Russia had the right to take troops to Kosovo
without NATO's permission. Ivashov insisted his direction came directly
from President Yeltsin and that "if agreement can not be reached, Russia
could well operate without cooperation. We could get our troops in two
hours to the sector which we have planned for ourselves." Foglesong replied,
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION it 239

"If you intend to operate alone, this is a threat. I will have to report this to
Washington." Three separate times Ivashov insisted that six hours after
NATO-led forces moved into southern Kosovo, Russia would unilaterally
enter northern Kosovo.
Ivashov scowled, "We don't have to ask NATO for permission. We have
the right to act. If NATO intends to bring 50,000 people to Kosovo, we will
bring 10,000." As one member of the U.S. delegation observed, "We were
getting this very smug, 'You come in here and try to dictate to us, that's
fine.'" In a sidebar conversation, a Russian officer warned General Casey
that if NATO deployed, the Russians would as well: "If you guys think you
can go in and set up and get completely organized and then simply tell us
where to go and what to do, you are wrong. Because we have capabilities
and assets and we can put people on the ground and if we have to, that's
what we'll do." The Americans could not help but notice that some of the
Russian generals looked like "the cat that swallowed the canary" when the
topic of the Russian forces from Bosnia was brought up. The meeting re-
solved little, and the Russians continued to demand their own sector and
reject the command and control arrangements offered by NATO. The U.S.
military delegation relayed their concerns both to General Clark and the
Pentagon.
As a complement to Trojan Horse, Russian diplomats approached the
Hungarian and Ukrainian foreign ministries with a low-key request for over-
flight clearance for six Russian IL-76 transport planes to transit to the Bal-
kans. The Russians presented a manifest claiming that the planes would be
carrying little more than ten-man crews. Remarkably, the Hungarian offi-
cials greeted the request as a routine matter, while Ukrainian officials were
immediately suspicious. A short time later, the Russian news agency Interfax
reported that 300 Russian paratroopers would be flown to Yugoslavia that
day, and Russian television announced that Russian paratroopers of the
106th Guards Airborne Division had arrived at Ryazan Dyagilevo airport to
fly to Kosovo. General Ivashov observed, "The defense ministry already had
plans, proposals ready to put into action. Let's just say that we had several
bases ready to leave within two hours."
The Russian Trojan Horse was now rolling toward Kosovo from both
Bosnia and Russia proper. Moscow hoped to soon have the better part of a
thousand Russian forces on the ground in Kosovo, effectively stealing a
march on the world's most powerful military alliance. After not firing at each
other in anger during more than four decades of Cold War, Russia and
240 * COLLISION COURSE

NATO were lurching toward the brink of a major confrontation in an effort


to deploy peacekeepers.
In Moscow, the entire U.S. delegation gathered at the foreign ministry to
compare notes; the session with Ivashov had been every bit as contentious as
Talbott's meeting with Ivanov had been agreeable. The situation appeared to
be a replay of earlier moments in the crisis: The Russian military opposed a
deal, but Moscow's political leadership was holding its nose and working in
a more or less collaborative fashion with the West. At eleven in the morning,
the U.S. delegation headed to the Kremlin to meet with Vladimir Putin, the
low-profile Russian national security advisor and the nation's future presi-
dent. Putin, while coming across as well prepared and capable, did not seem
to be immersed in the details of the Kosovo negotiations. Putin gave the
impression of a young Russian politician with some promise, and he was
gracious to Talbott for his role in the diplomacy. The national security advi-
sor also took some credit for the decision to have Chernomyrdin appointed
special envoy.
The deputy secretary pointed out that he knew the bombing of Yugoslavia
had put tremendous strains on the Russian political system and U.S.-
Russian relations. President Clinton knew this as well, and that Russia had
seen its "NATO nightmare" become reality. Talbott cited Yeltsin's "coura-
geous" diplomatic effort as key to resolving the conflict. At that moment,
Talbott was handed a note by a colleague with an update on the military
talks back at the foreign ministry. Calling the reports of Ivashov's threats
about a unilateral Russian deployment "strange and ominous," Talbott in-
sisted that the general's stance was directly at odds with the positions taken
by Foreign Minister Ivanov and Prime Minister Stepashin.
Talbott pointed out that Putin was the last official he was meeting with
before he left Moscow and asked if the national security advisor could get
the matter clarified. The deputy secretary argued that a unilateral deploy-
ment would run the risk of sparking a military confrontation. Putin down-
played the situation, saying that Russia's "state position" had not changed,
and dismissing the threat with a simple, "Who is this Ivashov?" Insisting
that the general was simply making an "emotional outburst," and was poorly
versed in "complicated political aspects," Putin argued that the two sides
needed to proceed consistent with earlier understandings and clarify when
and how Russian units would enter into the province. He stressed that there
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 241

were problems regarding NATO's proposed command structure but that,


"military cooperation would continue to be 100 percent."
Saying that Putin's comments were "music to his ears," Talbott pressed
Putin for an appropriate expression to clarify the Russian position in the
coming hours, especially since he was scheduled to brief the NATO ambassa-
dors several hours later. Putin promised to see that a statement was released
and that, "it will be done before you reach the airport."
"Good. I will be listening to the radio," replied Talbott.
The U.S. delegation was scheduled to leave Moscow just after noon. Be-
cause the military talks had not been finalized, it was assumed the team
would spend the weekend in the States and then return to Moscow. None
of the Russian officials expressed any desire to have the delegation remain to
continue the dialogue, and at half past noon the U.S. plane lifted off from
Moscow. As one of the U.S. negotiators remarked, "It was my first taste of
Vladimir Putin. We had been told by Putin an hour before that by the time
we reached the airport, he would issue a statement that assured the world
that they would not go into Kosovo. I'm still waiting for that statement."
Yet, despite the fact that Putin had not issued a clarifying statement, the
delegation was in a good mood: They were leaving Moscow, KFOR would
deploy shortly, and the diplomatic efforts had largely been a success. In sev-
eral hours they would be in Brussels and then onward toward the United
States. On the plane, Talbott even bet General Foglesong that General Ivas-
hov would be dismissed by the end of the day. It was a bet that he would
lose.
As the U.S. delegation was boarding its plane, General Clark was receiving
permission from the Pentagon to explore possible military responses to the
Russian move. Clark did not want NATO to have waged a seventy-eight-day
war only to cede its control of northern Kosovo to an ill-equipped bunch of
Russian soldiers able to rush into the province. Clark was adamant: NATO
should not give ground, particularly given that the Russians were obviously
acting in concert with Milosevic. According to Clark, he quickly called So-
lana and explained the situation.
"You must get to the Pristina airfield first," argued Solana, and Clark
asked for confirmation that he had authority to do so.
"Of course, you have the authority. You're the supreme commander."
Clark then called Washington looking to line up his support at the Penta-
gon for preemptively taking the Slatina airfield, making clear that events
242 * COLLISION COURSE

would become "sensitive and sticky." Clark explained, "This was a substan-
tially different set of circumstances than what had been contemplated twelve
hours before. And so, everything was in motion at oncetactical planning,
strategic planning, and policy-level political decisions. Everything was
churning."
Clark quickly raised Gen. Michael Jackson, head of KFOR, and told him,
"This is a warning order, but I want you to get ready to move by air to
occupy Pristina airfield." Clark ordered Jackson to prepare to execute a plan
he said he had on the shelf. Four airborne companies would arrive and land
by helicopter into the Pristina airport as soon as possible to ensure, as Clark
put it, that the Russians were "properly greeted."
Further south, Secretary Albright was at the Stenkovac One refugee camp
in Macedonia celebrating the NATO victory. She told the wildly cheering
crowd, "Milosevic and the Serbs have lost control over Kosovo. You will go
home and be able to live a decent, normal life." After enduring months of
blistering criticism, Albrighttwice herself a refugee as a child after being
forced to flee Czechoslovakiamust have felt considerable vindication walk-
ing among the sea of exuberant faces and seeing a child holding a sign that
said, "I love America."
KFOR was now ready to go. Some 1,500 more NATO troops had arrived
in Macedonia during the day, bringing the total in that country close to
18,000. Twenty U.S. Apache attack helicopters landed near Skopje, Macedo-
nia. In a number of locations, NATO troops were only 300 yards from the
Kosovo border. The largest international ground troop operation since the
Gulf War was poised for action, as many of the peacekeepers continued to
express irritation at having to wait until the U.S. Marines arrived.
The original plans for KFOR's entry into Kosovo were straightforward.
NATO had always intended to first secure the Slatina airfield outside of Pris-
tina, which would become KFOR headquartersthe same prize the Rus-
sians had set their sights on. Simultaneously, helicopters would ferry troops
to secure the mountainsides on either side of the route into Kosovo. An ini-
tial contingent of French troops would secure the city of Pec, with German
forces taking Prizren, the British Pristina, the Italians heading into the north
of Kosovo, and the United States moving toward Gnjilan in the East.
Within Kosovo, the Yugoslav military was quitting the province, and the
skill with which the Yugoslav army had concealed many of its assets was
apparent as large numbers of military vehicles came out of hiding. Departing
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION it 243

Serb forces continued to loot homes and businesses, and military and civilian
convoys clogged the roads. The fleeing Serb civilians were reminiscent of the
Kosovar Albanians who had been driven from their homes in the weeks and
months before, but the Serbs enjoyed an important distinctionthey were
fortunate enough to leave with many of their possessions.
Moscow continued to move forward with its mobilization. Incredibly,
Hungary granted overflight clearance to the six Russian military transport
planes. NATO's newest member had treated the request as a formality and
not raised the matter in Brussels or reviewed it at their own senior political
levels. However, the Ukrainians continued to delay granting clearance. If
Russia wanted to avoid a major act of aggression against a neighbor state, it
needed clearance from both nations to move the planes to Kosovo. Russian
military planners scrambled to explore alternative routes for the planes as
Moscow stepped up its diplomatic pressure on Kiev.
The convoy of 186 Russian troops from Bosnia crossed the Drina River,
entering Serbia around 10:30 local timejust as Talbott and his party de-
parted Moscow. Yugoslav police and military officials made every effort to
facilitate the Russian troop movement by keeping the roads free of retreating
troops and refugees. In addition, Serb military officers reportedly rode in
every third vehicle in case the convoy was somehow disrupted. Yugoslav citi-
zens along the roadways cheered the light armored vehicles and trucks speed-
ing toward Belgrade.
Aboard the Air Force jet, the U.S. delegation got its first signal that some-
thing had gone seriously awry when they received an urgent message that
General Clark needed to speak with Talbott. Soon a secure conference call
was initiated from the plane that included Talbott, Deputy National Security
Advisor Jim Steinberg, and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe
Ralston. That call was followed by a subsequent discussion between Sandy
Berger in Washington, Albright in Macedonia, Talbott on the plane, and a
number of other senior officials.
All were shocked and angered by the developments, recognizing that the
Russians might shatter the peace deal and lead to Kosovo's partition. Sandy
Berger observed:

My reaction: You don't have one goddamn minute to enjoy a victory in this
business. You at least wanted to have a drink and have one night off. Instead,
we went from one tense situation to another. We didn't know what the Rus-
244 * COLLISION COURSE

sian intent was, and the information was conflicting as to where they were
going, whether they would stop in Bosnia or go to the airport. I was very
concerned that at the end of all this we not have a Berlin situation in Kosovo,
with a Russian sector of Serbs and the very partition that we could have had
at the beginning of all this if we had wanted. We thought it was very serious.

Another White House official expressed Washington's reaction even more


bluntly: "We were pissed as hell."

U-Turn II

The mood on the Gulfstream jet had turned apprehensive. Berger pushed to
have Talbott return immediately to Moscow, "raise hell," determine Russian
intentions, and negotiate a final agreement on Russia's role in KFOR. With
the decision made, Phil Goldberg informed the U.S. Air Force pilots flying
the Gulfstream G-5 to return to Moscow and the plane executed a sharp
bank over Novgorod, Russia. There was obvious irony in the plane's U-turn.
When NATO had begun its bombing campaign, then-Russian Prime Min-
ster Yevgeny Primakov had been flying to Washington for consultations with
Vice President Gore and was forced to conduct a similar aerial maneuver.
The team knew reporters would be quick to seize on the parallel, and several
suggested an important difference: Primakov had turned around to break off
discussions; they were returning to engage. It was small comfort.
Just after noon in Macedonia, Albright spoke with Foreign Minister Iva-
nov in an edgy conversation. The secretary of state, having been informed
of the Russian troop movement, raised strong objections. Ivanov countered,
"There are no Russian forces in Kosovo." He maintained that Russia was
eager to reach an accommodation with NATO, but the discussions had been
halted by Talbott's departure. He felt the differences between Russia and
NATO were largely political, not military. In an effort to calm the situation,
Ivanov claimed, "Madeleine, there will be no surprises." Albright informed
him that Talbott was returning to Moscow to resume talks, and Ivanov
maintained that the Russian troops would not enter Kosovo without an
agreement. He also argued that Russia needed to be granted its own sector
just as was being accorded the NATO powers. He felt that since Russian
troops would not operate under NATO command, a separate Russian sector
was only logical.
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 245

The secretary emphasized that it was unlikely that Russia would be given
its own sector, but that the matter should be negotiated with Talbott and
General Foglesong upon their return. She revisited the central dilemmathe
Russian troops rolling across the Yugoslav interstateand asked for further
reassurances regarding their intentions. Ivanov replied that he "needed to get
more information on the situation," but was firm in declaring that there
were no immediate plans to enter Kosovo. In reality, Ivanov was likely to
have been flying blind: Most indications were that he was in the dark about
Trojan Horse.
Ivanov was concerned that NATO would enter Kosovo before reaching
an agreement with Moscow, effectively freezing Russia out of KFOR, and he
pointed out that the demands paper had mandated a special role for Russian
forces. Albright welcomed a Russian role but demanded that it be under a
unified command, and she asked what General Ivashov knew about the situ-
ation. Ivanov said that he had spoken to Minister of Defense Sergeyev, who
had indicated that the negotiators in the military-to-military talks had dis-
cussed several possibilities, including placing Russian forces in part of Pris-
tina. Ivanov, playing wronged, said that the American military negotiators
had arbitrarily dropped discussions of the Pristina option and then departed
Moscow shortly thereafter.
Albright asked who had authorized the movement of the Russian soldiers,
and Ivanov indicated that President Yeltsin, as Russia's commander in chief,
had ordered the move. He explained that Yeltsin thought there would be an
agreement with NATO and wanted to be ready to move simultaneously with
KFOR. Ivanov reminded Albright that Russia, unlike NATO, did not have
forces stationed on the border and needed to take the necessary steps to be
prepared to fulfill their commitment. Ivanov reiterated that the troops would
not enter Kosovo, and said, "Madeleine, you can go back to visiting the refu-
gees with peace of mind." He closed the conversation by stressing that Russia
needed to be granted an equal role in Kosovo. A short time later Albright
told reporters:

The foreign minister said that he understood that there was to be a unified
command; that was something that had been agreed to and was part of the
Chernomyrdin-Ahtisaari document and then a part of the Security Council
resolution with its annexes. He also said that this was a preliminary step so
that if and when they become part of the international force they are ready to
246 * COLLISION COURSE

deploy. They did not intend to deploy into Kosovo before an agreement about
how they would fit in with the rest of the peace force.

Based largely on the AlbrightIvanov conversation, Vice President Gore


told Good Morning America, "We have been absolutely assured" that the
Russians would not push the troops into Kosovo before command and con-
trol arrangements were reached. Despite the soothing comments, a sense of
alarm gripped the Alliance.
Talbott's delegation touched back down in Moscow just after two in the
afternoon local time, and the motorcade carrying the delegation raced be-
hind a police escort directly to the Russian foreign ministry. The cars pulled
in the ministry's drive, but the group remained in the vehicles; it was not
clear that Ivanov was available to receive them yet, because he was meeting
with the Austrian foreign minister. One delegation member muttered, "Fuck
you" in general direction of the ministry, then joked that the team could
then return home after having sent out an official cable indicating, "Strong
Message Delivered to Russians."
Irritated with the delay in the face of a crisis, the team then rushed to the
U.S. embassy, assembling in Ambassador Collins's office. On the wall be-
hind Collins's desk hung a small gag gift from his staffthe Concern-o-
meter. The meter had two gauges, one that measured the level of concern in
Washington, the other in Moscow. The implicit punchline: Washington was
often up in arms for no apparent reason. However, as the U.S. officials con-
templated how to respond to the Russian provocation, both dials of the Con-
cern-o-meter were off the charts.
As the team sat down, they were transfixed by the CNN live broadcast of
the Russian convoy speeding down a Yugoslav highway. Jubilant Russian
soldiers flashed three-fingered Serb victory salutes to crowds and many of the
fifty vehicles in the convoy had their "SFOR" insignias from Bosnia sloppily
painted over with "KFOR." A senior administration official later joked that
it looked "like a bunch of guys on a fishing trip." However, as Deputy Na-
tional Security Advisor Jim Steinberg pointed out, "It was a dangerous
move, and by any conceivable motivation, threatened to undue the balance
at a very sensitive time. People were very concerned that this was part of
some deal that had been cut with Milosevic."
Because of the sensitive nature of the deliberations, the team headed into
the "tank"the embassy's most secure facility, designed to be impervious to
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 247

electronic eavesdropping. Looking like a Gulfstream trailer wedged into a


large room, the tank was cramped and uncomfortable, but invaluable for the
purpose it served. Talbott and General Foglesong immediately made a series
of secure telephone calls to Washington. Talbott spoke twice with Sandy
Berger and Foglesong spoke with General Ralston of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff. In the secure communications facility at the U.S. embassy in Moscow,
it felt like the Cold War had returned with a vengeance. Deputy National
Security Advisor Jim Steinberg commented, "There were obviously discus-
sions about whether there were steps SFOR could take to block the Russian
movement and whether there was some kind of military strategy there. Sec-
ond, there was an awful lot of attention on blocking the air operation, be-
cause we were getting reports that transports were being prepared, and this
was validated by the later Russian requests for overflight clearances."
U.S. officials had gotten wind that the troops from Bosnia "might be an
advance party for an airborne operation that would go into the Pristina air-
field and potentially partition the country," as General Clark put it. Para-
trooper reinforcements would make a Russian presence in Kosovo far more
militarily significant than the small and lightly armed force moving across
from Bosnia, and General Clark was of the opinion that NATO needed to
beat the Russians to the punch. Gen. Joe Ralston called Clark and told him
to refrain from launching a major military operation toward Slatina. "Send
in a small element; this shouldn't be a military confrontation, just explain
that this is for coordination and information flow. Of course, you'll have to
tell the Serbs."
Clark was concerned that if the force sent to the airport was too small, it
"might be pushed aside by either the Serbs or the Russians." Clark then
spoke with General Jackson, who said he had about 600 paratroopers ready
to go and that he would inform the Serbs of his intent to move about an
hour before they deployed toward the airport. Clark was still pushing for a
more robust force to move to the airfield, perhaps including U.S. Marines,
and the Pentagon seemed to support his proposal. Clark then spoke again
with General Ralston at the Pentagon and told him that the NATO helicop-
ters could lift off as quickly as thirty minutes. The U.S. military was increas-
ingly convinced that the Russian military was acting on its own, like a coup
"but worse" as Clark suggested. NATO's supreme commander recom-
mended paratroopers immediately deploy to preemptively seize the Slatina
248 * COLLISION COURSE

airbase, and frantic preparations were undertaken to finalize a counter opera-


tion.
U.S. diplomatic and military officials in both Washington and at NATO
headquarters scrambled to exert diplomatic pressure to prevent the Russians
from receiving overflight clearances from the nations bordering Kosovo. The
assistant secretary of state for Europe, Mark Grossman, placed a flurry of
calls to American ambassadors and the foreign ministries in the region in
effort to block the overflight requests, as did the U.S. ambassador to NATO,
Sandy Vershbow. In Hungary, the U.S. charge quickly met with his Hungar-
ian counterparts and was horrified to discover that, not only had the Rus-
sians requested overflight clearance, but the Hungarians had already granted
it. The flight status of the Russian transport planes was unclear, and it was
feared they might have already left Russia and entered Hungarian airspace.
The Hungarian ministry of foreign affairs issued urgent instructions to block
any flights that had not yet taken place.
In Sofia, the U.S. embassy contacted the Bulgarian foreign ministry with
its concern that the Russians might seek overflight clearance. The Bulgarians
informed their U.S. counterparts that they had already told the Russians they
should not bother seeking permission and that any approval process would
be an extended one. In Ukraine, the issue was more complex. The Ukraini-
ans told U.S. embassy officials that the Russians had indeed asked for clear-
ance, but that it had not yet been granted. They were under a great deal of
pressure from the Russians, and they noted that it was hard for them to deny
access when Hungarya NATO memberhad already approved passage.
U.S. officials did their best to dissuade the Ukrainians, who continued to
uneasily straddle the fence.
Back in Moscow, around five in the evening, the U.S. delegation pro-
ceeded to the Russian ministry of foreign affairs. As it was near the close of
business on a Friday afternoon, the building's lobby was empty except for
two security guards and two janitors scrubbing the marble floor with a foul-
smelling cleaning solvent. Given the frantic atmosphere, the largely deserted
ministry seemed oddly discordant. Foreign Minister Ivanov kept the group
waiting while he fielded a number of telephone calls, including one that he
later said was from President Yeltsin. Around 5:30 the meeting began on the
fifth floor; the Russian negotiators were in a buoyant mood, dictating the
pace of events for the first time during the war.
Ivanov began the session by noting that in his earlier conversation with
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 249

