Milo in Moscow, big fuss in Tirana


SAT, 01 JUL 2000

Tirana, June 20, 2000 - The Albanian Foreign Minister, Pascal Milo, paid an unexpected visit to Moscow which brought different reactions all over the country. This is a first contact between Albania and Russia since the Kosovo conflict ended. The relations between the two countries were at a standstill because of the Russian stand in relation to Kosovo.

Even to a greater extent than bilateral relations, Kosovo was present in the Moscow talks between Foreign Ministers Milo and Ivanov. The two Ministers did not manage to prepare a joint declaration but held a press conference at which each side presented its stand. According to analysts, it seems that Russia is not ready to sacrifice its good relations with Belgrade in exchange for possible improvement of relations with Tirana. Tirana and Moscow disagree on a certain number of issues concerning Kosovo. While Moscow demands the lifting of sanctions against Serbia, because it considers them to counterproductive, Tirana is in favour of their further application and even tightening.

And while Moscow is suspicious of UNMIK's and KFOR's role in Kosovo, Tirana is ardent supporter of the international mission. NATO is present in Albania too, ever since air strikes of the Alliance against Serbia a year ago. It seems that both sides have taken advantage of the Moscow meeting to ask each other to exert influence on the conflicting sides in Kosovo, but with a different objective in mind. Milo asked Ivanov to use his privileged relations with Belgrade so as to isolate Milosevic's regime and help dethrone him. On the other hand, Ivanov asked Milo to take advantage of the influence he has on political factors in Kosovo and do everything that is in his power to halt the Albanian revanchism towards the Serbian minority in Kosovo. It seems that these talks did not touch upon the future status of Kosovo, although the stands of both parties are well-known.

And while Moscow sees the future of Kosovo within Yugoslavia, as an autonomous province of Serbia, regardless of his statements about recognising the Security Council Resolution 1244, according to Tirana future Kosovo can never be a part of Yugoslavia. However, a positive step on the part of Moscow was its promise not to oppose the extension of the mandate of peace-keeping troops after this June. After the visit, Milo said that his counter-part, the Russian Foreign Minister, Ivanov, assessed Belgrade's demand for Russia to vote against the extension of KFOR's mandate in Kosovo, as "tactless". According to Milo, with this realignment Russia was joining the company of states working on the resolution of the Kosovo crisis.

According to diplomatic sources, the official visit of the Albanian Foreign Minister to Moscow had two sides. On the one hand, irrespective of differences, the meeting with his counter-part Ivanov was characterised by diplomatic courtesy, while on the other the meeting with the President of Duma, communist Zeleznjev, was very hard. In his talks with Minister Milo, the President of the Russian Duma used words which were interpreted in Albania as an "open threat to Albanians".

Zeleznjev said to the Albanian Foreign Minister that "there will be No peace in Kosovo until the respect of all rights of the Serbs is secured there". The Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs probably could not have imagined the reactions his visit to "one of the great centres of high politics" would provoke. A part of the press, mostly belonging to the opposition, dug out from the old files a rather sharp vocabulary accusing the Foreign Minister of "plotting with Moscow", "being a traitor of national interests", etc. The whole thing with the visit was further complicated by a simultaneous visit of an Albanian delegation which came to Moscow at the same time as a delegation of the Yugoslav Parliament, headed by its President. That was enough for some media to broadcast a news on the meeting between Milo and the Belgrade delegation.

As for Milo, he tried to treat all the fuss created by his visit as a storm in a teacup and unproductive gesture just before the renewal of the mandate of KFOR troops by the Security Council.

A year ago, when the Russian Foreign Minister, Ivanov, together with The Russian negotiator Majorsky, visited Tirana just a few days before NATO bombing, the atmosphere surrounding the delegation outside official circles, was the one of tacit disapproval, but nothing more. Several days later, when the start of air strikes against Yugoslavia dispersed Moscow's diplomatic offensive against NATO campaign in Yugoslavia, the official relations also froze. The end of the Kosovo crisis, adoption of international documents which regulate peace and division of field activities between international protagonists kind of cooled tempers in the Albanian-Russian relations.

Milo's visit to Moscow was planned as an expression of gradual easing of tensions. Also, a part of the Tirana press dedicated much attention to new nuances in the Kremlin's policy after Vladimir Putin rose to power, emphasising that there were signs of greater pragmatism in Moscow's policy in the Balkans. According to diplomatic sources in Tirana, the Albanian officials decided to send their Foreign Minister to Moscow just before the Security Council's debate on the extension of KFOR's mandate in Kosovo. Although they did not hope to significantly influence the Russian stand on this issue, Albania always attached great importance to Moscow's position in relation to the initiated stabilisation process in Kosovo. Upon his return from Russia, Milo kept repeating his satisfaction with the Russian pragmatic vision of the Kosovo developments stating that the official stand was quite different from the pro-Slav rhetoric of individual Russian officials.

It was this public statement of the Albanian Foreign Minister that additionally heightened tensions because of this visit and its results. In fact, in the background of this "anti-Russian" campaign are the internal political developments. It seems that a part of the opposition has decided to turn the awakening of the lulled Albanian nationalism into its war horse in the coming electoral campaign.

Original article