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West needs Russia in fight for Kosovo

You don't need to be Clausewitz to figure out what finally brought Slobodan Milosevic to the negotiating table on NATO's terms and why he is now stalling again. The answer to both questions is Russia.

The best way to understand Russia's critical role is to think of a divorce proceeding: You are negotiating a divorce with your wife. She has no lawyer and you have Johnnie Cochran. Every time your wife asks for something, Cochran steps in to protect you with a point of law. Things are going so well, you ask for a lunch break. When you come back from lunch you find that Cochran has switched sides and is now acting as your wife's lawyer, nodding in agreement at all her demands. You're in trouble.Russia is Johnnie Cochran in this story. It started out as Milosevic's lawyer. But when Boris Yeltsin dismissed Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov last month it was a crucial turning point in the war. Russia moved from being Milosevic's advocate over to NATO's side. The combination of that Russian switcheroo and NATO's decision to really intensify the bombing and bring the war home to the Serbian people was what brought Milosevic to deal. NATO brought the roof down, and Russia pulled the rug out.

The merciless air war was necessary to bring this Kosovo crisis to a diplomatic solution. But it was not sufficient. Russia's maneuvers were also critical; Milosevic certainly would have felt emboldened to hang on longer if he thought he still had Russia on his side.

What is happening right now is that Milosevic, by delaying and haggling, is making one last effort to restore Russia as his lawyer, by giving time for those forces in Russia that hate this deal to assert themselves and get him better terms.

That is why what is at stake here is both the future of the Kosovo conflict and the future of U.S.-Russia relations. Boris Yeltsin understands that. Yes, he may have one foot stuck in the grave and one hand wrapped around a vodka bottle, but the reason he sacked Primakov and brought in the pro-American Viktor Chernomyrdin as his envoy was because of his gut belief that Russia's future lies with integration with the West and the global economy.

But Yeltsin is weak, and it's not clear he can impose his policy on his own negotiators from the Russian Foreign Ministry.

If this deal comes together it is critical that the United States and its NATO allies find a way to strengthen the Yeltsinites. Because Boris is not going to be around much longer, and there simply is no stable European security order without a reasonably cooperative Russia.

The best way to strengthen the pro-Western, democratic realists in Russia is to offer them something that would be meaningful in their own internal struggles and would demonstrate that cooperation with the West pays. NATO should declare at next week's G-8 summit meeting that NATO expansion is now indefinitely on hold and that NATO is ready to consider, under the right conditions, bringing Russia in as a member. NATO should do now what it should have done 10 years ago, and that is lay down a clear, step-by-step pathway for bringing Russia into Europe. Russia is in play -- so let's play.

New York Times News Service