Albright, the secretary had been under a mistaken impression that Russia had
entered Kosovo when, in fact, Russia was merely pre-positioning its troops to
allow for a synchronized entry. Russia would not move into Kosovo without
an agreement with NATO, but the foreign minister was dismayed that the
earlier discussions had produced little progress. Ivanov had told President
Yeltsin that the remaining differences were largely political and had not been
fully resolved either in the demands paper or the UN resolution. Ivanov ex-
pressed confidence the military teams could work out the logistics, but Min-
ister of Defense Sergeyev had told him the options presented by the United
States would subject Russia to NATO command. The Russian foreign minis-
ter complained, "Your scenario is that NATO will deploy into five sectors
while negotiations with Russia are continuingthen NATO will already be
in Kosovo and Russia will be left begging for entry. The United States needs
to understand that what you are offering to Russia is demeaning." Asserting
that Russia sought a peaceful agreement, not confrontation, the foreign min-
ister argued for a role that would place the Russians on more equal footing
not in terms of the number of its forces or geographic controlbut through
joint leadership of the command and control structure.
Talbott replied that the Russian troop movement had "created, at mini-
mum, a perception problem that we need to address. It looks like Russia is
moving unilaterally without an agreement with NATO, or is getting ready
to do so, and it looks as though Russia is moving into Kosovo not as part of
an international effort to protect all Kosovars, including Albanians, but as
the protectors of the Serbs." He insisted such a move would "snatch defeat
from the jaws of victory," and quickly change a "win-win" situation into a
"win-lose" dynamic. The deputy secretary pressed Ivanov, "I want to con-
firm. Russia is preparing to go into Kosovo as part of an agreement with
NATObut not preparing to go in unilaterally. Correct?"
"Yes," responded Ivanov.
"In that case, me and my team are prepared to facilitate an agreement and
to work with Russia to establish parameters acceptable both for Russia and
for NATO." Talbott also expressed irritation with the fact that the Russian
troops on C N N were flashing Serb victory signalshardly the behavior of
impartial peacekeepersand he took exception to the suggestion that only
"political" factors blocked a deal. He argued that Generals Foglesong and
Casey had gone out of their way to accommodate Russian concerns and
250 * COLLISION COURSE

pointed out that the military technical agreement granted General Jackson
broad authority over all troops in Kosovo.
Talbott proposed a two-part solution. First, the group would forge an in-
terim agreement that would allow Russian forces to join KFOR's initial de-
ployment in an orderly fashion. Such a joint deployment could take place
quickly, and under this temporary arrangement Russian forces would operate
in Kosovo using the same command and control arrangements that already
governed the existing peacekeeping relationship in Bosnia. Second, the nego-
tiators would finalize the details of Russia's long-term participation in
KFOR. The two-track approach would allow peacekeepers to immediately
move into Kosovo, while giving negotiators sufficient time to work out a fair
overall plan. Talbott underscored that he was not asking Russia to violate its
fundamental interests. The concept of unified command demanded that
KFOR have a single commander and that this commander be a NATO offi-
cer. There had to be a NATO headquarters in every sector, and providing
Russia with an independent sector would not be militarily effective. Within
those constraints, there were ways to spare Russian forces from having to
report directly to NATO: The Russians could answer to an intermediate
commander from a non-NATO country who would serve as a liaison be-
tween the Russians and NATO command.
Deputy Foreign Minister Avdeyev entered the room and passed a note to
Ivanov. Ivanov read the missive and sharply queried Talbott, "Where are the
Marines now? Are they in Greece?"
Ivanov had heard NATO would imminently move into Kosovo; the Rus-
sians had perhaps even gotten wind of Clark's effort to scramble NATO
paratroopers. It was a delicate question for Talbottthe last he had heard
before entering the meeting was that General Clark was prepared to preemp-
tively seize the Pristina airfield. Talbott had no way to know the status of the
operation and argued, "I don't know the disposition of all Allied forces, nor
is that issue relevant to our current discussion. KFOR is coming into Kosovo
soon. There is no doubt, mystery, secrecy, or surprise about that fact. We
have repeatedly told you that deployment would be on day two or three after
the military technical agreement was signed, and we are now at day two."

Dueling Paratroopers
Debates over how to respond to the Russian operation raged within NATO.
General Clark and General Jackson were sharply split over Clark's plan to
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 251

have paratroopers seize the Slatina airfield. Clark's deputy, Gen. Rupert
Smith, said that General Jackson had a number of concerns about the poten-
tial operation. Jackson argued that seizing the airport might spark a direct
clash with the Russians or the Serbs and unravel the military technical agree-
ment. He also feared that the Serbs might destroy the bridges along the route
from Macedonia and isolate the NATO troops at Slatina. Jackson felt that
the Russians posed little tactical threat, and NATO could work around
them. General Jackson observed, "We were staring into a possibility, let me
put it no more strongly than that, a possibility, of confrontation with the
Russian contingent which seemed to me probably not the right way to start
off a relationship with Russians who were to become part of my command."
General Clark viewed the threat as more substantial, fearing that if the
Russians seized the airfield and brought in reinforcements for the battalion
from Bosnia, Moscow could wrest control of an important part of Kosovo.
The Russians could station their forces in the North of the province, create
a de facto partition, and use their military and intelligence presence to dis-
rupt NATO operations. There was also speculation that Milosevic was eager
to have the Russians seize control of the mines at Mitrovica and Trepca, an
important source of income for Yugoslavia.
A short time later, General Shelton spoke with General Clark, telling him,
"The British want to hold." Secretary Cohen joined the telephone call and
inquired what Clark's commanders thought of the operation; Clark replied,
"They think it is high risk and so do I." Clark argued that he did not want
to see the "operation prematurely canned." As he maintained, "It seemed to
be up to the military to correct the Russian view by changing the facts on
the ground, if we could." However, Clark soon learned that not only were
the British uneasy with the operation, but the French had pulled their para-
troopers from participating. Clark would need to scramble to find replace-
ments, and General Jackson expressed reluctance to take the airfield without
a full-strength contingent. NATO planners were also concerned that even if
they took the airfield, the Russians could fly troops into Serbia proper and
then simply travel overland to Kosovo. Adding to the sense of anxiety, Clark
received a report that Russian planes had taken off and were attempting to
enter Hungarian airspace.
The battle over Russian overflights was at full pitch. The government of
Hungary, having, in the words of a NATO diplomat, "screwed up," was
greatly relieved to find that Russian planes had not already flown through
its airspace. The Hungarians asked Russia for additional information and
252 * COLLISION COURSE

maintained that it would be impossible to move forward until they had re-
ceived a more detailed manifest. Reluctantly, the Russians informed Hun-
gary that each of the six planes would be transporting 100 soldiers and their
weapons. This led the Hungarians to insist that since troops were involved,
they would need to secure parliamentary approval for the flights and to in-
form Moscow that it would not be possible to put the matter to lawmakers
before June 15. At NATO headquarters, there were also concerns that the
Russians might go ahead with overflights without clearance. It was not clear
if the frontline states were prepared to intercept the Russians, although some
might have felt obligated to try.
At six in the evening in Kiev, officials of the Ukrainian ministry of foreign
affairs informed the Russians that they approved overflight clearance, with a
flight window of seventy-two hours. However, the Russian airborne troops
still had no place to go; the Hungarian clearance had been revoked before
Ukrainian approval had been secured. A fundamental element of Operation
Trojan Horse was coming unglued, and it was no accident. As the prime
ministers and foreign ministers of Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary
wrestled with the question of overflight clearance, they made a conscious
decision that their national interest was better served by assisting NATO
than Moscow.
Back at the ministry of foreign affairs in Moscow, the lengthy meeting
between Talbott, Foglesong, and Ivanov ground on. Talbott reminded Iva-
nov that if an agreement could not be reached with Russia, KFOR had no
choice but to deploy. Delaying deployment would be disastrous, making the
need for an interim agreement on Russian participation imperative. Talbott
stressed that negotiations over the final disposition of Russian forces could
continue, and that Chernomyrdin had often spoken of a "zone of responsi-
bility" for the Russians, not a separate sector. Ivanov replied, "If nothing is
clear on the long-term option, Russia might only enter Kosovo to find that
we are forced to withdraw. In that case, it would be better not to enter."
Talbott asked if that meant the Russians were establishing a linkageno in-
terim arrangement without a long-term dealand he argued that such a pre-
condition would lead to diplomatic gridlock at a time when KFOR had to
deploy.
General Foglesong maintained that an agreement for an interim joint de-
ployment could be worked out within hours or, at most, a few days. Russia
and the United States would agree to collaboratively enter a selected geo-
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 253

graphic area, and the two countries would maintain a mutual presence while
finalizing a long-term arrangement. The troops would live side by side, and
both Russian and U.S. forces would be expected to handle tough duties.
Such an arrangement would not prejudice the ultimate outcome of the talks
and would prevent, as Foglesong put it, "the wrong people from getting
shot." Turning to the long-term arrangement, Foglesong argued for unity of
command, a principle he felt any soldier would endorse. One commander
had to sit at KFOR's apex and the peacekeepers had to operate under shared
rules. Foglesong suggested a model where Russian forces would report to a
Russian deputy commander and Russian staff officers would serve with the
KFOR commandera similar but more far-reaching arrangement than in
Bosnia. Foglesong argued that Russian proposals for a Russian sector with a
Russian commanderwho could reject orders from the KFOR com-
manderwere unacceptable.
Talbott added, "If there were an area in Kosovo where a Russian com-
mander had ultimate control; that would lead to a bad result. The area
would become a magnet for Serbs who wanted to live under the protection
of Russia. That would include some good people, but also some bad people.
It would also be a magnet for violent AlbaniansKLA extremists, terrorists,
and assassins. Milosevic would try to use this area as a cat's-paw or staging
area for fifth column activities in Kosovo." The deputy secretary's bottom
line: "We would prefer that Russia not come in at all, if you cannot find
agreement with NATO. Of course, it would be better if Russia was in from
the beginning, but this is up to Russia." The subtext was clear: the interna-
tional community could not trust Russia to serve as an impartial peace-
keeper.
Ivanov observed that while Russia's arrangements with NATO worked
fine in Bosnia, Kosovo was a different situation. He insisted that Russia did
not want to create new problems because it already had enough of its own,
including in Chechnya. He claimed to appreciate the importance of unity of
command, and argued that while Russia wanted a sector, it did not demand
to be the only force in the area and that NATO forces might even be permis-
sible.
The delegations took a break as Foglesong took a call from General Shel-
ton, and Talbott relayed an update on the talks back to both the State De-
partment and the National Security Council. As the meeting resumed,
Talbott noted that he had passed on to both the secretary and the president
254 * COLLISION COURSE

Ivanov's assurances that Russia would not unilaterally deploy. The meeting
again paused as Ivanov stepped out to take a telephone call from Defense
Minister Sergeyev. During the break, General Foglesong drew a diagram of
a possible command structure for Deputy Foreign Minister Mamedov and
Ambassador Boris Mayorsky. Russian forces could report through a senior
Finnish commander, and the Finns would report to General Jackson. The
Russians, Finns, and a major NATO power, most likely the United States,
would all operate in the same sector, and Moscow would be able to say Rus-
sian troops did not report directly to a NATO official, although the Finns
would still be under the immediate command of Jackson. As Deputy Foreign
Minister Mamedov glanced at the chart he noted that he did not think Rus-
sia could put its troops under Finnish command and suggested that while
Foglesong's efforts were well intentioned, they were too complex. Was it not
possible "for NATO to find some small place" where Russian forces would
not pose a danger? As Foglesong began to answer, Ivanov returned and asked
to speak with Talbott alone for a moment, but the deputy secretary brought
Foglesong along for the discussion.
As the three men walked back into Ivanov's office, they agreed the Russian
military needed to be brought into the discussions. The core U.S. delegation
would go with Ivanov to the ministry of defense to continue negotiations.
Talbott suggested that any final disputes might have to be resolved at the
ministry of defense level, between Minister of Defense Sergeyev and Secre-
tary of Defense Cohen, just as their respective predecessors, Secretary of De-
fense William Perry and Russian Minister of Defense Pavel Grachev, had
negotiated the final arrangement for Bosnian peacekeeping.
It was decided those U.S. delegation members not traveling to the minis-
try of defense would go out the front door of the foreign ministry to distract
the large media contingent outside, as Talbott, Foglesong, Casey, Nuland,
Goldberg, and Ambassador Collins were spirited out the back of the build-
ing. A little after eight in the evening, the other U.S. team members ducked
into waiting cars with a wave of the hand and a round of no comments, as
Ivanov's motorcade sped toward the ministry of defense. In Macedonia,
General Clark still had paratroopers on a fifteen-minute standby to rush to
the Slatina airfield, but he continued to find political approval for the opera-
tion elusive.
At the ministry of defense, Minister of Defense Igor Sergeyev, Army Chief
of Staff Anatoly Kvashnin, General Ivashov, and several other senior officers
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 255

joined Ivanov and the U.S. delegation. Sergeyev, the sixty-one-year-old over-
weight defense minister with wispy white hair was generally regarded in the
West as a relatively pragmatic interlocutor, although he was deeply angered
by the NATO bombing campaign. Sergeyev, born in eastern Ukraine, had
served in the military for more than thirty-five years and was far from the
picture of health, with his weight, drinking, stress, and heavy smoking all
taking a toll. He was a confident and intelligent negotiator, and, although
willing to compromise in a relaxed atmosphere, he was known to grow more
stubborn when surrounded by hard-liners such as General Ivashov.
Ivanov opened the session by observing the situation was of deep concern
to the presidents of Russia and the United States. "We are at an important
moment. This is going to be a lengthy operation, so it's important that it be
right, that it be thought through from day one. It is not in anybody's interest
to allow a conflict between us because there is already a conflict going on in
Kosovo. The international security force has to create security, not become
a cause of insecurity. This is a critical moment; NATO is getting ready to
deploy."
"It has started deploying," insisted Defense Minister Sergeyev.
Ivanov continued, "We have two options, either independent deployment
or we reach an agreement to act in coordination and synchronize our actions.
It would be best if things were coordinated; it would send the right signal."
Ivanov had quickly abandoned the notion that Russian forces would not
enter Kosovo without an agreement. Ivanov argued that participation needed
to be equitable and that, while Russia respected NATO's rules, it had its own
policies regarding subordination of its military. Ivanov urged the group to
move forward quickly because NATO's deployment would soon make fur-
ther negotiations senseless.
Talbott countered:

Russia's role should be equitable, responsible, and the peacekeeping force


should be effective. Effectiveness is the only standard motivating the plan that
we will put before you. I like the Russian word "' bezopastnosfit means ab-
sence of danger. The objective is to eliminate danger for every inch of Kosovo
for the returnees and for the peacekeepers themselves. From the political, dip-
lomatic, and military perspectives, that is the standard we have brought to
bear in reviewing all aspects of the operation. There is only one thing that
256 * COLLISION COURSE

Minister Ivanov has said that gives me pause and that's the possibility of an
independent deployment.

Foglesong returned to the two-tier approach: First reach an interim ar-


rangement for the Russian forces already on the ground, allowing the United
States and Russia to jointly deploy in a nearly simultaneous operation, and
then resolve the ground rules for broader Russian integration into KFOR.
Foglesong gestured to a copy of the command chart that Sergeyev was hold-
ing, "I want to note the urgency with which we are approaching this issue.
You know that usually our military presents beautifully printed colored
charts. Not this time. This time we have something done by hand."
Sergeyev wanted to know, "Will Russia be given its own sector?"
Talbott replied that there were sectors in which Russia could responsibly
participate, but Sergeyev insisted that unless each country had a sector where
its soldiers were fully responsible, they would bear "no responsibility."
Sergeyev asked whether Russia would have a chance to participate in
KFOR's planning and senior decision-makingwhat he called "equal
rights"and noted that the UN resolution did not mandate that Russian
forces be dispersed across sectors. The peacekeeping relationship needed to
be determined by a political decision between NATO and Russia, and Serge-
yev then returned to Ivanov's earlier formulation: If a fair agreement could
be reached, Russia would participate; if they were unsatisfied, they would
not become part of KFOR.
Adding comments in a loud and authoritative tone, the chief of staff of
the army, Kvashnin, insisted that the operation would only be equal if Russia
was included in KFOR's senior leadership. Kvashnin enjoyed close ties to
Yeltsin, and the fifty-two-year-old general had risen quickly through the mili-
tary ranks. However, he had a relatively poor reputation among many mili-
tary observers who questioned his abilities, particularly after his performance
as overall commander of Russia's first offensive against Chechnya, where he
had combined appallingly heavy-handed tactics with shortsighted strategic
judgments.
Despite his unpopularity, Kvashnin was steadily growing in power and
was increasingly assertive in challenging the authority of Defense Minister
Sergeyev. As with a number of other senior military officials, his disposition
toward engagement with the West had seriously dimmed after Operation
Desert Fox against Iraq and the onset of the Kosovo campaign. As the first
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 257

general staff chief born after World War II, Kvashnin had worked his way
up through the ranks commanding tank units and presented a stark contrast
to many of his fellow generals in one respect: As a former champion bicyclist,
he remained in good physical condition.
Sergeyev echoed Kvashnin's sentiment, arguing Russia needed to have a
hand in the planning and execution of KFOR operations. In essence, Serge-
yev and Kvashnin were pleading for Russia to enjoy the same rights as a full
NATO member, with a veto over military operations. Neither Talbott nor
Foglesong considered such an idea even remotely acceptable. Foglesong, after
joking that he had seen more of Ivashov than he had seen of his wife in the
preceding weeks, argued that he was putting a proposal on the table that
combined a genuine compromise of elements favored by both Russia and
NATO. Sitting next to Sergeyev, he patiently walked the minister of defense
through the details of his schematic: a sector with a neutral commander, a
Russian area of responsibility, and the presence of a major NATO country.
Russia, by retaining its national command, would have the right to refuse an
order if it perceived carrying out any specific mission ran counter to its best
interests. In such a case, the sector commander would authorize another na-
tional contingent to perform the task. Foglesong maintained, "It is possible
they are going to fire me for proposing some of this stuff."
"Why?" asked Sergeyev.
"Well, the chairman wants NATO command only in all the sectors. As I
said, there are parts you won't like and parts that Clark won't like." Fogle-
song's statement was not entirely empty rhetoric; Clark had expressed con-
siderable irritation with the concessions that NATO had made to Russia in
forging the peace agreement at the Petersberg.
General Ivashov added, "Yes, I can see some concessions here. But why
can't we have a sector where there is a Russian commander and a Finn as a
deputy?"
"I could never convince NATO of that," said General Foglesong.
At that point, both Ministers Sergeyev and Ivanov were called out of the
room to take a phone call. General Ivashov continued the debate: "The
Finns are sending only 600 people. Russia will have several thousand, so it's
not fair for us to work under them." General Kvashnin argued that it was
unacceptable to have a sector commander who had far fewer troops giving
Russia orders. Then Kvashnin too was called from the room. Talbott told
the remaining Russians he needed to huddle with his delegation. The Ameri-
258 * COLLISION COURSE

can side took a break around 9:30 at night, placed a number of telephone
calls, and compared notes.
The group learned that Sergeyev and Ivanov had gone to see President
Yeltsin. In Pristina, Kosovo, a local television station announced that Russian
troops would soon be arriving. Several thousand Serbs began to fill Pristina's
main square, near the Grand Hotel, in anticipation.

The Last Inch of the Last Mile


Around 10:30 in Moscow, Sergeyev and Ivanov returned from meeting with
Yeltsin, and Ivanov explained, "We just had a long conversation with the
president. He is very concerned. He wants a Russian sector with a Russian
commander. He thinks that is equitable participation." While there are no
fully reliable accounts of President Yeltsin's actions at the late-night meeting,
it was clear that Yeltsin had expressed enough support for Operation Trojan
Horse that the Russian military felt that it now had approval to take the
Slatina airbase. Decision-making for one of the world's most powerful mili-
tary machines was operating under the loosest possible civilian authority.
The Russian foreign minister, likely fully aware of the operation's inten-
tion for the first time, asked Talbott to inform President Clinton that Russia
would not insert its troops into Kosovo before NATO, but that if NATO
deployed, Russia would follow closely behind and then continue negotia-
tions on a final arrangement. An aide came in to tell Sergeyev that there was
another call from Yeltsin, and the minister of defense left the room. The
deputy secretary stressed that NATO had always been willing to take "no"
for an answer and it was acceptable if the Russians did not wish to participate
in Kosovo. However, he continued, if Russian forces deployed without se-
curing an agreement it would be "a very serious problem" and provide "an
unhappy surprise ending to a drama that everybody thought would have a
happy ending." Talbott stressed that Clinton and Yeltsin had maintained
solid relations throughout the war; they should be able to cooperate on the
peace.
Talbott rattled off several quick points concerning the Russian proposals.
A Russian commander in charge of a sector would be at odds with unity of
command. What Moscow called equitable and responsible was really a split
in KFOR's overall authority. The United States had been clear: NATO at
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 259

the core had never meant two separate commands. Ivanov drew two circles
on a piece of paper, arguing that KFOR could have two commands, but
since they would be joint commands the unity of command would be pre-
served. Talbott countered, "In effect, you're talking partition."
Talbott told the Russians that the proposal on the table was the best
NATO could offer. He stressed that an area of responsibility was "the last
inch of the last mile we can go to meet your president halfway. We haven't
been playing games here." Both delegations were dog-tired and visibly irri-
tated. The deputy secretary argued the situation would become dire if Russia
launched a synchronized deployment that placed NATO and Moscow at log-
gerheads. "I heard earlier about the possibility of confrontation from the
Russian side by a noncooperative deployment. I'm not going to use that
word myself unless I am under instructions from the president to use it. But
such is the seriousness with which we take the possibility of confrontation
between our countries." He declared that any rash unilateral move would
carry high costs. Talbott noted that it was odd that the Russians, who had
raised the issue of a security vacuum so many times, would tell NATO to
not be concerned about the prospect of two independent and uncoordinated
forces sweeping into Kosovo.
Sergeyev claimed Talbott had mischaracterized his position. He said Rus-
sia was offering to deploy as simultaneously as possible, not literally, and to
use their time to work on a longer-term solution. Ivanov acknowledged the
situation was complex and again maintained that Russia would not be the
first to enter Kosovo. He insisted that the commitment came directly from
President Yeltsin, but he did not back down from the plan for a synchronized
deployment if an agreement could not be reached.
Ivanov suggested they explore the details for an interim joint deployment,
and Talbott illustrated the concept by putting one hand on top of the other
and moving them both forward. If the Russians were to agree to such a strat-
egy, the forces would enter the province side by side, not from different di-
rections, and closely coordinate their activities. Kvashnin countered that
such an effort could only take place in a command structure where General
Jackson had a Russian deputy and proportional Russian representation on
his planning staff. The Russian Army chief of staff argued that by fully integ-
rating Russia into KFOR's senior decision-making, Russian peacekeepers
would never be placed in a situation where they were uncomfortable with
their mission.
260 * COLLISION COURSE

Foglesong explained that a Russian deputy for General Jackson was unac-
ceptable because it would blur NATO's political control of the operation.
General Casey again suggested the Russian battalion join U.S. forces in their
sector with responsibility for largely Serb areas. Ivanov quickly rejected the
idea and Ivashov claimed the Serbs would simply leave Kosovo as the KLA
returned. General Casey insisted the Serbs would not need to depart, because
U.S. and Russian soldiers would be there to protect them.
The Russians called for a break in the negotiations at twenty minutes after
midnight on Saturday, June 12, and someone observed that it was now Na-
tional Day, Russia's version of the Fourth of July. The talks resumed at 1:10
in the morning. Talbott sought clarification on Russian intentions, indicat-
ing KFOR would deploy the next day as planned and asking if Russian forces
would subsequently enter Kosovo without an agreement. Sergeyev replied
that Russia's deployment would indeed be synchronized, but that they were
willing to "negotiate the boundaries" to ensure that troops did not bump
into each other, noting, "Simultaneous entry doesn't have to mean entry in
the same place. Why don't we enter from the north, you enter from the
south, and we can agree where to meet. You set the boundary."
"That is partition," argued Talbott.
"Why?"
"Look, we are making history here for better or worse. Are we serious
about this or not?" a frustrated Talbott asked the defense minister.
"We're serious."
"If Russia is to move into one part and the U.S. and NATO into another,
this crosses our most dangerous line. We can't have partition. Our goal is
not to divide Kosovo but as soon as we set a line, as soon as a line is drawn,
we have partition. All the Serbs will pour into the Russian sector."
"No they won't," claimed Ivanov.
"Let's just agree on the line," suggested Sergeyev.
"No," countered Talbott.
Talbott pointed out that Foreign Minister Ivanov had provided repeated
guarantees to both Albright and Secretary-General Solana that Russia would
not take such an action.
Ivanov objected, "That's not quite right. When Madeleine called she said
Russian forces were already in Kosovo. I said they were not in Kosovo; they
were being deployed so that they would be ready to enter. We won't do
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 261

anything that surprises NATO. I didn't speak about what happens after
NATO deploys."
Sergeyev, trying to calm the situation, indicated that the two sides would
work things out. Talbott was not placatedthere were no signs anything
had been resolved. The deputy secretary stressed the Russian flip-flop risked
unleashing "a whole new dimension of the Kosovo crisis and a crisis of U.S.-
Russian relations." He suggested that President Clinton might have to call
President Yeltsin despite the late hour.
Back in Washington, the White House had decided to delay NATO's
entry into Kosovo, hoping that the extra time would allow more time to
resolve the situation with the Russians. According to General Clark, "I pro-
tested the idea of a delay, but there was nothing to be done. The decision
had been made."
In Moscow, Colonel Bourne passed General Foglesong a note: CNN was
reporting the Russian troops were in Belgrade. Foglesong informed the
group of the news, including the fact that Serbs in Kosovo were waving Rus-
sian flags and celebrating the anticipated arrival of Russian troops in the
streets of Pristina. Russian Gen. Viktor Zavarzin, Moscow's former liaison to
NATO, took command of the column of troops as they entered the Yugoslav
capital. Zavarzin's orders from the ministry of defense in Moscow: Advance
the convoy to the Kosovo border and await further instruction.
Sergeyev lashed back at Foglesong in the best Soviet style:

The movement of Russian peacekeeping forces to the border of Kosovo is


completely in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution. The bor-
der has not been crossed. There are no Russian peacekeepers in Belgrade.
There aren't any, and weren't any, in Belgrade. I thought only Russian televi-
sion lies. We haven't violated anything. Our entry will be synchronized; I con-
firm what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. Everything they said was right.
So somebody waves some flags.

Making the scene even more surreal, Foreign Minister Ivanov asked
Sergeyev whether the Russian military had made any decision to deploy.
Sergeyev said that the military did not intend to act without agreeing on an
approach, leading Talbott to ask with whom the Russian military would be
reaching such an agreement. Sergeyev indicated that he was seeking agree-
ment with NATO, but reiterated if NATO went in, so would Russia. Talbott
262 * COLLISION COURSE

countered the situation had the makings of the worst crisis between Russia
and the United States in years.
The defense minister stressed the UN resolution neither mentioned
NATO nor gave it the right to make all the decisions, and General Foglesong
replied that the Yugoslavs had signed the military technical agreement and
given NATO the authority to do its job. Talbott argued if the two sides did
not reach an interim agreement, it was difficult to imagine how confronta-
tion on the ground could be avoided.
It was almost two in the morning.
In Yugoslavia, General Zavarzin ordered his troops to cross from Serbia
into Kosovo. Russia had gone in without an agreement, and almost immedi-
ately major disputes erupted within the Russian military. Startled Russian
ministry of defense officials ordered Zavazrin to move his troops back into
Serbia, but General Zavarzin insisted that he had orders from higher-ranking
officials to seize the Slatina airbase. General Kvashnin had ordered the troops
to continue moving forwardwithout consulting Defense Minister Serge-
yev. Russia was again at odds with itself and the world. Far from being pun-
ished for his actions, General Zavarzin would be promoted later that same
day.
Back in Moscow, Minister Sergeyev was being blindsided, unaware his
forces had entered Kosovo, and he continued to debate the merits of a joint
deployment. Talbott insisted the situation was so precarious they needed to
reach an understanding before they left the table, leading Sergeyev to insist
that he was in complete understanding of the military situation. Ivanov de-
cried that the group was losing precious time, he too unaware that Russian
troops had already entered Kosovo.
Talbott indicated he would telephone the president and National Security
Advisor Berger and advise them both of his strong objections to Russian
plans. He suggested the situation on the ground in KosovoSerbs waving
Russian flags in Pristina, violent Kosovar Albanians waving KLA banners
was ready to explode. The deputy secretary asked for a "leap of faith" on the
Russian's part: Hold back on a unilateral deployment, work out an agree-
ment for an interim deployment, and NATO would minimize the time be-
tween KFOR's arrival and the introduction of Russian forces into the U.S.
zone.
Foglesong suggested NATO dispatch a plane from Europe with planners
on board who would pick up several Russian military authorities and fly
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 263

them to Macedonia to begin planning for an initial joint deployment. Then


the Russians could return to Moscow that evening, and Sergeyev could issue
orders for Russian participation under a tentative agreement. Sergeyev
agreed, and told Foglesong to go ahead and arrange for a plane. Sergeyev
said he would notify his staff and that Russian commanders would do noth-
ing without direct orders.
Ivanov called a short pause in the talks, and General Ivashov turned to
Toria Nuland, the only woman in the talks, and said, "Why are you tortur-
ing yourself with this? Let the men handle it." Nuland, one of the rising stars
of the U.S. Foreign Service, was unfazed. Discussions broke until shortly
after three in the morning.
Upon resumption, Ivanov grimly announced, "It's not good news. We
have reports that KFOR is deploying."
"It's not true," replied Foglesong.
"From Albania and Macedonia," added Sergeyev.
"Unless General Shelton just misled me, it's not true. I will call again to
the chairman and Wes Clark and check," insisted Foglesong.
Sergeyev was adamant that he had "verified and cross checked" his own
information. "It's your 'spetznatz, your special forces that are going in."
Colonel Bourne was summoned to place calls to Generals Clark and Shel-
ton to reconfirm that KFOR had not deployed. However, both NATO and
Russian elements were in Kosovo by this point. While most press accounts
at the time credited Russia with being the first to enter the province, a small
vanguard of NATO Special Forces spotters had entered Kosovo under the
cover of darknessahead of Trojan Horse. While the main body of KFOR
had yet to deploy, the Russians were accurate in accusing NATO of having
moved into Kosovo. As one participant in the talks observed, the Russians,
"defined that as movement. Whether you say we were lying to each other,
or the definitions were different, it hardly matters; they were determined to
move when we moved. Since the information chain was all intelligence
driven, that was enough of a trigger for the Russians." Indeed, General Ivas-
hov would maintain that one of the main reasons that Yeltsin had not ob-
jected to moving troops in Kosovo was that his senior military advisors told
him that U.S. Special Forces had already entered Kosovo.
Generals Foglesong and Casey were summoned out of the room to take a
telephone call. When they returned, Foglesong declared that the Joint Chiefs
had confirmed that the NATO deployment was not underway. Foglesong
264 * COLLISION COURSE

was ready to dispatch a NATO plane to take General Casey and Russian
officers to Macedonia to negotiate a joint deployment. Both Ivanov and
Sergeyev were then called out of the room, and when they returned, the
minister of defense reiterated his support for sending a small team to Mace-
donia to work on the immediate deployment plan. He also indicated he
would have to report to Yeltsin on the matter. Ivanov suggested Foglesong
should have a plane in Moscow by ten in the morning and Sergeyev asked if
he would be able to tell President Yeltsin that there was progress on the issues
of KFOR's command structure and the matter of a Russian sector. Foglesong
noted it was difficult situation, but that he would not be able to sell a Russian
sector to either NATO or his own government.
"This was something out of a novel," confided one of the U.S. negotia-
tors:

We are sitting in the Soviet-era defense ministry, with the Soviet-era general
staff, led by the defense minister himself, Marshall Sergeyev, and the Army
chief of staff, Kvashnin, and they were talking about the deployment. We kept
getting reports the troops were on the move, but also assurances from the
Russians that nothing would happen. Then at the very end, when we thought
we were almost done for the evening, we got the call from Steinberg who was
watching it all unfold on CNN.

It was almost four in the morning. Talbott's Chief of Staff Phil Goldberg,
entered the room, speaking on his cellular phone with Deputy National Se-
curity Advisor Jim Steinberg, and Goldberg passed Talbott a hastily scribbled
note. Russian troops had arrived in Pristina, and CNN was broadcasting the
news around the globe. The column of fifty Russian military vehicles was
greeted by thousands of cheering Kosovar Serbs throwing flowers and firing
guns into the air. Serb civilians and Yugoslav soldiers joyously joined the
celebrations as the crowd chanted, "We and the Russians, we are 300 mil-
lion."
Talbott read Goldberg's note aloud. Sergeyev denied it. However, his de-
nial was undercut by the fact that he immediately called for a pause in the
talks as he, Ivanov, and Kvashnin hurried from the room. Talbott demanded
an explanation from one of the Russian generals who served as an assistant
to Minister Sergeyev. The general left the room seeking an answer. From
down the hall, the U.S. delegation could hear shouting between Sergeyev
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 265

and Kvashnin. Sergeyev was furious that Kvashnin had given approval for
the Russian troops to enter Kosovo without his knowledge. He wanted the
Russian forces to hold at the border and deploy concurrently with the main
body of KFOR. Kvashnin, and elements loyal to him, had countermanded
those orders and commanded General Zavarzin to push into Pristina ahead
of NATO.
It was a remarkably dangerous moment. Just as NATO's two most senior
officers, General Clark and General Jackson, were experiencing rising ten-
sions over possibly intercepting the Russian troops headed for the airport,
Russia's two most senior military officers, Minister Sergeyev and General
Kvashnin, were screaming at each other about pushing toward the airport.
Never had the two respective chains of command looked more fragile, and
not since the Cold War had the potential for disastrous miscommunication
between NATO and Russia run such a high risk of violence.
The tensions between Sergeyev and Kvashnin were long running. Serge-
yev had risen to minister of defense from his former position as head of Rus-
sia's strategic rocket forces, which controlled much of the nation's nuclear
arsenal. In 1998, Sergeyev had launched an effort to establish a unified com-
mand over Russia's land-, sea-, and air-based nuclear weapons. The proposed
head of the new nuclear forces command was to be Vladimir Yakolev, Serge-
yev's successor as head of the rocket forces and a close ally. This expensive
new command architecture would have come at a time when the conven-
tional armed forces, to which Kvashnin was allied, were already underbud-
geted. Kvashnin and his army colleagues viewed Sergeyev's move as a blatant
power grab, particularly since it would cut them largely out of the chain of
command over nuclear forces. Thus, the insubordinate push to Pristina was
doubly blessed in Kvashnin's mind: it would embarrass both NATO and his
chief rival within the Russian military while providing an opportunity to
demonstrate the utility of conventional forces in high-stakes geopolitics.
Several minutes later, Sergeyev's aide returned to the room and told U.S.
negotiators that the minister had asked him to inform Talbott that no infor-
mation was available on the situation. Talbott insisted a nonanswer was un-
acceptable. The international media was broadcasting live footage of Russian
troops entering Pristina; it was highly unlikely that the minister of defense
had no thoughts on the matter. The general left to relay the information. He
was not seen again.
The U.S. delegation retired to a side room. Talbott spoke to Albright on
266 * COLLISION COURSE

the phone, and she reacted to the news by exclaiming, "God in heaven! Why
can't someone get control of those people?" Talbott was unsure if the com-
ment was a personal rebuke.
Around five in the morning, Foreign Minister Ivanov, looking stunned,
strode into the room, nervously snapping his fingers by his side. The foreign
minister announced, "I regret to inform you that a column of Russian sol-
diers crossed the border accidentally into Kosovo and orders have been given
for them to be out within two hours. The minister of defense and I agree on
this."
Ivanov then asked for a one-on-one meeting with Talbott. From what
Talbott could see and hear, it appeared that the timing of the troop move-
ment into Pristina had caught both Ivanov and Sergeyevtwo of the most
powerful figures in the Russian governmentflat-footed. Speaking with
Berger and Steinberg on a cell phone as he sat with Ivanov, the deputy secre-
tary insisted Ivanov make a public statement acknowledging the deployment
was an error and that the troops would be pulled back. After some discus-
sion, they agreed to put Ivanov in contact with CNN so he could issue a
statement. Tellingly, the senior Russian military leadershipSergeyev,
Kvashnin, and Ivashovdid not return to the negotiating table.
Ivanov and Talbott emerged from their private meeting, and they began
to draft the statement the Russian foreign minister would read to CNN.
Ivanov had no staff of his own to help or advise him, and he cut a uniquely
solitary figure. Toria Nuland gave him some assistance, and they arrived at a
two-part formulation. First, Ivanov would announce that U.S. and Russian
military teams would meet in Macedonia later in the day to discuss the issue
of a joint deployment. Second, Ivanov would tell CNN, "In connection with
the information regarding the appearance of Russian military personnel in
Pristina, unfortunately this did take place. We're in the process of clarifying
how this happened. The military will be given an order to leave Kosovo im-
mediately."
Working through the State Department Operations Center, the American
team connected Ivanov with C N N in Atlanta, who verified the delegation's
identity by calling back to Nuland's cell phone. After making the confirma-
tion, they put Ivanov on the air live, with an interpreter on a different phone.
It was an unlikely moment: the State Department Operations Center patch-
ing the Russian foreign minister through to CNN to make a live statement
DECEPTION AND CONFRONTATION * 267

disavowing the actions of his own military. Having read his statement, a very
dispirited Ivanov escorted the U.S. delegation out of the defense ministry at
5:20 in the morning into the patchy first light of daynine and a half hours
of talks at the ministry of defense had collapsed in deception, disarray, and
animosity.
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10
CHAPTER

A Creeping Coup?

National Day
Back in Washington, a series of emergency meetings were held at the White
House. NATO, having seen the Russians go into Pristina, quickly reversed
its decision to delay entering Kosovo. General Shelton called General Clark
indicating Sandy Berger "has reviewed the situation and changed his mind.
Go ahead and enter." KFOR had its green light.
The national security team was deeply troubled by Talbott's reports.
Shouting matches between Russian military officials and the painful confu-
sion within the Russian government had sparked fears that Yeltsin's govern-
ment was slipping off the railsand taking civilian control of the Russian
military along with it. Russia and NATO were lurching toward confronta-
tion in Kosovo. After much discussion, the team decided there was little
choice but to take Ivanov at his word that the Russian troops would be
pulled back, while stepping up pressure within the region to deny Russia air
access for reinforcements. Joe Lockhart, the White House Press Secretary,
was dispatched to tell reporters, "As Foreign Minister Ivanov has said, it was
an unfortunate mistake, and the Russian troops will be withdrawn immedi-
ately."
As Ivanov declared to C N N that the Russian operation was a mistake,
Defense Minister Sergeyev and General Kvashnin engaged in an intense de-

269
270 * COLLISION COURSE

bate as to whether Russian troops should complete the next phase of Trojan
Horse: moving from Pristina to seize the Slatina airbase. Eventually they de-
termined the Russian troops should indeed take Slatina, and within hours
the troops occupied the airfield. General Zavarzin, who was with the troops,
was given strict orders not to engage in any negotiations with any KFOR
troops that arrived at the airfield; further talks were to be left to the Ministry
of Defense.
On June 12, two hours after Talbott and the others departed the ministry
of defense in Moscow (5:20 local time in Macedonia), NATO began its main
deployment with British paratroopers in Chinook helicopters leading ar-
mored units into Kosovo. As column after column of tanks and trucks rolled
across the border, advance units leapfrogged ahead by air to Pristina. It
would be almost ten hours after KFOR's initial entry that U.S. ground
troops pushed into Kosovo. Just as the Russians had been greeted by cheer-
ing Serbs, raucous Kosovar Albanians welcomed NATO. British forces met
no resistance as they pushed overland toward Pristina, although they were
slowed by the fear of mines. As KFOR started pushing into the province,
only some 4,000 of the total 40,000 Yugoslav forces had withdrawn from
Kosovo, consequently, Yugoslav, KLA, NATO, and Russian forces were
commingled in a strange military stew. In some locations, Serb troops even
traveled side by side with KFOR, hoping NATO's presence would deter
KLA reprisals.
NATO was still debating how best to respond to the Russian provocation.
One White House official commented, "One of the concerns that we had
was that there were some indications that the Serb forces might stay behind
to support the Russians. So we thought, 'Will the Serb forces use this as a
basis to stop pulling out? NATO is only partially deployed. Then what?
Have we bought into a partition? What will be the KLA's reaction?'" That
morning there were also indications of a second group of Russians preparing
to leave Bosnia to move to the airfield at Pristina.
In Moscow, a U.S. Air Force plane met General Casey and several Russian
officers at ten in the morning, but due to some problems in securing over-
flight clearances the plane did not depart for Macedonia until about one in
the afternoon. The group was charged with beginning to sort out the interim
peacekeeping arrangements between Moscow and KFOR, but Defense Min-
ister Sergeyev was not about to have more junior officers negotiate Moscow's
endgame.
Talbott and the team got little in the way of sleep, and by ten in the morn-
A CREEPING COUP? it 271

ing, most of delegation had straggled into the deputy secretary's hotel suite
bleary and rueful. Ambassador Collins joined them a short time later. The
ambassador had seen a number of senior Russian officials at National Day
ceremonies that morning, and he agreed that Trojan Horse had caught Iva-
nov totally off guard. Ivanov was so angry at his treatment that he had ten-
dered his resignation, which had not been accepted. Collins had also run
into Prime Minister Stepashin and National Security Advisor Putin at the
event, and both had denied prior knowledge of the operationalthough
given their ties to the intelligence community, their denials were taken with
a grain of salt.
Throughout the day, speculation continued to intensify about Yeltsin's
role in Trojan Horse. Sergei Prikhodko, a member of the Kremlin foreign
policy staff, told C N N that Yeltsin had authorized the troop movement
while leaving the timing up to the military. While the Kremlin was eager to
put its cachet on the Slatina operation, the Russian media was rife with ru-
mors that the Russian military had acted independently. Foreign Minister
Ivanov told the press that rumors the Russian military had dispatched troops
without Yeltsin's authorization were "baseless speculation," but acknowl-
edged that his own ministry had largely been kept in the dark about the
operation: "To a certain extent it was a surprise. . . . But at the same time, it
should not be astonishing because in the end the foreign minister does not
need to follow such tactical questions, troop moves, on a minute-to-minute
basis."
Russian public reaction to the operation was enthusiastic. The defiant ges-
ture generated a rush of nationalism, demonstrated that Yeltsin was not soft
toward the West, and sparked a measure of pride that Russia could still catch
mighty NATO unprepared. Vladimir Zhrinovsky said that he saw Yeltsin at
the National Day ceremonies and "the president was very happy." However,
there were also skeptical undertones, with a number of Russian observers
pointing out that little would change in Kosovo as a result of Trojan Horse.
The Russian defense ministry publicly announced that 1,000 paratroopers
were on alert, and Interfax quoted Russian diplomatic and military sources as
saying that an additional contingent of soldiers would be airlifted to Pristina
through Ukrainian and Bulgarian airspace. NATO diplomats put on a full-
court press to ensure that Moscow was unable to secure the clearances it so
desired. In Bulgaria, the Russian embassy attempted to pass a diplomatic
note to the government requesting an air corridor, but officials refused to
272 * COLLISION COURSE

take receipt of the note, saying that it was improperly formatted. The Bulgar-
ians also indicated clearance would require parliamentary approval and con-
firmation that the deployment was undertaken within part of a broader
command and control agreement with NATO. Bulgaria, like Hungary, was
sealed off. Within NATO, military officials were still debating the hardest
question: Should NATO or the frontline states fire on Russian planes violat-
ing airspace?
At 2:30, Talbott met with Ivanov at the foreign ministry. Ivanov was cha-
grined and angered by the events of the night before, calling it "the worst
day of his life." Talbott pointed out that it had not been a particularly enjoy-
able episode for him either, leading the Russian foreign minister to suggest
that NATO's anger over the Slatina operation amounted to only a fraction of
the injuries suffered by Russia during the bombing campaign. In a subdued
conversation, Talbott suggested that since Ivanov and Secretary Albright had
worked effectively in forging the UN resolution, it might be appropriate for
them to work out the details of Russian participation in KFOR in the days
that would follow. Reflecting instructions from Washington, Talbott pro-
posed the discussions between the foreign ministers be carried out in con-
junction with talks between Secretary of Defense Cohen and Minister of
Defense Sergeyev.
They also discussed the timing of a number of high-level calls. Vice Presi-
dent Gore would speak with Prime Minister Stepashin around 5:30 Moscow
time, and eventually President Clinton would speak with President Yeltsin.
After hearing Talbott's account of events at the ministry of defense, the Clin-
ton administration was eager for some assurances that the civilian leadership
was intact. After telling Washington they did not know who was in charge
in Moscow, U.S. officials wanted, as one negotiator acknowledged, to "make
sure Yeltsin was awake, dried out, whateverthat was the reason for wanting
to place the call."
Vice President Gore spoke with Prime Minister Stepashin later in the day,
saying he was calling because of the urgent situation and because Clinton
and Yeltsin were now scheduled to speak to each other the next day. Gore
said that events had the potential to undermine all of the joint achievements
of Russia and the United States and noted that, after repeated assurances
from Ivanov to the contrary, Russian forces had deployed unilaterally. De-
spite Ivanov's statement to CNN, the troops had not been withdrawn, Rus-
sia was continuing its attempts to reinforce its troops, and C N N was
A CREEPING COUP? * 273

reporting that President Yeltsin had approved the deployment. The vice
president insisted that unless all the matters were clarified, Russia and NATO
might directly clash. He urged the Russians to accept the two-track approach
repeatedly forwarded by Talbott and Foglesong the night before. While a
joint short-term deployment would not be a permanent solution, it would
demonstrate that the two nations were working together. He also sought a
vow from Stepashin that Russia would not deploy additional troops without
NATO agreement.
Stepashin offered something of a nonapology apology, expressing regret
that the UN resolution had not spelled out all the details for military cooper-
ation. The Russian maintained that working out an agreement on a Russian
sector would be the most important factor in securing a deal and he urged
that the situation not be overdramatized.
Gore did not find Stepashin's reassurances comforting but welcomed
Stepashin's suggestion that Yeltsin was not the force behind the deployment.
Gore noted that before confidence and trust could be rebuilt Russia had to
deal with the consequences of its actions. He urged Moscow to make a pub-
lic statement clarifying the many conflicting signals.
It was an unusual situation. U.S. officials were encouraging the Russian
government to declare that that their own military had acted without presi-
dential authority. It was a quandary. If Yeltsin ordered the move, the United
States had to accept that Yeltsin himself was becoming more dangerous and
unpredictable within an already deeply dysfunctional government; If Yeltsin
didn't order the move, civilian authority over a large, nuclear-capable mili-
tary was in question.
Stepashin argued that the decision to deploy Russian troops had been
made through ministry of defense channels, and the government would pro-
vide adequate explanation. Gore was persistent and stressed that with the
flurry of contradictory statements out of Moscow, the world was left specu-
lating as to who was in control of Russia's vast military, gravely harming
Russia's international standing. Stepashin, in a flash of honesty, admitted
that much of the misunderstanding was caused by the deep strains inflicted
during the effort to reach a peace agreement. He pleaded for time to sort
things out. Gore acknowledged he sounded "like a broken record," but again
stressed the world needed to know Russia's system of command and control
was intact. The frustrating conversation and deep ambiguity in Moscow had
274 * COLLISION COURSE

done nothing to reduce Washington's fears that Yeltsin's government was


coming apart at the seams.
A little after five in the evening, Moscow time, the U.S. delegation met
again with Russian National Security Advisor Vladimir Putin at the Krem-
lin. Talbott began by noting the Russian deployment "had shaken the con-
fidence of the U.S. government regarding Russia's word on matters of
importance," and he quickly ticked off the many contradictory Russian
statements and actions during the previous forty-eight hours. Talbott
claimed that since the Russian deployment had not been coordinated with
NATO, and the military technical agreement gave General Jackson wide au-
thority over all troop movements in Kosovo, the Alliance would be reason-
able in insisting the Russian troops pull out of Kosovo before eventually
being redeployed as part of KFOR, particularly since Foreign Minister Iva-
nov had publicly announced that the Russian troops would be withdrawn
after they had had "mistakenly" crossed into Kosovo.
The deputy secretary conceded the United States would consider recom-
mending to NATO that Russian troops be redeployed elsewhere in Kosovo
if an agreeable plan could be worked out among military officials, and he
pushed Putin to have the Russian government provide assurances
confirmed by facts on the ground and in the airthat there would be no
additional Russian troop deployments without a deal. Talbott stressed that
while NATO was willing to reach an agreement with the Russians, some
areas were nonnegotiable. A Russian sector with a Russian commander was
a nonstarter.
Putin did little to reveal his hand. He acknowledged the question of com-
mand arrangements was an important one and that it was vital to have the
Russian forces not appear to be directly under NATO. Putin noted that ne-
gotiations were complicated by Russia's "pre-election struggle," adding that
there were "hawks and doves" in both countries with their own agendas.
Putin felt that there were people within his government who did not agree
with the deployment and he branded it a "mistake." However, he quickly
added that Russia's mistake "did not lead to the loss of human life," and
that, although the hawks had damaged relations between Moscow and
Washington, it was "far less than what NATO had done to President Yelt-
sin's prestige" with the air campaign. Putin displayed little emotion as he
implied that a politically wounded Yeltsin government had little choice but
to make the rush to Slatina.
A CREEPING COUP? * 275

Putin indicated that once Russia and NATO agreed to an interim solu-
tion, there needed to be a clear plan for proceeding with a long-term deal.
He warned that the final arrangement should not allow Russians to accuse
Yeltsin of being a NATO puppet and that his nation would need a decision
on what troops would be in what areas. Talbott concluded the meeting by
expressing his hope that both sides would be able to work out a mutually
acceptable solution before the G-8 Summit and begin to repair bilateral rela-
tions.
However, in a comment that set off more alarms within the U.S. delega-
tion, Putin referred to a "possible" visit by President Yeltsin to the G-8 Sum-
mit. This came in addition to earlier suggestions by the Russians that
Stepashin would fill in for Yeltsin for the first two days of the G-8 gathering.
Talbott had begun to fear that the people around YeltsinIvanov, Putin,
and Stepashinhad concluded that the Russian government was in the
throes of a genuine constitutional crisis as a result of Operation Trojan
Horse. There was a dangerous possibility that the civilian leadership would
have no choice but to pull the plug on the Yeltsin presidency because of his
inability to rein in the power ministries.

Slatina Showdown

Tensions ran high as the balance of power within Kosovo quickly started
to shift. The scene at the Slatina airbase was uneasy. By late afternoon,
100 British paratroopers had managed to make it to the airbase. However,
Russian and Yugoslav forces barred the British from bringing reinforce-
ments overland into the airport. A convoy of British army vehicles and 400
soldiers sat lined up on an access road to the airport as KFOR officers tried
to negotiate their entry in exactly the kind of scene General Clark had envi-
sioned when advocating the airbase's preemptive seizure. The potential for
the exchange of fire, particularly between disgruntled Yugoslav troops and
NATO or KLA guerillas and the Russians, was significant. Even an isolated
incident at that moment would have been calamitous.
The public views expressed by U.S. and NATO officials were strikingly
disparate from their actual views toward the ongoing Russian operation. At
NATO headquarters, General Clark told reporters that afternoon that the
Russian brigade "was sent racing along to apparently move to an airfield to
276 * COLLISION COURSE

do some missionwe can't imagine whatin an uncoordinated fashion. So


right now, I wouldn't want to pass judgment on it at this stage except to say
that it seems to be an isolated element that is out there by itself." Clark
added, "I think there is a lot of explaining that will have to be done on all
of these issues over time," but "those are political issues. We are not in the
political business in NATO." For his part, Secretary of Defense Cohen
downplayed the incident. "I think it's a situation where they were anxious
to participate, and they moved into the region, Pristina. It's not a militarily
significant force. . . . Whether it's a mistake on the part of the lower level
commanders or the higher levels, we can't say at this point." U.S. officials
were very careful not to publicly suggest that the Russian military was out of
control.
Behind the scenes, NATO's military concerns continued to escalate with
renewed fears that the Russians would fly in reinforcements. NATO could
surround the Russian troops at the airport, but there were also worries that
Russian troops could move overland from Bosnia or be airlifted to Serbia
and still move into the north and partition the province. Sandy Berger com-
mented, "We decided to block the airport, and tried to do it. I don't know
that we would have gotten in a military clash with the Russians had they
crossed the border. That was probably not an option."
General Ralston called General Clark and suggested, "You might want
to block the runways." Clark agreed, and Ralston suggested, "Why don't
you use the Apache helicopters," since only limited numbers of British
troops had reached the airfield. After making clear that he had Washing-
ton's authorization for such a move, Clark passed on orders to his subordi-
nates to "use the Apaches to block the Pristina runways during the hours
of darkness so the IL-76 transports can't land. This isn't 'business as usual.'
NATO has been deceived or misled by about everyone in the Russian gov-
ernment at this pointwe can't believe their promises. We don't want to
be forced to decide whether or not to shoot down Russian aircraft if they
violate Hungarian or Romanian airspace." Clark also wanted NATO peace-
keepers in Bosnia to block the bridges with Serbia to prevent additional
Russians from SFOR moving into Kosovo, but the NATO commanders in
Bosnia were reluctant to take such a step.
In the evening, General Jackson arrived at the airport via helicopter, after
having to repeatedly postpone a news conference that had been scheduled
for earlier in the day. With Russian armored personnel carriers speeding
A CREEPING COUP? * 277

across the tarmac and nearly drowning out his words, Jackson halfheartedly
insisted, "It's a very good time to be here." The general welcomed the Rus-
sian contingent and announced that he would meet with General Zavarzin
in an effort to resolve the situation.
The pace of the Serb withdrawal from Kosovo was gathering momentum,
with more than 10,000 Serb personnel having left the province. However,
Russian forces and NATO troops at the Slatina airfield remained in an un-
easy face-off, with the Russians using armored personnel carriers to block the
approach road to the airport. During the afternoon, a Russian general and a
British captain, Edward Melott, engaged in three hours of largely fruitless
discussion in an attempt to resolve the issue of the airport's control. Eventu-
ally the British pulled back to the far end of the airport. Across Kosovo,
NATO troops moved in, Serb military and civilians moved out, and the
KLA and Kosovar Albanians exerted a newfound freedom of movement as
sporadic gunfire punctuated the day. The changing of the guard was under-
way and thick traffic jams snarled intersections and roadways north. Night-
fall brought a steady downpour as Russian, Yugoslav, KLA, and NATO
forces hunkered down to keep dry.
As a steady rain fell, Clark was convinced that NATO and Russia were
"headed toward some sort of political-military confrontation." Adding to
his distress, General Jacksonciting both the weather and a variety of opera-
tional concernswas resisting his call to deploy the Apaches to block the
airport's runways. General Jackson, concerned by General Clark's confronta-
tional attitude, appealed to his superiors in the national command at the
British ministry of defense in London. These appeals, in turn, set off a flurry
of anxious back-and-forth calls between London and Washington. The Brit-
ish shared Jackson's concerns and cited the assurances that had been given
by Ivanov that the Russians would not reinforce their troops without an
agreement.
At the Slatina airfield, a house not far from the runway was set on fire
despite the downpour, and Serbs soldiers torched a number of houses in
largely ethnic Albanian neighborhoods in Pristina. NATO peacekeepers did
not intervene as periodic gunfire barked out in the darkness. The wrangling
between London and Washington continued. On Sunday, June 13, General
Clark made a predawn flight to Macedonia. Before departing, NATO Secre-
tary-General Solana confirmed that he had a green light to deploy the
Apaches to block the Slatina runways. When Clark arrived at General Jack-
278 * COLLISION COURSE

son's headquarters, the two quickly launched into a heated and very personal
confrontation. According to Jackson's autobiographical account, Jackson re-
fused to block the runways and directly questioned Clark's authority, saying,
"Sir, I'm not taking any more orders from Washington."
"Mike, these aren't Washington's orders, they're coming from me."
"By whose authority?"
"By my authority as SACEUR."
"You don't have that authority."
"I do have that authority. I have the secretary-general behind me on this."
"Sir, I'm not starting World War III for you."
Clark insisted that the situation did not need to lead to a confrontation
with the Russians, leading Jackson to complain, "I'm a three-star general;
you can't give me orders like this."
"Mike, I'm a four-star general, and I can tell you these things."
The two men decided that the issue could only be resolved by going to
their own political superiors, and a call was quickly placed to the British
chief of defense, Charles Guthrie. After a brief discussion, Guthrie told a
shocked Clark, "Well, I must say that I agree with Mike, as does Hugh
Shelton."
The intensive behind-the-scenes lobbying by the British against Clark's
directive had turned Washington. The disagreement on how to proceed on
the airport operation was largely adjudicated in a series of telephone discus-
sions between Sandy Berger and his British counterpart John Sawyers. Presi-
dent Clinton was not on the phone, even though Blair had asked to speak
with him directly, but was closely consulted. Initially, the U.S. national se-
curity team was inclined to back Clark. "Ultimately, although we thought
British were desperately wrong," one White House official acknowledged,
"the president felt, and we communicated to Number 10, that we were not
going to take them on."
Another White House official argued that the breakdown between Clark
and Jackson was indicative of "a really serious problem in terms of how
NATO manages its command and control." However, U.S. annoyance with
the British behavior was tempered by Washington's frequent exploitation of
the fact that the SACEUR operates in the U.S. chain of command as well in
the NATO chain of command. Many of the tensions in operations stemmed
from occurrences when the Allies felt that Clark was getting instructions
from Washington that were not going through the NATO ambassadors. In
A CREEPING COUP? * 279

short, as a national security official acknowledged of blocking the runways,


"The decision was not made in a careful, thoughtful, rational way."
Secretary of Defense Cohen commented on the debate. "Initially, we got
a call from General Clark, who indicated that they [the Russians] had de-
parted and were on their way to the airfield. The question surfaced: what do
we do about it?" Cohen observed, "It was unclear exactly what their motiva-
tion waswhether others would follow, whether this was just a spearhead of
a larger Russian force coming in, and what action, if any, would we take if
that followed." He maintained, "We considered blocking the runway so they
couldn't be reinforced. The commander on the ground objected to that. So,
it became something of a dispute over what action should be taken. The
conclusion was that, with no logistical supply, they [the Russian contingent]
couldn't be sustained." Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Steinberg
maintained that it was "a little hard to be self-righteous with what the British
did with Jackson. There were huge risks either way, and the British concerns
were not trivial. I think these types of disputes are inevitable within the Alli-
ance, but the biggest lesson is how dangerous they can be."
Clark himself insisted, "It was not disobedience of orders, however, nor
technically was it insubordination. It was just a striking example of what
was to become an increasingly open 'secret' of NATO operations. NATO
commands were like puppets, with two or six or sometimes dozens of strings
being pulled from behind the scenes by nations themselves, regardless of the
formalistic commitment of forces." In the end, the British forces would
block further ground access to the airport, but did not seize the runway.
As NATO's military and civilian brass waged the bitter behind-the-scenes
fight over blocking the runway, General Casey and the delegation of Russian
officers who had flown to Macedonia to negotiate the interim status of the
Russian forces in Kosovo returned to Moscow at five in the morning on June
13. They had established the general parameters of an agreement on short-
term cooperation, but the Russians had made clear that they could not move
forward until a long-term deal was also finalized. Around ten in the morning
in Moscow, Talbott, Foglesong, Ivanov, General Ivashov, and their respec-
tive delegations gathered at the Russian foreign ministry. The foreign minis-
try was again virtually deserted, and Ivanov appeared wearing a sports jacket
and no tie since "it was a day off."
In a one-on-one session with Talbott, Ivanov agreed that there needed to
be an official explanation of Russia's position, and he acknowledged that the
280 COLLISION COURSE

long night at the ministry of defense had been a difficult experience that he
did not want to repeat: "I was operating on my own." He insisted that much
of the weekend's confusion stemmed from misunderstandings between Rus-
sia and NATO and misunderstandings within the Russian governmentnot
deliberate attempts to mislead the United States: "It had not been a be-
trayal." He pointed out that the Russian contingent had deployed into Ko-
sovo only three and a half hours ahead of KFOR and he suggested, "I would
have preferred that NATO go in first, and then we'd gone in, without agree-
ment."
The foreign minister also had a transcript of the previous day's Gore
Stepashin telephone call, and several passages were highlighted. Ivanov was
upset that senior American officials felt that he had misled them, and he
argued that lies "should be a thing of the past" in Russian diplomacy. The
three-hour series of meetings was cordial, and the atmosphere greatly im-
proved. A number of agreements were struck. First, the foreign minister
agreed that Russia would not reinforce the troops at the Slatina airfield until
a long-term deal on participating in KFOR was reached; in the interim,
those forces would cooperate with KFOR along the lines of the Bosnia
model. Ivanov consented to join Secretary Albright, Secretary Cohen, and
Marshall Sergeyev to negotiate the final details of the military agreement in
Helsinki several days later, with the foreign minister stressing that it would
"help to get out of Moscow." Of equal importance, Ivanov broadly sug-
gested that a command and control model similar to the one being used in
Bosnia might ultimately be acceptable as a long-term arrangement.
As the session concluded and Talbott was saying goodbye to the foreign
minister, Ivanov insisted, "This whole episode will help us in the long run
and by helping 'us' I mean both our side internally and what we're trying to
do together." Ivanov seemed to suggest that the defense ministry's bellicose
behavior would force Russia's civilian leadership to exert firmer control.

The Brink

Despite Ivanov's assurances, the situation at Slatina remained confronta-


tional. French fuel trucks were turned away from entering the base, and sev-
eral managed to get stuck in a muddy field as they reversed course. Russians
A CREEPING COUP? * 281

soldiers continued to sporadically block access to different sections of the


airfield.
Across Kosovo, NATO exerted tentative control as more than 5,000 of its
troops entered the province and Serb military and police forces continued to
withdraw. A confusing and dangerous sea of armed forces washed across the
province. NATO tanks rolled past Yugoslav military checkpoints. With-
drawing Serb soldiers flashed victory signs at KFOR troops. Serb civilians
greeted KFOR with obscene gestures, and KLA fighters raised double-eagle
flags on municipal buildings. British tanks in the heart of Pristina trained
their guns on a Yugoslav tank dug into the west of the city, only to have the
Yugoslav tank return the favor. Yugoslav soldiers waiting for busses to take
them to Serbia mingled with British forces in downtown Pristina. Kosovar
Albanians flooded the streets to shower affection upon NATO peacekeepers
in scenes that looked reminiscent of World War II.
NATO officials continued to publicly downplay Trojan Horse, with Gen-
eral Clark insisting, "No plans have been disrupted whatsoever by this bi-
zarre event." Secretary Albright told Meet the Press that there was no need to
become "overexcited." However, there was some finger-pointing behind the
scenes within the Alliance. English military officials were widely telling re-
portersoff the recordthat the delay in getting U.S. troops through
Greece ensured that the Russians were the first to Slatina. In light of General
Jackson's reluctance to have paratroopers preemptively seize the airfield, the
anonymous comments by British officers angered U.S. officials.
Around 12:30 Moscow time, the plane carrying the now-spent American
delegation again lifted off, bound for Washington. Phil Goldberg playfully
drew up a "No U-turn" sign for the pilots. As the plane departed Moscow,
President Clinton finally spoke with President Yeltsin, and the crisis between
NATO and Russia wildly careened once again.
Yeltsin was barely in control. Rambling, repetitive, and almost incoherent,
the Russian president seemed to be operating without staff or guidance. He
did not have a grasp on the unfolding events, and he insisted over and over
again that he and Clinton meet on a "boat, a submarine, or some island so
not a single person will disturb us. . . . No one else can do it," Yeltsin mum-
bled. When Clinton asked about the situation at the airport, Yeltsin insisted
that the generals on the ground should work something out. A senior admin-
istration official remarked, "I don't remember much of what Clinton said,
he was rolling his eyes and quite worried." Then, in a moment of dark com-
282 * COLLISION COURSE

edy, Yeltsin insisted that Clinton spell out Russian General Zavarzin's name,
and several others, so he could write them down in an agonizingly slow proc-
ess. The conversation stretched for ninety minutes, with almost nothing ac-
complished. The two men could only agree that they should speak again the
next day. There was nothing during the call to suggest that Yeltsin concurred
with Ivanov on using the Bosnia model as a stop-gap arrangement.
Yeltsin had never sounded worse. "It was the most bizarre YeltsinClinton
call in six and a half yearsand that's saying a lot," observed Talbott. As
Berger, Albright, Steinberg, and Talbott conferred after the call, Berger was
deeply distressed. He was worried that the hard-liners such as General Kvash-
nin and Minister of Defense Sergeyev were exploiting Yeltsin's confusion and
inebriation. Given the previous several days, and the Russian president's
growing incapacitation, Kvashnin and Sergeyev could easily manufacture
reasons to intensify the showdown. It would not take much to spark an ex-
change of gunfire. President Clinton and his advisors saw the call as further
evidence that civilian control of the Russian military was crumbling. Deputy
National Security Advisor Jim Steinberg remarked, "President Clinton was
worried, and the Yeltsin telephone call dramatically increased the tensions.
Any of the possible interpretations associated with the telephone calleither
because of Yeltsin's intent or his inability to effectively manage the situa-
tionled you to worry that the situation could get out of hand."
Some of the U.S. national security team argued for using Yeltsin's confu-
sion to their own advantage, by claiming that Yeltsin's lack of dissent actually
constituted agreement. It would not be the first time that Moscow had been
logrolled. The group also agreed that Ambassador Collins should speak with
Foreign Minister Ivanov to clarify the situation, which he did. However, the
foreign minister was ominously tight-lipped and noncommittal. Ivanov sug-
gested only that much would depend on a second Yeltsin-Clinton call the
next day. Fears continued to mount that Yeltsin and his government were
on the verge of collapse.
The national security team explored ways to limit the Russian influence
without sparking a military confrontation. "We looked for a solution that
would not force the Russians to be totally humiliated but that would also
diffuse our greatest fear: that the airfield would be a staging area for the strat-
egy to partition Kosovo," suggested Jim Steinberg. He added, "We were try-
ing to find an operational modeland General Ralston was extremely
A CREEPING COUP? * 283

helpful in thisin setting out the activities that took place at an airfield that
allowed you to have NATO control of air operations without forcing a direct
confrontation." Berger and his team felt that, regardless of the Russian inten-
tions, they had to create the most banal result by allowing the Russians to
stay at the airport without letting them have control over landing rights.
Berger and Albright even flirted with sending Talbott back to Moscow yet
again, but to the relief of all those on the plane, it was determined not to
execute the second U-turn in three days. Adding to the angst, Russian troops
continued to block further British access to the airport.
Toward early evening, events quickly grew more dire. General Clark re-
ceived an alarmed call from one of his intelligence officers: "Sir, we've got
indications of Russian air transports moving again. They could be headed
this way." NATO Secretary-General Solana called Washington on a secure
line to pass on the volatile information: General Clark was indicating that
300 Russian paratroopers were headed to the airport and their planes were
already in the air. Russia was going to push through its reinforcements with-
out air clearance from neighboring states. Worse still, General Jackson was
resisting orders from General Clark to secure the airstrip using tanks. A
showdown seemed inevitable.
Sandy Berger quickly convened a secure telephone call with Albright,
Cohen, Clark, Jim Steinberg, Vice President Gore's national security advi-
sor, Leon Fuerth, and Talbott, in a discussion that one of the participants
would describe later as "bone-chilling." The mood on the conference call
was tense and aggressive, as the group considered proposals from those as
extreme as storming the airport and overpowering the Russian contingent to
shooting down the Russian transport planes if they illegally entered Roma-
nian or Hungarian airspace. Fuerth joined Clark in advocating a forceful
response to the Russian planes that were thought to be airborne. A senior
U.S. diplomat claimed, "Leon was hard over. But Leon is like that with the
Russians. He would intellectually favor cooperation until you are morally
affronted, and then he would hit them with a lead pipe. It also made political
sense: If the Russians were going to be provocative, you had to be tough."
Some of those involved in the debate thought the threat was exaggerated,
given Russian capabilities, and felt that by the time the Russians could get
troops on the ground and get themselves organized, NATO could have sur-
rounded the forces. But as one official commented, "Given the great 'Red
284 * COLLISION COURSE

menace' was actually deploying for the first time in all these soldiers' lives,
you can understand why it got out of hand."
Fuerth himself noted, "We were concerned because we did not know ex-
actly what was going on in Moscow. To have the Russian foreign minister
clearly and admittedly out of the decision-making loop that had brought this
about was extremely disconcerting and we didn't know whether Yeltsin was
fully in control of the situation. There was obviously the possibility of an
armed confrontation between the Russians sitting on that air force base and
the advancing NATO troops." However, Fuerth insisted that if the Russians
had reinforced the troops at Slatina, "We probably would have groped along
trying to find a way out of the face-off. I don't think we would have done
anything like shoot down a Russian air transport. They would have landed
and the Russian position would have been reinforced. . . . There was no
decisive other option."
Pentagon officials were worried that a creeping coup was underway in
Moscow, and, given the disarray at the highest levels of the Russian govern-
ment, there was a consensus on the telephone call that NATO needed to
aggressively counter any deeper thrust by Russian forces. Messages were sent
directly to Ivanov of the stark dangers of "confrontation" over the planes
being prepared to reinforce the Russian contingent, and it must have been
clear to the Russian foreign minister that the United States was now consid-
ering a direct military response. The long-term relationship between Mos-
cow and Washington would be the first casualty of such an exchange.
However, before the Clinton national security team was forced to make a
final decision on how it would respond to the Russian flights, an equally
remarkable piece of news came through: The intelligence reports appeared
to be mistaken; there were no Russian planes in the air. The fog of war left
the shaken and chagrined national security team with a disturbing realization
that bad information had almost driven them to disaster. The combination
of miscommunication, suspicion, fatigue, questionable intelligence, and sol-
diers in close proximity had pushed Russia and NATO to war footing. All
the simmering resentments, insecurities, and frustration of the seventy-eight-
day bombing campaign came within a hair's breadth of spilling over into
tragedy. While the crisis of the day had been averted, Washington was still
sincerely troubled by Yeltsin's condition and the chaos in the ranks of the
Russian government.
"I think it just shows you this is serious shit. It is very dangerous when
A CREEPING COUP? it 285

you get armies and air forces moving around where there is an undertone
of mistrust and resentment," a senior administration official observed. "Just
because the Cold War is over it doesn't mean the U.S. and Russia can't stum-
ble into a shooting situation. No scenario brings you to World War III and
nuclear weapons and general war in Europe. But there were certainly scenar-
ios where you could have had Russians killing Americans or vice versafor
the first time everever." All the more remarkable that this was taking place
within a peacekeeping operation where Washington and Moscow were sup-
posedly on the same side.
As a senior NATO official maintained:

The Slatina airport operation was more of a symbolic muscle-flexing thing to


improve the Russian negotiating position that ended up weakening their posi-
tion. But to actually put in a thirty-six-hundred-man force as a fait accompli
would have completely altered the whole terms of the deal and been a major
betrayal on the part of the Russiansafter we had given them a respectable
role. It would have undermined the effectiveness of KFOR and created the
basis for a partition instead of implementing the mission as intended. Exactly
what measures would have been necessary I don't know. . . . There were a lot
of potential hard choices.

In Kosovo, evening settled in uneasily. In Prizren, two Serbs opened fire


from their car on a group of German peacekeepers. As bystanders ducked for
cover, the German soldiers returned a volley of fire. The vehicle's driver was
shot and killed, the passenger seriously wounded. CNN carried graphic foot-
age of the incident, and the images of the bullet-torn automobile drifting to
a ghostly stop.
On June 14, Secretary Albright spoke with Ivanov, pointing out that their
respective presidents would be speaking a short time later. She also com-
plained that General Zavarzin had not been cooperating at the airport along
the terms the foreign minister had spelled out. Zavarzin had declared that he
was not ready to accept a Bosnia model for the deployment and said that the
troops already in Kosovo needed to be reinforced. Albright feared that the
general was acting on his own.
Ivanov had not spoken directly with the general, but he insisted that Za-
varzin was acting on the basis of orders that President Yeltsin had given him
the day before, just before he had spoken with Clinton. Yeltsin had told Za-
286 * COLLISION COURSE

varzin to continue discussions with General Jackson along the same lines as
Ivanov had communicated to the secretary, and Stepashin had relayed this
to Vice President Gore. Both agreed the situation needed to be resolved
quickly, but Ivanov maintained that he was overstretched. He thought
purely military matters could be better handled between Sergeyev and
Cohen. Ivanov underscored that on certain fundamental issues, the bottom
line simply had to be determined by President Yeltsina disturbing prospect
given his previous day's performance.
President Clinton and President Yeltsin spoke not long after that. Al-
though Yeltsin still sounded rough, frequently coughing and wheezing, he
was far more in control and worked his way steadily through a set of prepared
points. The scare of the day before seemed to haveliterally and figura-
tivelysobered everyone up. Yeltsin confirmed that the Russian contingent
at Slatina would serve under the Bosnia rules and that there would be no
reinforcements absent an overall agreement. The two presidents agreed that
Generals Jackson and Zavarzin should continue to work out arrangements
on the ground. The Russian president also acceded to a Sergeyev-Cohen-
Ivanov-Albright meeting in Helsinki. After the telephone call, relieved Clin-
ton administration officials felt that the Yeltsin government was largely back
on track.
However, the Russians made one final stab at securing overflight clearance
for reinforcements through Romania, but the Romanian ministry of defense
rejected the application, noting that Moscow would have to both consult
with NATO and receive formal parliamentary approval. Privately, the Roma-
nians indicated that they would not grant use of the airspace unless requested
to do so by the United States or the United Nations. The Romanian minister
of defense reportedly told Russian officials that, if Moscow dispatched planes
through Romanian airspace without clearance, "We would be obliged to
send an aircraft up to intercept your aircraft. And there are only two buttons
on our aircraft. If the pilot pushes the wrong one, we'll shoot down your
transport plane with all of those people on board. Of course, that would be
a crime and he would be prosecuted under our law. He would be convicted
and he would be sent to jail for seven years. But he would also be a national
hero."
The Russians, recognizing that further attempts to secure overflight ap-
proval from the frontline states would prove futile, as would be efforts to
land troops in Bosnia, stood down their airborne paratroopers. The Russian
A CREEPING COUP? * 287

inability to push reinforcements into the theater evaporated the potential for
a full-scale confrontation between NATO and Russia. The Russian elements
at the airfield were effectively isolated. The Yugoslav military continued its
total withdrawal, and NATO established its position across the province. For
good or bad, the international community had taken stewardship of Kosovo.
The war was over.
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11
CHAPTER

The Aftermath

Serbs Outf NATO In, Refugees


Allowed to Go Home
By June 15, 1999, drama had largely given way to farce at the Slatina airfield.
Russia was left without a supply line to provide even basics such as food and
water to its troops at the airport. General Zavarzin's men were reduced to
negotiating for basic rations with the same NATO peacekeepers they had
worked so hard to upstage. Eventually, British soldiers hauled much-needed
water to the Russian troops to hold them over until a truck convoy carrying
food and fuel could arrive overland from Bosnia.
Secretary of Defense Cohen and Defense Minister Sergeyev arrived in
Helsinki on June 16 to finalize arrangements for Russia's participation in
KFOR, beginning talks in what President Ahtisaari called a "clammy atmo-
sphere." The importance of having prevented the Russians from reinforcing
their positions was immediately apparent. As one of the U.S. negotiators in
Helsinki put it, "I don't think the Russians knew what they were doing. In
general, we had checkmated them. If we hadn't, we would have had a really
big mess. We were lucky, and they were lucky, that it really was symbolic."
On June 17, Minister Ivanov and Secretary Albright joined Sergeyev and
Cohen. Right up until the last half hour of talks, the Russians kept insisting
that they would put a force of 10,000 troops on the ground in Kosovo be-

289
290 * COLLISION COURSE

cause that would put them on par with the major powers, leading one U.S.
negotiator to privately insist the Russians were bluffing: "They don't have
it, and can't sustain it."
Late in the evening of June 18, after more than thirty hours of conten-
tious negotiations conducted over three days, Sergeyev and Ivanov made a
trip to the Russian embassy to seek final approval from President Yeltsin in
Moscow. After getting a green light, the United States and Russia finally
reached agreement on the role of Russian forces in KFOR. President Ahti-
saari announced the breakthrough: "Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I
welcome you all to this occasion and I do apologize for this very late hour
but, like so often, it's always worthwhile to wait for the good things to
come." Sergeyev and Cohen signed their agreement shortly before eleven in
the evening. Neither General Ivashov nor General Foglesongboth key
players in the talksattended the signing ceremony.
The bottom line: Russian would not be given its own sector. Indeed, Rus-
sia's presence3,600 troopswould be scattered across four sectors, patrol-
ling southern areas of Kosovo commanded by American, French, and
German troops and continuing to serve alongside the British at the airport.
NATO would be in charge of all flight plans and issues relating to airspace.
Marshall Sergeyev insisted Russia would retain "complete political and
military control" over its forces, although the troops would serve under the
respective national commands of the NATO countries in charge of each sec-
tor. By distributing forces across more than one sector, the Russians were
able to claim they were represented across all of Kosovo. Russia's potential
force of 3,600 men would be spread thin among 45,000 NATO peacekeep-
ers. After the many long nights and endless negotiations, Russia had no sec-
tor of its own. The peacekeeping arrangements left NATO with political
control of KFOR and had Russian troops answering to NATO national
commanders. The final peacekeeping configuration, while slightly more
complicated, was a lot like the one in place in Bosnia. Once again, token
numbers of Russian troops were cooperating in a NATO-led operation with
only a paper-thin guise of military independence.
On June 20, 1999, Chancellor Schroeder welcomed a slightly shaky Presi-
dent Boris Yeltsin to the G-8 Summit in Germany with a bear hug, and the
Russian president told reporters, "The most important thing is to mend ties
after a fight." As Yeltsin sat down with Blair, Chirac, Clinton, and the other
G-8 leaders, he declared, "I am among my friends now." Russia's ties with
THE AFTERMATH * 291

the West, including much-needed financial assistance, had been preserved


despite the travails of Kosovo. Although Yeltsin was plainly in the twilight of
his career and suffering from a rapidly deteriorating physical state, Western
leaders eager to put Kosovo behind them glossed over concerns about his
health and leadership. "He can't run a marathon but he is in good form,"
optimistically observed Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
At one o'clock at the Renaissance Hotel in Cologne, Yeltsin and Clinton
sat down together. It was the seventeenth, and next to last, face-to-face meet-
ing between the two men in their official capacity. Before the session, Yeltsin
launched into a violent and sustained coughing fit that required the attention
of his personal physician. Secretary Albright, National Security Adviser
Berger, Deputy Secretary Talbott, Foreign Minister Ivanov, Deputy Foreign
Minister Mamedov, and several others joined the two presidents.
Both Clinton and Yeltsin agreed that Kosovo had pushed the relationship
dangerously close to a breaking point, and they were pleased that they could
discuss a range of other issues that had been put to the side because of Ko-
sovo, such as arms control agreements and international financial assistance.
After the meeting, Berger happily declared the two countries to be "back in
business."
In an interview with CNN, President Clinton was asked if Kosovo had
established a "Clinton Doctrine," leading him to reply:

I think there's an important principle here that I hope will be now upheld in
the futureand not just by the United States, not just by NATO, but also by
the leading countries of the world, through the United Nations. And that is
that while there may be a great deal of ethnic and religious conflict in the
worldsome of it might break out in warsthat whether within or beyond
the borders of a country, if the world community has the power to stop it, we
ought to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Clinton saw three conditions for such intervention by the United States:
if there was a moral imperative, such as stopping ethnic cleansing; if the set-
ting was of strategic importance; and lastly, if the intervention could be car-
ried out without too steep a price. The logic of Clinton's theory was so broad
and conditional as to leave most foreign policy experts simply shrugging
their shoulders.
In Kosovo, ethnic Albanian refugees poured back into the province at an
292 it COLLISION COURSE

astounding rate. By June 17, as many as 1,000 refugees an hour were return-
ing to the province. Some 600,000 Kosovar Albanians refugees returned to
their homes in the first month after NATO forces arrived. By late November
1999, all but 30,000 of the more than 800,000 refugees had returned. These
statistics are remarkable in there own right, but even more so when one con-
siders the record elsewhere in the region. Out of the more than 1,000,000
refugees created by the war in Bosnia, only 55,000 returned in the first three
years after that conflict. In sharp contrast, Kosovo's Serb population declined
dramatically after the war, with at least 75,000 of Kosovo's 180,000 to
200,000 Serbs fleeing the province fairly quickly. By June 18, 1999, traffic
jams of departing Serb civilians stretched for forty miles in some parts of
Kosovo. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's plan to fundamentally
alter Kosovo's ethnic landscape had dramatically backfired.
In early August 1999, NATO's Supreme Commander Gen. Wesley Clark
was informed by telephone that he would be relieved of his post several
months early, in a move that left him "stunned." The Pentagon defended
the move as a bureaucratic necessity, saying that Clark's successor, Gen. Joe
Ralston, had to be given the post before he was forced to retire due to mili-
tary regulations. Few accepted the Pentagon explanation at face value, and
General Clark had won the war only to lose his job. Clark's bitter relations
with Secretary Cohen and General Shelton were clearly at the root of the
problem. Indeed, Shelton would later comment, "I will tell you the reason
he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues,
things that are very near and dear to my heart." Shelton clearly felt that
Clark's frequent back channels to the White House, which were often en-
couraged by the National Security Council staff, overstepped the bounds.
While many pointed to Clark's aggressive style as the primary cause of his
downfall, it was these same traits that may well have allowed NATO to pre-
vail in Kosovo.
In February 2000, Russian President Putin restored his country's ties with
NATO, leading Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to observe of the Ko-
sovo war, "What happened, happened. Let us leave it for history."
Milosevic's many failures finally came home to roost in late September of
2000. In a presidential election many observers thought would simply reaf-
firm his hold on power, challenger Vojislav Kostunica scored an upset vic-
tory. Milosevic had lost his sway over Serbia's nationalists, and Kostunicaa
staunch nationalist in his own rightwas able to patch together a broad
THE AFTERMATH * 293

mandate of voters simply fed up with the Yugoslav president's disastrous pol-
icies. After Milosevic resisted the election results, massive street protests and
a general strike erupted. As hundreds of thousands of protestors flooded the
streets of Belgrade calling for his ouster, he appeared on state television on
October 6, 2000, to concede defeat to Kostunica. Milosevic was subse-
quently arrested for a variety of offenses in March of 2001. In late June of
2001, Milosevic was delivered to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes. As
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke observed, "Losing Kosovo absolutely cost
Milosevic his hold on power. That is the great consequence of Kosovo so
far."

Reluctant Warriors

In the final analysis, President Clinton and NATO's other leaders pulled to-
gether more than they pulled apart. Collectively, they realized that a military
defeat or a half-baked political compromise would carry steep costs for the
transatlantic political, economic, and strategic agenda. Failure would have
cast doubt on the future of NATO as an organization and deeply compro-
mised its ability to expand the community of democracies and open markets
eastward. Worse still, Slobodan Milosevic would not only have persevered,
he would have triumphed. NATO would have proved unable to check be-
havior and values anathema to the norms of the international community.
Instability in the Balkans would have further accelerated. Collapse in Kosovo
would have also been a devastating political fiasco in Washington and Eu-
rope.
Kosovo marked a reluctant watershed for Europe's ability to project force
and defend shared values. Despite the frequent missteps of the Kosovo cam-
paign, the worth of such a triumph should not be underestimated. In a world
where the United Nations has repeatedly proven incapable of effectively su-
pervising military operations or addressing civil conflict, regional security or-
ganizations must develop the capacity to keep order in their own backyards.
NATO demonstrated that while the task is not easy, it is also not impossible.
Milosevic's eventual demise was a prize worth fighting for. While one may
rightly question the wisdom of NATO's strategy, the Alliance was able to
meet its goals: Kosovo was left within Yugoslavia, but under international
administration. Milosevic was defeated, but Kosovar Albanians were denied
294 * COLLISION COURSE

immediate independence. Such a delicate arrangement demanded broad po-


litical consensus, and NATO waged the proportional conflict needed to se-
cure such carefully delimited goals. Sandy Berger contended, "It is possible
to fight a war with nineteen nations. It is impossible without intense Ameri-
can leadership at every level. I never have bought the indispensable nation
thing, it has always bothered me because it sounds a little too much trium-
phalist, but when it comes to something like this America has to lead."
In Kosovo, President Clinton was faced with unpalatable choices but,
given the nature of the political and institutional restraints he faced, charted
a reasonable, albeit politically timid, course. The president was emerging
from an impeachment battle that had almost brought down the government.
He could have ignored the conflict, and subjected his administration to
withering criticism that it was impotent in the face of wholesale human suf-
fering. Clinton also could have pushed the issue of ground troops far earlier,
knowing such an approach lacked congressional support, would risk substan-
tial casualties, and had the potential to rupture NATO.
Clinton split the difference, authorizing an air war designed first to mini-
mize his political vulnerability and second to achieve its goals. His behavior
was entirely logical from a political and institutional perspective, and it
speaks volumes about the inherent limits of intervening in civil wars with
democratic coalitions. It took a series of bad judgments for Clinton to end
up in such a mess, but the president's considerable political instincts, persua-
sive abilities, and tactical skills all allowed him to emerge from the crisis in
surprisingly good shape. Sandy Berger commented, "I don't think anybody
expected we could go through Kosovo without one hostile casualty. But
there is a proportionality that comes into play when you have something like
Kosovo that is not a direct threat to America's vital interests, but which I
believe was certainly a threat to our national interests. Losing thousands of
Americans would have been very difficult." General Clark offered a similar
view: "If we were engaged in wartime operations to turn back aggression
against our allies, then casualties would be more or less accepted." However,
Clark also maintained, " 'voluntary' operations that incurred casualties might
not be sustainable. Period."
Both NATO and Milosevic could easily have climbed down from their
confrontation in its earliest stages, and NATO was not bent on destroying
Yugoslavia simply to prove that it could so. However, by driving hundreds
THE AFTERMATH * 295

of thousands of refugees out of Kosovo, Milosevic ensured that it was impos-


sible to sweep Kosovo under the rug. Absent this behavior, NATO would
not have acted in a decisive fashion.
In choosing to use limited means to achieve limited goals, President Clin-
ton threaded the needle between inaction and moving forward with a ground
war at the campaign's outset. Vice President Gore's national security advisor,
Leon Fuerth, acknowledged the administration's thinking was more directly
conditioned by Somalia than Vietnam, but that, "The officers who were
doing the planning here had been young officers in Vietnam and they carried
through their years of lessons learned in that conflict. Those lessons didn't
necessarily mean, 'Never get involved in a ground war,' but they meant only
'get involved under certain circumstances.' "
Launching democratic military action involving multiple partners against
an imploding state such as Yugoslavia stacks complexity on complexity. For
example, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was a clear assault of the vital national
interests of numerous states. The political goal of the first Gulf War coalition
was relatively straightforward: get Iraq out of Kuwait. In Kosovo, the threat
to the national interests of NATO member states was less clear-cut and the
political goal was painstakingly nuanced: establish Kosovo as an interna-
tional protectorate under NATO military control with a UN mandate while
maintaining Yugoslavia's territorial integrity in the short term, but not elimi-
nating the possibility of independence in the long term. In Kosovo, the inter-
national community showed that it was willing to stand on principle, at least
in some cases, in opposing crimes against humanity. It also demonstrated
that its patience with leaders such as Milosevic while large, is not infinite.
This should cause other despots around the world to hesitate before they
move to brutally repress their own citizens while dismissing these actions as
internal matters.
Kosovo was a trying experience for the Alliance because of the difficulty
of forging a shared vision in dealing with the complex situation. It would be
foolish to suggest that some new era of humanitarian intervention has been
ushered in because NATO's vast military machine was able to overwhelm
Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. NATO, having committed to military action,
soon realized that it had dramatically raised the stakes. Instead of the fate of
Kosovo, the Alliance was soon fighting for its survival as an institution. It is
unfortunate that most European and American leaders did not recognize the
ultimate threat to regional integration and security posed by the situation in
296 * COLLISION COURSE

the Balkans far earlierparticularly in the early 1990s as Yugoslavia began


to disintegrate. Both U.S. and European institutions must ultimately trace
much of the blame for Kosovo back to earlier policy missteps. By failing
repeatedly to check aggression in Bosnia, Croatia, and elsewhere, the interna-
tional community set the table for its later troubles. Kosovo was not some
separate or unique phenomena; it was part of the gloomy fabric of repeated
calamities that have befallen the Balkans since the end of the Cold War. If
the European members of NATO had been more confident in their vision
of an inclusive Europe earlier in the decade, they likely would have been
quicker to understand the fundamental threat that emanated from virulently
nationalist leaderships in Belgrade and Zagreb. It was only the West's long
track record of timidity, compromise, and half-baked threats that embold-
ened the different factions within Yugoslaviaparticularly Milosevic'sto
feel they could act with impunity.
To focus on European failures in dealing with the issue of Yugoslavia in
its early stages by no means recuses the United States from its share of blame.
Both the senior Bush and Clinton administrations were guilty of hoping that
the difficulties in the region would simply go away. It was only after repeated
bumbling, and horrific public accounts of civilian casualties that the United
States and NATO were finally compelled to take decisive military action
against Serb forces first in Bosnia and later in Kosovo.
Three wars in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosniaall driven by Milosevic
passed without any attacks by western Europe into Serbia proper. Only be-
latedly, in a fourth war in Kosovo, did the West see fit to make Milosevic
and his supporters directly feel the pain of their actions. Transatlantic policy
toward the Balkans was so poorly conceived and executed throughout the
1990s that by 1999 further convulsions in the regionwhatever their
formwere inevitable.
A case can be made that if NATO had brought the true cost of war home
to the people of Serbia earlier and more forcefully, Milosevic would have
taken a far different course in Bosnia and Kosovo. It is no accident that Mi-
losevic only lasted in office fifteen months after NATO's strikes into Serbia.
Milosevic understood that the West preferred negotiation to combat. He
knew how to manipulate the media and to gain every possible advantage
from collateral damageboth real and staged. He had capitalized on all
these factors repeatedly. He knew NATO was not good at hard choices.
Milosevic's biggest failure was in not realizing that the weaknesses he ex-
THE AFTERMATH * 297

ploited were skin deep. The United States and NATO would use their vast
military power in defending vital interests, and institutional pride is ulti-
mately one of those interests. Milosevic had danced on the lip of the volcano
for so long that he forgot that there was a reason that powerful nations like
China and Russia genuinely fear NATO. Western nations have incredible
economic, military, and strategic tools at their disposal, and when used prop-
erly, few nations can withstand their brunt. In the long view of history,
NATO will be given credit for ensuring that all of Milosevic's victories were
Pyrrhic. Under Milosevic's watch, Yugoslavia shrank geographically, its stan-
dards of living sharply declined, and the nation's status was steadily reduced
to that of a pariah. Instead of the grand dream of a "greater Serbia" stretch-
ing across the republics of Yugoslavia, more and more Serbian refugees from
Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo were herded into a "Lesser Serbia." Milosevic
can rest assured his lasting legacy will be that of national ruin.
NATO sowed dangerous seeds in the way it resolved Kosovo, leaving
some important issues unresolved, including Kosovo's final status and how
best to stem ethnic Albanian militant movements in the region. By kicking
the can of Kosovo's political status down the road, NATO ensured the mat-
ter will be dealt with at a time when they will be less engaged with the issue
and the Serbs and Kosovar Albanians even more engaged, leaving the Alli-
ance with little in the way of leverage. In the days following the war, General
Clark noted to author Michael Ignatieff, "There is no peace settlement. The
ultimate division of political power has not been settled."
Ambassador Holbrooke insisted that one critical policy he disagreed with
was "the decision to put Kosovo under the United Nations, to which I am
still totally opposed. I think it was a tremendous mistake. We should have
followed the Bosnia model where the high representative is responsible to an
ad hoc group, which means he is responsible basically to us, and the British
and French and the Europeans." Holbrooke argued, "The worst conse-
quence of putting Kosovo's administration under the United Nations is still
ahead of us: which is the final negotiations over Kosovo's final status, in
which the United Nations will run those negotiations and they will be much
harder to conduct than if they were done in the ad hoc, U.S.-led fashion
that the Dayton talks were." Another senior administration official dismissed
Holbrooke's complaints as a "formalistic quibble," and both Berger and Al-
bright argued to Holbrooke at the time that there was little support among
the allies for an alternative to the UN model.
298 * COLLISION COURSE

President Ahtisaari continued to defend his position that a limited num-


ber of Yugoslav "stay-behinds" should have been allowed in the peace agree-
ment with Milosevic. "If there was an understanding that less than 1,000
Serbs would be allowed to stay, they should have been allowed to stay. The
mere fact that they had to go out and then return was not practical." Ahti-
saari argued that it became impossible for any of these Serbs to return and
that an alternative approach might have eased the transformation process,
"Now, I don't think we have any choice but to give Kosovo independence.
It leaves a bit of a bad aftertaste that so many Serbs had to leave. Whether we
can have a multiethnic society is unclear. It is dangerous to have monoethnic
societies such as the way Kosovo is developing."

Alliances and Military Strategy at Odds

The downsides of NATO's consensus military approach in Kosovo have


been widely publicized, as critics have heaped scorn on NATO's incremental
and risk-averse approach to the war. The long buildup to the conflict, the
mismanaged Rambouillet negotiations, initially ruling out the use of ground
troops, hopes for a short bombing campaign, and painful arguments over
targeting all allowed the Yugoslavs to drag out the fighting. NATO's decision
to keep its pilots at relatively high altitudes increased the risk of collateral
damage while reducing the ability to inflict meaningful military damage.
No aspect of NATO's campaign has received greater critical scrutiny than
the targeting for air attacks. Some even called the strategy a "Goldilocks" air
campaignnot too hard, not too soft. These discussions are interesting for
what they say about military tactics, but also offer powerful illumination that
coalition warfare has pushed defense officials into uneasy waters. Air Force
Lt. Gen. Michael Short was an especially vocal detractor of the Alliance's
tactics in the wake of the war, saying he would have "gone for the head of
the snake on the first night" of the campaign to "turn the lights out" in
Belgrade. Short argued, "If you hit the man hardslapped him upside the
headhe'd pay attention."
General Short's comments reflect the frustration of many officers who felt
that military doctrine took a back seat to political considerations during Ko-
sovo. However, too often the influence of civilians on the NATO military
campaign has been stereotyped as incompetent, unnecessary brakes on a mil-
THE AFTERMATH * 299

itary machine that could have quickly brought NATO victory. As General
Clark complained, "This was the only air campaign in history in which lov-
ers strolled down riverbanks in the gathering twilight and ate at outdoor
cafes and watched the fireworks." Likewise, General Short wanted to strike
the "rock and roll bridge" where the Serbs were dancing in the early part of
the war.
There is also a case to be made that the diffuse influence of the coali-
tion's respective members actually helped NATO achieve its goals. Let us
say that General Short had been allowed to pursue bombing as he saw fit,
launching massive attacks on downtown Belgrade the first night of the con-
flict. This was the very onset of the war, before Yugoslav forces had fully
initiated the massive expulsion of Kosovar Albanians from their homes.
What if some of those NATO bombs had gone astray in a crowded urban
area and hit a school, a hospital, or an apartment complex causing large-
scale fatalities? Would NATO still have been able to justify its war to the
world? Would U.S. public opinion have supported such dramatic action
without the hundreds of thousands of refugees huddled in Albania and
Macedonia? Would NATO's members have been able to defend involve-
ment in a war that brought wholesale destruction to a European city simply
on the basis of failed talks at Rambouillet? The answer is no. A bridge full
of dead civilians on the first night of the war, instead of forcing Milosevic
to capitulate, might have propelled him to almost instantaneous victory.
Inefficient alliances are certainly flawed, but they may also be the best tools
to secure complex political aims.
NATO was able to amplify its military attacks on Yugoslavia because the
Alliance had successfully created the perception that it was responding in a
measured and proportional way to events on the ground. Negotiations in
France turned into light bombing because Milosevic refused to take Ram-
bouillet seriously. Light bombing turned into heavy bombing because Mi-
losevic showed his face as an unrepentant purveyor of ethnic terror by
driving more than a half million Kosovars out of the country. Heavy bomb-
ing turned into planning for a ground war because NATO demonstrated
that it had exhaustively pursued a diplomatic solution.
Incrementally, but unyieldingly, increasing pressure on Belgrade while
minimizing civilian casualties was seen as the behavior of a security alliance
committed to broader democratic and humanist values. During the war, au-
thor Michael Ignatieff observed, "NATO is much condemned for waging
300 * COLLISION COURSE

war by committee, but it is precisely because nineteen member states must


be persuaded before military action can be undertaken, that such action has
not become indiscriminate or disproportionate." The embrace of these val-
ues has allowed NATO to become an effective political, as well as military,
instrument. NATO may well have achieved its military goals more quickly
by launching something closer to total war, but it might have destroyed the
Alliance's broader political and social agenda.
The Alliance did stray far too close to disaster and dissolution. NATO
risked disaster because it was poorly positioned at the onset of the cam-
paignboth military and politicallyto effectively see a proportional re-
sponse through to its ultimate conclusion. It was clearly a mistake to take
the option of ground troops off the table at the beginning of the war. NATO
should have made clear that it was willing to escalate force in direct response
to Milosevic's obstinacy, and should have done so from the beginning.
NATO was ill-situated to efficiently carry out such a finely graded approach
at a time when continued resistance by Milosevic was a distinct reality.
Nowhere was the tension among the Allies more acute than in the discus-
sions of the ground option. While NATO's increasing seriousness about a
ground war was an important factor in tipping the military and diplomatic
balance in its favor, it was a hugely controversial issue. When Secretary
Cohen was asked if a consensus would have emerged for the use of ground
troops if there had been stronger leadership from the United States, he was
dismissive, "I think it's easy to sit on the sidelines and say, if only we had
led, they would have followed. But none of those people were part of those
conversations. We found strong opposition." General Clark takes a diametri-
cally opposite view, arguing that the Alliance would have responded to more
robust leadership. The reality lies somewhere in between.
Jim Steinberg pointed out that the issue of ground troops during the Ko-
sovo war needs to be considered within a broader framework. "You don't
have a strong consensus for a deployment of American troops under almost
any set of circumstances these daysand I don't care who the president is.
. . . Look at Desert Storm and how hard it was for President Bush to get
support for the use of ground troops there." The deeper politics of American
international engagement and the use of ground troops continue to make
the United States a reluctant superpower. Indeed, the terror attacks on the
United States on September 11, 2001, and the massive loss of American life
THE AFTERMATH * 301

was the only case in decades where there has been overwhelming bipartisan
support for deploying U.S. armed forces with very little debate.
Ambassador Holbrooke contended that the matter of ground troops in
Kosovo was overplayed. "One way or the other, Milosevic was going to end
the bombing. We were never going to have to invade. That was one of the
great myths of 1999: that we should have invaded. Why should we have
invaded? We went through this and did not lose a single person, got every-
thing we wanted, and the only problem was that we did not ask for enough.
Milosevic had to get the bombing stopped; it was destroying his country."
Yet, planning for the ground option was instrumental in pressuring Russia
to agree to NATO's terms. Signs that the Alliance was improving roads in
Albania and had approved a plan to forward deploying into Hungary were
decisive. For the Russians, it was the lesser of two evils: settle with Washing-
ton or have NATO march through the middle of Europe to Belgrade.
NATO's war also highlighted the continuing need to improve command
and control arrangements within the Alliance. General Charles Krulak ob-
served, "When we go to war and we go to war as a coalition, there's got to
be an ability of the commander to make the call and not have to go through
a committee in order to get his decisions blessed." This was a formula that
the Alliance increasingly adopted during the war and, in many ways, NATO
was fortunate that it could have its operational ability tested in a conflict that
did not involve fundamental threats to the survival of member states.
In the Department of Defense's after-action report, the Pentagon ac-
knowledged, "The United States must work with our NATO allies to de-
velop an over-arching command and control policy and an agreement for
the policy's implementation." This is a remarkable admission for a military
alliance that has been in business for over half a century. The dispute be-
tween General Jackson and General Clark regarding the Slatina operation
are of particular relevance in this regard. While both Clark and Jackson's
positions had merit, it is disturbing from an organizational perspective that
at a moment of high crisis, flag officers debated strategy back up the chain
of command. As Clark emphasized, "What it says for the future is you'd
better damn well have thought through the policies before you run through
the operations." The whole episode also underscored the prerogative of na-
tions within the NATO command structure. Jackson could go to London
and appeal a direct order from a commander and get political backing to
refuse to execute an order. "That is not necessarily a bad thing," U.S. Am-
302 * COLLISION COURSE

bassador to NATO Sandy Vershbow argued. "NATO is an alliance based on


consensus and the voluntary consent of members. If NATO was run like the
Warsaw Pact, it probably would not still be around either." However, the
Slatina episode demonstrated a very serious issue that NATO will have to
address over time.
12
CHAPTER

Conclusion: Hard Lessons

Diplomacy in the Whirlwind


The extensive diplomacy chronicled in these pages was an essential element
of NATO's political and military approach to waging the war in Kosovo.
Diplomacy served as a critical element in maintaining coalition unity and
bolstering international support for NATO's actions, yet some of the most
important talks during this crisis were those which took place within the
Alliance. While Secretary Albright has received deserved criticism for her role
in the Rambouillet negotiations and her generally tepid management of the
Department of State, far less attention has been paid to the role of her diplo-
macy once the conflict began. In retrospect, the foreign ministers of the
United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy deserve high marks
for their intensive collaboration. The foreign ministers and their subordi-
nates were in constant contact, and their efforts amounted to a standing
committee for guiding NATO's war.
From issues surrounding targeting to the potential ground war, each na-
tion had distinct and deeply held convictions. The labors of the foreign min-
isters never erased these differences but certainly helped contain and soften
them. Due largely to their close coordination, the ministers presented both
the Russians and the Yugoslavs with a united front. This common face
backed by the threat of escalating forceultimately led both the Russians

303
304 * COLLISION COURSE

and Yugoslavs to accept NATO's terms. NATO's internal negotiations were


messy and exhausting, but produced the desired result. However, the Alli-
ance should also not delude itself: This unity was dangerously shallow. "Part
of the story, of course, is that the much-vaunted resolve of the Alliance was
incredibly fragile," conceded a senior administration official. "I just don't
know how long we could have kept it up."
The work of Albright, British Foreign Secretary Cook, and German For-
eign Minister Fischer was essential in getting other NATO nations to allow
military commanders such as Clark and Short greater latitude in carrying out
attacks on a broader array of targets, while the French effectively framed the
dangers of collateral damage. By giving both Clark and Secretary-General
Solana increasing measures of authority, NATO was able to minimize the
number of diplomatic disputes among its ambassadors in Brussels and make
the military operation increasingly effective. By the end of the war, both Al-
bright and Cook were reasonably well positioned to secure reluctant sup-
portor at least nonoppositionfor a ground war. The foreign ministers
also worked assiduously to draw other nations in the region to the Alliance's
cause. Allied diplomacy was vital in keeping Albania and Macedonia on
board with NATO's plan despite the high cost they faced. Allied diplomatic
efforts were also vital in securing the support of other frontline states such as
Bulgaria and Romania, and the continual effort to expand the number of
nations backing NATO's efforts was key in isolating Yugoslavia.
The trilateral diplomacy between the United States, Russia, and Finland
was a curious creation. The United States signed on to the trilateral process
to contain Russian anger, to demonstrate to its allies that it was pursuing a
diplomatic solution, and to buy time for more bombing. Certainly from a
military perspective, every day that the United States and others engaged the
Finns and Russians in talks was another twenty-four hours that NATO was
able to bomb Yugoslavia; a more modern version of Chairman Mao's "fight,
fight, talk, talk" axiom. Public opinion in NATO member nations clearly
supported diplomatic efforts to end the crisis, and the scores of hours dedi-
cated to the talks demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that NATO
was not driven by remorseless military conquest. Active diplomatic efforts
were vital in preserving NATO's image as the defender of stability and de-
mocracy in Europe.
Over time (and much to the surprise of some of the participants), the
trilateral talks actually worked. Diplomacy became more than a veneer. The
CONCLUSION: HARD LESSONS * 305

intensive negotiations produced a result that met the Alliance's bottom lines,
stopped the bombing, and allowed virtually all of the Kosovar refugees to
return home. Given NATO's dominant military and economic position,
such an outcome should be expected, although few thought it would be se-
cured through the trilateral channel. Much of the credit for the success of
the talks belongs to the intrepid efforts of the respective negotiators
Chernomyrdin, Ahtisaari, and Talbottwho fought hard to keep talks alive
when prospects were bleak.
The involvement of the Finns was something of a coup, from both insti-
tutional and personal perspectives. Finnish participation allowed the EU to
be represented in the talks without effectively giving that body a veto over
proposals. Ahtisaari's role was key in holding together the loose European
consensus supporting the diplomacy, and in an almost endless stream of con-
versations, the Finnish president kept his EU colleagues apprised of develop-
ments in both Moscow and Washington. Finnish involvement also helped
comfort the Russians and eased the appearance that Kosovo was a Cold War
re-creation, pitting East against West. Simply having a third party in the
room during talks between Russia and the United States helped create a less
polarizing dynamic.
By engaging with Russia and Chernomyrdin, NATO gained a steady line
of communication with Belgrade and helped to ensure that the UN Security
Council could eventually endorse the diplomatic solution to the crisis. While
the bureaucracy in Moscow was sharply divided on Kosovo policyoften
painfully soPresident Yeltsin was able to push through a settlement that
achieved his goal of ending the bombing without rupturing Russia's ties to
the West. Most seem to agree that Russian concerns can better be addressed
directly between Washington and Moscow than through NATO channels.
No one deserves more individual credit than Chernomyrdin for forging
the peace agreement. To this day, Chernomyrdin continues to take consider-
able grief from many Russians. For example, Dr. Alexi Arbatov chided Cher-
nomyrdin's "modest intellect and illiterate manner of speaking," claiming
that while the envoy "had quite a sober intuitive view of Moscow's general
interest" he could not "tell Bosnia from Croatia." Abartov claimed that Tal-
bott outmaneuvered Chernomyrdin and that "in such a diplomatic competi-
tion there were no doubts about who would be the winner."
Others are kinder. President Yeltsin argued that during the negotiations,
Chernomyrdin displayed his best qualities: "the qualities of an old political
306 * COLLISION COURSE

fighterpatience, flexibility, and a firm will for intelligent compromise."


The fact that the trilateral diplomacy hurt Chernomyrdin politically makes
him the real hero of the events, in that he was willing to make a genuine
sacrifice for a greater good. He faced down the foreign ministry and defense
ministry and was willing personally, financially, and politically to stick his
neck out, which not many people are willing to do.
Talbott also deserves recognition for his unique role both in the trilateral
diplomacy and the stewardship of U.S. policy toward Russia as a whole. Ulti-
mately, it will be the long view of history that judges the performance of the
Clinton administration in assisting Russia's economic and political transfor-
mation, but the deputy secretary deserves solid marks for his performance
during Kosovo. He maintained firm hold of NATO's bottom lines through-
out the negotiations and kept a process alive that most gave little chance of
success.
While there is much to laud about the trilateral diplomatic effort, it is a
process that raises some concerns. The arrangement was ad hoc, pulled to-
gether in a moment of inspiration at the vice president's residence over
breakfast. There is no guarantee that the Alliance will be able to put together
as effective a process, or host of personalities, for the next crisis. The careful
balance of interests between NATO, the United States, the European Union,
and the Russians has no formal institutional construct. There is no assurance
that the United States would, or necessarily should, again be given primacy
as first among diplomatic equals. One of the reasons that the trilateral proc-
ess succeeded was that large institutions such as NATO and the EU were
willing to vest significant authority in small negotiating teams able to work
flexibly and effectively. Collectively, Ahtisaari and Talbott represented some
twenty-three nations in the talks. If more of these nations had demanded a
seat at the table, the negotiations would in all likelihood have been far less
effective in maintaining NATO's redlines. This is a lesson that large institu-
tions all too often ignore, as was the case at Rambouillet.
The nascent U.S.-Yugoslav effort to develop a secret back channel for
negotiations demonstrated that the desire to open up communications
seemed to flow almost equally from both Washington and Belgrade, al-
though such a process appears to have been equally controversial in both
capitals. The eagerness of both sides to engage directly with the "enemy" is
understandable, and in many ways it seemed a logical endgame to the con-
flict. Neither Belgrade nor Washington placed much confidence in the trilat-
CONCLUSION: HARD LESSONS * 307

eral process, and, given that the peace talks at Dayton had ended the war in
Bosnia, a face-to-face encounter had precedent. There was a hint of despera-
tion in Washington's eagerness to explore directly engaging Belgrade, al-
though administration officials have downplayed their interest in bilateral
talks in interviews after the war.
Jim Swigert of Talbott's team argued, "Had it been something that had
come to us definitively through a channel that we trusted that Milosevic was
looking for a way out and wanted to talkand had come from Milosevic
that was something we would have taken more seriously. I don't think any-
thing fell into that category." If bilateral negotiations with the Yugoslavs had
led to the acceptance of NATO's terms, there would have been a sigh of
relief within the Alliance. However, U.S. bilateral diplomacy with Milosevic
was already suspect. The final Holbrooke missions on the eve of the bomb-
ing failed, and the allies were starting to resent Washington's self-appointed
role as interlocutor with Milosevic at a time when everyone's credibility was
on the line. While Washington might have hewed a hard line in talks with
Milosevic and secured terms as tough as those forged at the Petersberg and
the border talks, it also might have been willing to soften demands, and, as
one senior diplomat observed, "If we were dealing with Milosevic directly,
there would have been no deal that was good enough."

Wither Russia?
Engaging Russia on Kosovo was a difficult blessing. Russia reluctantly sided
with the West in a fashion that created almost as many problems as it allevi-
ated. Russia helped to effectively isolate Belgrade and pushed Milosevic to
accept NATO's terms. Moscow also repeatedly broke its word, suffered a
long series of bureaucratic meltdowns, and launched a dangerous unilateral
military operation that could have placed it in a direct military confrontation
with NATO. Russia managed to look as bad as possible in the process of
producing a sound result. The Russian government was in obvious and pain-
ful turmoil throughout the conflict. President Yeltsin's health was tenuous
to the point of calling into question his control over the government, and in
the midst of vital negotiations, rivalry and obfuscation erupted between the
respective Russian ministries.
Russian rhetoric throughout the episode was bellicose and extreme. Even
308 * COLLISION COURSE

moderate voices, such as Chernomyrdin, repeatedly warned that Kosovo


could result in a sea of blood or a third world warhardly the behavior of a
modern, moderate European nation. The Russian movement of forces to the
Slatina airbase showed a Russian government perilously close to free fall,
willing to risk the potential exchange of fire with NATO forces in an effort
to improve its negotiating position. Further, the notion that the Russian pol-
ity could almost rupture under the stress of Kosovo policy does not augur
well for its behavior in times of major internal crisis. Kosovo also under-
scored the frailty of Russian civilian control over the military and intelligence
services. On a broad level, Russia's choices during the Kosovo conflict dem-
onstrate that Moscow is still grappling to shed a dominantly Cold War mind-
set as it expands its ties to the West. Too often, and particularly within its
power ministries, Russia continues to view regional security developments as
a zero-sum game: If it is good for the West, it is bad for Russia; if it is bad
for the West, it is good for Russia. The fact that Russia would risk so much
of its limited political capital in an effort to preserve Slobodan Milosevic's
power showed breath takingly limited vision.
Grand strategic considerations aside, almost all the officials involved with
the U.S.-Russian diplomacy on Kosovo identified the rather dilapidated
state of the Russian bureaucracy as a key impediment. As Jim O'Brien com-
mented, "The Russians always assumed that we were about to pull some
trick on themthey were incredibly suspiciousand always felt rushed be-
cause they didn't have time to absorb what we were pursuing. They were
consistently fearful that they were going to be put on a side that they didn't
want to be put on."
"I feel that we overestimated Russia's strategic competence," a senior U.S.
diplomat contended. "It was like playing chess with somebody who doesn't
know the rules. They knew what it should look likethey weren't batting
the pieces off the boardbut they didn't know where they were headed,
and they didn't have a bureaucracy capable of effectively going through the
motions." NATO kept confronting the Russians with fast-moving and com-
plicated issues that required Moscow to have a clear sense of their own objec-
tives and the machinery to achieve those objectives. Russia had neither.
Yet, for all the flaws in Russia's approach to the Balkans, and despite its
many strategic gaffes, Russian involvement in Kosovo was surprisingly posi-
tive. Throughout the conflict, the United States and Russia remained in con-
stant contact. Secretary Albright, National Security Advisor Berger, Deputy
CONCLUSION: HARD LESSONS * 309

Secretary Talbott, and Ambassador Collins spoke daily with a cast of charac-
ters that included Foreign Minister Ivanov, Prime Ministers Primakov and
Stepashin, Special Envoy Chernomyrdin, Deputy Foreign Minister Mamedov,
and Ambassador Ushakov. Conversations at lower bureaucratic levels were
also constant.
For all the vitriol in the public rhetoric, the Kosovo crisis provided daily
evidence of a level and breadth of fundamental engagement between Russia
and the United States that would have been unthinkable fifteen years before.
These intensive discussions took place before the trilateral effort was in place,
and were often independent of that process. As much as the two sides exas-
perated each other, both parties realized that they needed to work with the
other to resolve an issue of profound importance. In looking at both U.S.
and Russian behavior during the air campaign, the mind's eye is naturally
drawn to moments of high crisis such as Slatina. In reality, the steady traffic
of engagement during the war may be of the greatest historical significance.
Russian forces ultimately participated as peacekeepers on the ground
within established guidelines acceptable to NATO. Russian diplomatic ef-
forts were instrumental in reaching an accord with Belgrade that was unam-
biguous and achieved the international community's goals. Russian support
of the trilateral agreement effectively isolated Yugoslavia, and its diplomatic
efforts helped NATO avoid having to launch a ground war. Chernomyrdin
argued that Russia was brought into the diplomatic process precisely because
the United States and NATO "were looking for a way out. They realized it
would not be over in two or three months." Both the Russian military and
intelligence services, restrained by civilian leadership, largely avoided the re-
peated opportunities to wage a proxy war in the Balkans by providing Milo-
sevic's forces with substantial military hardware or intelligence.
Nothing illustrated Moscow's awkward stance toward the West better
than Russian public opinion. In USIA polling after the war, more than 80
percent of Russians believed that the United States sought world domina-
tion, with roughly the same number of respondents agreeing that the United
States was trying to make Russia a "second-rate power." NATO expansion,
military action in the Balkans, and continued economic difficulties all com-
bined to give Russians a very jaundiced view of their place in the world.
However, despite this growing mistrust, almost seven in ten Russians said
they believed it was in Russia's best interests to work closely with the United
States and other Western powers.
310 * COLLISION COURSE

Russia's political leadership, largely in the form of President Yeltsin, suc-


cessfully avoided letting deep public resentment of NATO's actions rupture
the nation's ties to the West. Yeltsin understood that Western support for
Russian reform was essential to keeping his country on track. He had not
fought a decade worth of internal struggles to see his legacy destroyed in a
dispute over the political machinations of Slobodan Milosevic. A Russia on
war footing with NATO would be a Russia where Communists and ultrana-
tionalists quickly replaced reform. Russian media, over time, began to reflect
a greater variety of opinions about the conflict and about the Russian troop
push to Pristinaan important sign of a functioning civil society. Even the
rush to Pristina, one of the most dangerous elements of Russia's involvement
in Kosovo, was carried out without an actual conflict breaking out between
Russian and NATO forces. Yeltsin, as always, had been emotional, unpre-
dictable, and focused on bringing a democratic Russia closer to the West.
General Jackson observed that the Russian decision to endorse the trilat-
eral agreement was "the single event that appeared to me to have the greatest
significance in ending the war." Similarly, Sandy Berger noted, "I think the
war ended metaphorically when Ahtisaari finished his presentation, Milo-
sevic turned to Chernomyrdin and asked if that was the best he could get,
and Chernomyrdin said yes. At that point, Milosevic had no external safe
harbor, no external support." According to author Tim Judah, Yugoslav For-
eign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic later noted that the loss of Russian support
was "I must admit, very relevant." Without a superpower to cling to, Yugo-
slavia was alone.
Despite serious mistakes at Rambouillet, and in the management of Bal-
kans policy as a whole, engagement with Russia during the Kosovo war was
carried out in a fashion that advanced the Alliance's overall goals without
needlessly alienating Moscow. The numerous headaches of collaboration
with an often-dysfunctional Russia pale in comparison to the cost of failing
to bring Russia into the family of modern states. Partnership and periodic
confrontation between the United States and Russia will continue to be
united in an uneasy marriage for some time.

The Trojan War

President Ahtisaari of Finland has consistently maintained since the conflict


that the Russian effort to seize the Slatina airfield was designed to effectively
CONCLUSION: HARD LESSONS * 311

partition Kosovo as part of a secret agreement with Milosevic. H e insisted


that no other explanation fully encompasses the confusing events of those
frenetic days. "I am convinced that it had been agreed between the Russian
armed forces as well as intelligence services and the Yugoslav leadership that
Russia would take control of the northern part of Kosovo and form a sector
of its own." Ahtisaari felt the secret plan explains why Milosevic approved
the peace offer he brought to Belgrade, and why the Russians worked to stall
the military-technical talks to buy more time. Ahtisaari added, " T h e Rus-
sians would have flown in 10,000 or so and they would have established
their own sector. I think it is proven. A n d Milosevic knew that. And that is
why the Russians left the mater of deployment open." Perhaps Ahtisaari is
only guilty of understatement when he suggested, "It would have been a
rather unpleasant situation."
Ahtisaari insisted:

In the back of his [Milosevic's] mind must have been this Russian plan, other-
wise I cannot see why he would accept. I do not believe this talk of the ground
offensive convinced him. Because he knew perfectly well what the mood in
NATO was. You might have gotten the United States and Great Britain to do
this, but nobody else. . . . You would never have gotten the French or the
Germans. So I come back again. Why did it go so smoothly? I had warned
Strobe, that if I were Milosevic, I would demand a second round. He may
want to replace us bothmyself and Strobeand get Albright or Gore or
someone else to come.

Ahtisaari felt that if Milosevic was aware of the Russian plan, "he must
have been terribly disappointed with the Russians when that did not actually
happen. If they had been able to fly the thousands of forcesand I don't
k n o w how many people they had in reserve, but it was thousands, a major
consignment of troopsthat would have created a fait accom pli on the
ground."
Others doubt Ahtisaari's theory. As one senior U.S. diplomat argued:

If it was a partition deal, it was a pretty poorly thought out partition scheme.
The idea that a small force of Russians would move from Bosnia down to the
airport in Pristina and then draw a new line through Kosovo and send in
reinforcements to hold that line that would be backing off entirely agreements
that they had painstakingly worked out with the United States, that had been
312 * COLLISION COURSE

enshrined in a G-8 agreement and then introduced into the Security Council,
doesn't make sense to me.

A senior Balkans expert commented, "It was a macho move to show they
were still capable of surprises, and to raise the morale of the Serbs as well.
The relative cooperation we have seen since then suggests that it wasn't a
broader plot. Milosevic may well have had this in the back of his mind, to
set up a partition line concentrated in the northern areas, but I think he was
scrambling and didn't have such a well thought out plan."
Jim Steinberg reflects the view of most of those involved when he ob-
served that "the evidence is profoundly contradictory" regarding both Rus-
sian and Yugoslav intentions. Certainly, Milosevic made every effort to
facilitate the Russian move into Kosovo, and the Russian and Yugoslav intel-
ligence and military services closely coordinated their efforts. If Milosevic
accepted the NATO demands on the basis of the hope that the Russians
would secure northern Kosovo, it was a miscalculation that ultimately ended
his career. However, it is difficult to believe that Milosevic had enough faith
in the Russian militarythe same military that had provided so little in the
way of assistance to him in the pastto place great confidence in their ability
to prevail in a direct contest of will with NATO. Perhaps Milosevic saw an
opportunity to create what he viewed as useful mayhem. A possible military
clash between NATO and Russia, a small portion of Kosovo under Russian
control, firelights between Russian forces and the KLAall were possibilities
that would provide Milosevic with openings he could potentially exploit.
It is also not clear that Russia would have been willing to endure the con-
siderable international fallout it would have experienced if it actually tried to
split Kosovo in two. The evidence on the Russian side seems to indicate
strongly that Moscow's primary goal in bringing in the troops was to im-
prove its negotiating position with NATO regarding command and control
arrangements for KFOR. Senior NATO officials acknowledge that Russia
would have gotten even less favorable command and control arrangements
without a presence on the ground in Kosovo. The Russians were correct in
believing that NATO wanted to deploy its troops first and then discuss
KFOR's structure with Russia second.
However, in strengthening their negotiating position, the Russian mili-
tary and intelligence services appeared hazardously out of control, and the
lack of coordination and professionalism between the ministries was striking.
CONCLUSION: HARD LESSONS * 313

The incident also underscored that the defense and intelligence services still
view civilian authority as something of a nicety. A Western diplomat main-
tained, "It was a scary development to see how Ivashov behaved. If this was
an indication of the freedom of movement of Russian generals, they could
do anything."
By most accounts, the Russian military was not openly insubordinate;
they were simply playing within the loose framework of rules in place in
Moscow. The trouble is that Trojan Horse exposed exactly how loose civilian
control is over the power ministries. As a U.S. diplomat argued, "The good
news, for those worried about a virtual military coup in Russia and the break
down of constitutional order, was that Yeltsin did indeed, sort of, in his fash-
ion, approve the move. The bad news was that he approved the movethus
putting on display his unpredictability, and the dangerousness of his half in/
half out state, his irascibility, and his anger at the U.S. and the West." Acting
on a general directive from Yeltsin, the military demonstrated its willingness
to engage in some very poorly thought out brinkmanship. The indepen-
dence-minded ways of the power ministries has been a fact of life since the
Soviet Union collapsed. The shallowness of Russia's strategic thinking dur-
ing Trojan Horsewhen it was willing to trade the wide range of its growing
cooperation with the West to assuage the resentments of Soviet-era gener-
alsis astounding.
As a senior Clinton administration official argued, it was as if the "anger
and humiliation of watching NATO bomb Yugoslavia had a kind of delayed
reaction." The Russian leadershipand Russian common sensehad man-
aged to keep the worst of the Russian reaction in check throughout the
bombing, "only to stumble into the single biggest crisis in U.S.-Russian rela-
tions of the postCold War period, and arguably the first military confronta-
tion since the Cuban Missile Crisis."
Of equal importance is the United States and NATO response to the Rus-
sian actions. As previously noted, the splits between Generals Clark and
Jackson highlight a serious problem within NATO regarding its own com-
mand and control. Further, officials still debate over which of these two men
had the sounder approach for responding to Trojan Horse. Sandy Berger
reflected on the debate over how best to deal with the Russian maneuver.
"Suddenly, we find out that this unit has gone from Bosnia into Pristina. . . .
The only issues that night were over what was the best way, tactically, to deal
with the Russians." Berger concluded, "A military confrontation with the
314 * COLLISION COURSE

Russians was not wise. I think ultimately that was the right decision." A
senior NATO official largely agreed, "It was a tactical setback, but in military
terms there were risks of actual exchanges of fire with Russian forces that
would not have been a good way to start the operation. Probably in hind-
sight, the British were right: We simply did not effectively have the means
to capture the airport before the Russians did."
In contrast, one senior NATO official argued, "Now it doesn't matter,
but in the sense that the Russians could have learned that those heavy-
handed tactics don't pay, and that they result in humiliation, it probably
would have been worth it. But nobody wanted the aggravation." General
Clark was justified in seeking to take swift and decisive action to prevent
Russian forces from seizing the Slatina airfield and creating new facts on the
ground. Russian behavior had been disruptive and erratic, and the presence
of thousands of Russian troops on the ground in Kosovo absent an agree-
ment with NATO would have spelled disaster. That said, Jackson's less-con-
frontational approach to dealing with the Russians has a powerful argument
on its side: It worked. A military clash was avoided and the Russian troops
at the airport were effectively isolated.
Jim Steinberg added his view, "Things worked out, but to this day I am
not satisfied I know the answer to whether the Russians fully knew what
their objectives were or if they just launched the operation. I am inclined to
a fairly malign view of their intentions, particularly with the extreme effort
to reinforce their positions. It was a terrific piece of diplomacy, and the single
best endorsement for NATO expansion, that we got the Hungarians and
Romanians to block the airspace." Russia's behavior during the Slatina epi-
sode only served to push its neighbors closer to the arms of NATO and the
Westyet another strategic blunder on Moscow's part. Instead of strength-
ening their regional position, Russia often seems to be acting like the chair
of a NATO membership drive.
There is no better illustration of Europe's ongoing transformation than
the saga of Russian attempts to secure overflight clearances from the states
bordering Kosovo. As the prime ministers and foreign ministers of Ukraine,
Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary wrestled with the question of granting per-
mission for overflights, they each made a conscious decision that risking Rus-
sia's ire was far preferable to burning their bridges to the West. The
desirability of prospective membership in the European Union, NATO, and
other institutions burned bright in their minds. These nations also shared a
CONCLUSION: HARD LESSONS * 315

common belief that Russian adventurism in Kosovo might make Russian


adventurism in their own territory more likely.
Perhaps the most important lesson of the Slatina episode is that Russia
simply had not yet earned the trust of the international community. The
pull toward adventurism and obstructionism are still too strong in the de-
fense and intelligence services for Western military officials to view Moscow
as a genuine partner. The rush to Slatina provides the perfect illustration of
why Russia did not deserve to have its own peacekeeping sector.

What Putin Learned

It is no surprise that the complexion of Russia's leadership changed dramati-


cally when President Yeltsin stood down on January 1, 2000, and appointed
Vladimir Putin as his successor. Vowing economic reforms and a tough stand
toward Chechnya, Putin swept to a comfortable election margin in March
2000. However, concerns lingered that Putin would tilt Russia to an increas-
ingly authoritarian bent given his earlier career as a KGB officer, and early
efforts by Putin to crack down on the Russian press heightened these fears.
President George W. Bush took office in the United States in January 2001
after campaigning on getting tough with Moscow and a steady drumbeat of
"Who lost Russia?" questions. It appeared that the U.S.-Russian relation-
ship might remain in a long down cycle.
The entire Kosovo war raised the larger question of whether Russia's tilt
to a "strong" leader such as President Putin was an inevitable by-product
of NATO expansion and the Alliance's use of force in the Balkans. Some
commentators claimed that Putin's rise was a natural reflection of Russia's
anger and frustration with NATO's bombing of Kosovo and a belief that
Russians needed an iron hand to deal with the West and with internal prob-
lems like Chechnya. However, the consensus seems to be that the entire ex-
perience of the first decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall was so painful for
Russia that a backlash was almost inevitable. Strobe Talbott observed, "I
think the world underestimates how many concessions we got out of the
Russians for seven years. We underestimate the price to be paid for that in
terms of toughness we encountered after Yeltsin, and Kosovo was a big part
of thatmuch more so than NATO enlargement. NATO enlargement
would have gone much, much more smoothly if the enlarged NATO had
316 * COLLISION COURSE

then not promptly gone to war." Similarly, a senior U.S. diplomat confided,
"We knew since 1991 that this would come, a period of nostalgia and long-
ing for a strong hand." While a swing to the right may have been the inevita-
ble by-product of the hard realities of Russian reform, Kosovo did mark a
rise in influence of the military and intelligence services that continues until
today, and will continue to be a problem in the future.
As one White House official noted during the conflict, Russia's long his-
torical experience had molded a national character that seemed incapable of
understanding "winning without cruelty." In that respect, the Russians must
have been truly puzzled by the actions of the United States. Despite a domi-
nant military position, the United States continually reached out to weaker
adversaries and partners. Unable to understand the Kosovo intervention in
humanitarian terms, Moscow had to see it as part of a larger plot to under-
mine Russia. Throughout the marathon negotiations to end the war, the
Americans endured Russia's unpredictability, raised voices, and long negoti-
ating sessions patiently, in measured tones, while giving very little ground.
Perhaps this was a new form of U.S. crueltyrationality used as a blunt
instrument of political will. Maybe the real power of the United States was
measured in the dispassionate tones of vast economic power and military
might held largely in check.
The terror attacks on Washington and New York of September 11, 2001,
abruptly changed the calculus of U.S.-Russian relations. For many, Septem-
ber 11 seemed to signal a fundamental shift in U.S.-Russian relations, with
much being made of the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin was the
first foreign leader to telephone President George W. Bush to express both
his concern and support in the wake of the attacks. Certainly, the notion
that Russia would acquiesce to what will likely be a long-term U.S. military
presence in the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikis-
tan borders on the revolutionary and would have been difficult to imagine
without the events of September 11. Yet, it is probably wiser to look at Pu-
tin's foreign policy as far more evolutionary than revolutionary and his views
were deeply shaped by the Kosovo experience that took place as his rise
through the ranks of power was approaching its most meteoric.
By siding with the United States after September 11, President Putin was
able to do in one fell swoop something that had evaded Russia since the
Soviet Union had crumbled: He was able to define Russia as fundamentally
Western in civilizational terms. After September 11, Putin was astute enough
CONCLUSION: HARD LESSONS * 317

to understand that all the concerns about Chechnya, corruption, stalled re-
forms, and still-lingering Soviet mind-sets could be largely supplanted by
one bold stroke of fundamental partnership. Instead of constantly being vili-
fied as "Milosevic's defense attorney," Russia could be seen as an ally against
Osama bin Laden. This was also a canny reading of American President
George W. Bush, a man whose approach to foreign policy has relied more
on personalities and broad strokes rather than nuance.
It is not hard to understand the appeal of cooperation for Putin. First, it
would make it more likely that he could realize his fundamental goal of
achieving closer economic integration with the West, which he has always
seen as essential to restoring Russia's status as a great power. Second, Putin
reflexively understood that partnership would help galvanize the interna-
tional community to deal with the "green wave" of Islamic extremism that
Russian policymakers had long cited as a central strategic threat, while blunt-
ing criticism of Russia's often-brutal actions in Chechnya. After seeing U.S.
military power on display in Kosovo, what could be better for Russia than
having the United States do the dirty work of driving the Taliban out of
Afghanistan?
It is also telling that the initial reaction of the power ministries following
September 11 was all too predictable, sounding much like Kosovo redux,
with recently installed Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov saying, "I can see no
grounds, even hypothetical, for a possible NATO deployment in Central
Asian states." Russia was once again acting just like the strong-headed, short-
sighted, and reluctant partner with which Washington had become so frus-
trated. Once again, Russia was treating Central Asia like a client state, just
as it had done with Yugoslavia for much of the 1990s. But Putin marshaled
his considerable popularity, and a level of parliamentary support that Yeltsin
had never enjoyed, to overrule his generals and seemingly give the West carte
blanche in going after terrorists. The events of Kosovo help explain this shift.
It is easy to understand why the Kosovo war made Putin less anxious
about "NATO aggression." The constant wrangling between NATO mem-
bers about actions in the former Yugoslavia and the extreme reluctance to
pursue military attacks against Miloseviceven when he was on his worst
behaviormade evident that NATO was anything but a reckless belligerent
eager to strike against Russia. NATO was happy to survive the Kosovo expe-
rience, and there was little enthusiasm to use it as a template for new military
interventions. Intervening against Russia to protect Chechnya is a nightmare
318 * COLLISION COURSE

that sends a shudder down the spines of most NATO ministers. Equally tell-
ing, Putin has also likely realizedas the Slatina operation demonstrated
that his often-reactionary military forces are capable of doing great harm if
left unchecked.
Similarly, Putin also cooled his rhetoric in opposition to NATO expan-
sion, understanding that the larger the alliance becomes, the more bureau-
cratic its behavior. Further, intense Russian lobbying against NATO
expansion only made those countries in Russia's "near abroad" more appre-
hensive and eager to join the mainstream European defense and economic
community. Indeed, Putin has chosen to pursue greater integration with
NATO structures, including the establishment of the NATO-Russia Coun-
cil in May 2002, reasoning that a place at the table is probably the best
means to slow NATO from acting against Russia's interests.
Putin had always been angry that President Yeltsin repeatedly lost face for
Russia on the international stage. Yeltsin would always take strong initial
standsagainst NATO expansion and against the use of force, first in Bosnia
and then in Kosovoand then back down. Putin prefers to begin from an
initial appearance of agreement, or at least a willingness to negotiate, and
then try to defend his bottom line to the best of his ability. He would appear
to believe that the best way to play a weak hand well is to minimize the
bluster. Putin believes that Russian greatness must be borne on the back of
a strong Russian economy, and his carefully calculated foreign policy in the
wake of September 11 should not lead Western observers to believe that he
has experienced some dramatic change of heart.
Events since September 11 have revealed a decidedly authoritarian bent
in Putin. Rather than building the institutions of a modern democracy, the
Russian leader has preferred to centralize power in the Kremlin. He has
cracked down on the media, manipulated elections that he would have won
easily without such machinations, and undercut the wealthy oligarchs who
potentially threatened his position. Yet, for all his appeals to strength, Russia
under Putin remains a very messy place, and the specter of Chechnya contin-
ues to cast a long shadow.
In October 2002, Chechen rebels took more than 700 hostages at a Mos-
cow theater. The rebels and 120 of the hostages were killed when Russian
security forces stormed the building. This was another stark reminder that
no matter how much Putin and his military chiefs claimed to have brought
the conflict in Chechnya under control, Moscow's blunt and often indis-
CONCLUSION: HARD LESSONS * 319

criminate use of force in Chechnya had neither broken the back of the insur-
gents nor created any substantial momentum for peace talks. In September
2004, Russia and the world were appalled as Chechens seized a large school
in Beslan, Russia, and wired the building with explosives. After the Chechens
shot a number of hostages, Russian security forces and armed locals assaulted
the school and ultimately more than 300 were left dead, more than half of
them children.
Russians and the international community alike were amazed by Chechen
terror tactics that targeted innocent school children. Putin's response was
also of concern. In the wake of Beslan, he announced plans to appoint, rather
than elect, regional governors, and unmercifully harassed Russian journalists
trying to offer a reasoned account of the events in Beslan. In an address to
the nation, Putin declared, "We showed ourselves to be weak, and the weak
get beaten," while simultaneously implying that the West was somehow re-
sponsible for the depredations of Beslan. At the core, Putin seems incapable
of understanding that Russia's incredibly cruel treatment of Chechnya's
Muslims and his own authoritarian tendencies had directly nurtured the
Chechen extremism. After Beslan, Putin seemed genuinely angry and con-
fused when Western leaders were reluctant to simply add Chechnya as an-
other front on the global war on terror. The United States and its allies
would be wise to learn from Russia the limits of brute force in ripping out
the roots of extremism and terror. Military force ultimately will prove hollow
unless accompanied by sound political and diplomatic initiatives.
The Kosovo experience probably helped convince Putin that pursuing a
policy of selective foreign policy engagement was more practical, given the
constant demands of Russia's domestic situation. Russia is simply no longer
in a position to be considered as a major player in every foreign policy event,
despite its seat on the Security Council, and is better served by picking its
fights more selectively. Ultimately, Russia's long foot-dragging on Kosovo
bought Moscow very little: NATO went ahead with its military operation,
the rush to the Slatina airfield ended weakly, Milosevic was delivered to The
Hague for trial, the effectiveness of Russia's UN Security Council veto was
diluted, and most of the states in southeastern Europe were left convinced
that Moscow remained dangerously provocative. From Putin's perspective,
there was very little to be gained by reflexively opposing the United States
and NATO.
In some ways, Russian foreign policy is evolving much more like that of
320 * COLLISION COURSE

western Europe. Moscow, like most of Europe, is apprehensive about U.S.


unilateralism and the disproportionate influence enjoyed by Washington in
a largely unipolar world. Russia, like Europe, is willing to creatively use its
foreign policy mechanisms to slow or block the United Stateswhile care-
fully avoiding the appearance of pure obstructionism. Often this means
framing arguments within the context of debates about international law al-
though, as Chechnya makes clear, Russia's regard for the sanctity of interna-
tional law remains distinctly selective. Similarly, Russian public opinion
toward the United States looks more and more like that in the rest of Eu-
rope, where opposition to U.S. policies is intense but sentiments toward
American society, freedoms, and openness remain enduringly positive.

Kosovo Today

While the transatlantic community was clearly overjoyed with Milosevic's


demise and his delivery to The Hague, its stewardship of Kosovo has been
an uneasy one. The slow, slogging, and often frustrating business of recon-
struction and enforcing the peace among former combatants has not been
easy. The often-articulated dream of a peaceful and multiethnic Kosovo has
largely remained a chimera. Large numbers of Serbs have fled the province,
and those who remain are clustered together in small enclaves. The level of
violence by ethnic Albanians against Serbs has slowed from high levels im-
mediately after the war, but Serbs remain very much a persecuted minority
within Kosovo.
The issue of Kosovo's ultimate status remains awkwardly unresolved, and
the international community has shown little stomach for addressing the
issue. Restive Kosovar Albanians, still eager to ultimately secure indepen-
dence, have pushed the international community to give the institutions of
self-government greater authority. In contrast, the Kosovar Serb community
wants no part of living within an independent Kosovo. The issue of Kosovo
has become a frequent topic of nationalist political appeals in both Pristina
and Belgrade. Once again, the notion of partitioning the province has gained
some currency, although such a process could well trigger as much upheaval
as it resolves.
Some progress has been made. Elections for provincial bodies have been
held, reconstruction has moved forward, and a police force has been de-
CONCLUSION: HARD LESSONS * 321

ployed. Yet, unemployment among the province's overwhelmingly young


population is still dauntingly high, and little international investment has
been attracted to Kosovo. Squabbles between Belgrade, Pristina, and the in-
ternational community over everything from who should issue license plates
to the design of postage stamps have demonstrated that a tremendous reser-
voir of ill-will still sits between the ethnic Albanian and Serb communities.
KFOR has faced provocations both from extremist Kosovar Albanian and
Kosovar Serbs since it was deployed, and the United Nations remains the
effective administrator of daily life in Kosovo. Western officials continue to
insist that the institutions of Kosovo simply need more time to mature and
meet international standards before the question of status can be resolved.
Actors on the ground are less inclined to embrace such a wait-and-see ap-
proach. Ethnic Albanian rebels have continued to foment unrest not only
in Kosovo, but in neighboring Macedonia and Albania as well. As long as
independence remains an open question, politicians, criminals, and ideo-
logues in the region will be able to exploit the issue to advance their own
agendas. The hard work of democratic reform in both Serbia and Kosovo
will be quite difficult when the most fundamental question of Kosovo's
status is up in the air.
The dangers of Kosovo's economic and political limbo became painfully
apparent in March 2004. After two Kosovar Albanian teens drowned, the
local media claimed that Serbs had a hand in the deaths. The province
erupted in violence, and Kosovar Albanian mobs rampaged in cities and
small towns. When the dust had settled, nineteen people were left dead, hun-
dreds injured, and thousands of homes and at least thirty Serbian Orthodox
churches damaged. With the UN struggling to effectively administer Ko-
sovo, the dangers of more widespread violence were self-evident.
The March 2004 riots, while remarkably disruptive, focused international
attention on the need to resolve Kosovo's final status. Talks on final status
were tentatively scheduled to move forward in mid-2005, but Europe and
the United States have both approached the process with great reluctance.
Nationalist politicians in Serbia have continued to advocate radically decent-
ralizing Kosovo, although these proposals are widely viewed as an effort to
partition northern Kosovo and make it part of Serbia proper. All leading
Kosovar Albanian politicians are adamant in their demands for full indepen-
dence, and Serbs and Albanians within Kosovo now have remarkably little
interaction in their daily lives. Less then one percent of Serbs in Kosovo par-
322 * COLLISION COURSE

ticipated in the province's parliamentary elections in October 2004, and Ko-


sovo's Serbs and Albanians are increasingly disgruntled with the province's
state of suspended animation. Ethnic tolerance and coexistence continue to
be far from the order of the day.
Having waged a war over Kosovo, NATO and the international commu-
nity remain profoundly uncertain what to do with Kosovo now that the fate
of the province is in their hands. If they have learned any lesson from the
bitter experiences of the 1990s, it should be that such problems cannot sim-
ply be set aside for another day. After the terrible tragedies that claimed so
much innocent life, there is now an opportunity for the Balkans to take a
peaceful and prosperous place within modern Europe. But for this goal to
become a reality, hard choices still need to be made, and they need to be
made sooner rather than later.
Bibliography

This account draws from numerous sources in addition to my personal recol-


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Index

Ahtisaari, Martti, xiii, 8 6 - 9 1 , 102, 108, 84, 86, 89, 94, 116, 132, 137, 230;
121, 126, 130, 139, 147-49, 152, Talbott discussions, 76-78, 106-7
154, 156, 162, 182-88, 191-94, Arbatov, Alexi, 305
210, 213, 215, 2 2 0 - 2 1 , 224, 289, Arbour, Louise, 130, 132, 146
298, 305, 306, 310-11; Chernomyr- Avdeyev, Aleksandr, 32-35, 129, 202,
din discussions, 104-5, 158; Talbott 218,23 4-35,250
discussions, 68, 88-90, 104, 132- Axworthy, Lloyd, 195
33, 149-50, 163, 195-97, 203-4;
trilateral discussions, 111-12, 122 Bacon, Ken, 94, 189, 204, 209, 223
23, 133-37, 140-41, 143-46, Barmyantsev, Yevgeny, 211, 213,
165-79 218-19
Akashi, Yasushi, 95 Bass, John, xiii
Albright, Madeleine, xix, 25, 26, 29, 30, Berger, Samuel "Sandy," 2 - 3 , 7, 10, 19,
31,33,39,40,41-42,50-51, 58, 27-28, 29, 30, 37-39, 50, 54-55,
63, 64, 68, 86, 89, 91, 97, 98, 107, 58, 60, 61, 64, 65, 79, 84-86, 94,
108-9, 110, 113-14, 117-18, 126, 107, 110-11, 115-19, 126, 129,
133, 136-37, 139, 145-46, 150, 136-37, 150, 162, 163, 170, 1 8 1 -
159, 162, 163-64, 170-71, 177, 82, 189-91, 194, 197, 215, 243-44,
197, 209, 213, 215, 217, 221, 242, 247, 262, 266, 269, 276, 278, 2 8 2 -
243, 244-46, 260, 265-66, 272, 83, 291, 294, 297, 308, 310, 313-14
280, 281, 282-83, 297, 304, 308, Bitterlich, Joachim, 95, 199
311; "Albright's war," 26-27, 54; Blagojevich, Rod, 78-79
Cook discussions, 137-38, 153, 154, Blair, Tony, 9, 21, 29, 47, 48, 53, 55,
195, 204, 227; Ivanov discussions, 59, 62, 93, 129, 212, 290; Clinton
12-14, 16-18, 19-20, 41-42, 44, discussions, 57-59
53-54, 78, 82, 157-58, 202-3, Boiling, Landrum, 78-79, 98-98, 127,
224-25, 244-47, 285-86, 289-90; 138-39
"quint" discussions, 11, 137, 153 bombing pause, 18-20, 22, 27-29, 33,
55, 1 5 9 - 6 0 , 2 0 4 - 5 , 2 1 2 39, 59, 66-67, 70, 73, 78, 83, 90,
Annan, Kofi, 14, 39-40, 68, 76-78, 83, 102, 105, 109, 144, 158, 167, 175,

327
328 * INDEX

186, 195, 201, 202, 204, 209-14, 186, 190, 193, 195, 197, 198-200,
216, 222-23, 225, 227. See also 214, 227, 230, 238, 241-42, 247,
NATO, demands 250-51, 263, 265, 269, 276-79,
Bourne, Guy, 179, 204, 235, 261, 263 281, 283, 294, 299, 300, 301, 304,
Bugarcic, Bojan, 11-12, 127, 133, 139, 313-14; media briefings, 5, 42, 74;
163-64, 184 relationship with Pentagon, 47-49,
Burns, Nick, 209 5 3 , 6 1 , 117-18, 182,201,292
Clinton, William, 11, 21, 26-27, 28,
Casey, George, 100, 140, 144, 204, 36, 39, 47, 48, 50, 59-60, 61-62,
233, 234, 237, 239, 249, 260, 2 6 3 - 9 1 , 9 4 , 9 5 , 109-10, 117, 118-19,
64, 270, 279 142, 150, 157, 177, 181-82, 191,
Central Intelligence Agency, xi-xii, 8, 197, 201, 202, 204, 212, 215, 233,
94 240, 258, 261, 290, 293-94; Blair
Chance, Ken, 237 discussions, 54-55; impeachment, 4,
Chechnya, xx, 15, 36, 71, 253, 256, 8-9; letters to Yeltsin, 40, 212; re-
315,317 marks,6-7, 160-61, 200-201, 230,
Chernomyrdin, Viktor, xii, 42-44, 51, 235-36; Schroeder discussion,
52, 54, 59, 60, 64-66, 69, 76, 78, 92-93; Stepashin discussion,
82, 88, 90, 91, 94-95, 98-99, 102, 161-62; Yeltsin discussions, 4 - 5 ,
103, 106, 107, 108, 124, 132, 138, 51-52, 64-67, 216-17, 222-23,
230-31,281-82,286,291
139, 147, 150, 154, 156, 157, 159-
60, 162, 165-79, 195, 217, 240, CNN, 137, 173-74, 194, 246, 249,
305-6, 308, 309, 310; Ahtisaari dis- 264,266,271,272,285,291
cussions, 104-5, 158; Milosevic Cohen, William, 7, 37-38, 48-50, 5 2 -
meetings, 59, 79-80, 112, 151-53, 53, 61, 68,