Russia being Russia, however, the weekend’s troop deployment could not be completed without at least one international incident. Yesterday, the second of two Russian flights to Pristina violated an agreement between Moscow and Bucharest governing Russian overflights of Romanian territory. The agreement stipulated that one Russian flight could enter Romanian territory no less than four hours after the previous flight. Despite a warning from Bucharest, however, Moscow apparently dispatched its second flight only ninety minutes after the first. The Romanian armed forces placed several missile battalions on alert and scrambled a MiG-21 and a MiG-29 to intercept the Russian transport and escort it to the Yugoslav border. The Romanian Defense Ministry also temporarily closed the air corridor to Moscow.
The incident was quickly resolved and the air corridor reopened–albeit with new restrictions–after Russian diplomats formally apologized for the overflight, called it a mistake and promised that it would not happen again (Itar-Tass, Western agencies, June 27). There will undoubtedly be some speculation, however, that the timing of the second Russian flight may have been no mistake, but instead a deliberate provocation staged by the Russian military leadership to test the resolve of Romania’s political and military leadership. Romania, after all, had joined Bulgaria and Hungary to deny an air corridor to Moscow following the surprise dispatch of Russian paratroopers to the Slatina airport on June 12. The Russian military leadership, which may have hoped to reinforce its small contingent at the airport by flying in additional troops, was reportedly outraged over the denials. If yesterday’s action was a deliberate provocation, then the generals in Moscow may have been happy to let Russian diplomats explain their way out of the mess, just as Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had been compelled to do following the surprise dispatch of the Russian paratroopers to Pristina.
RUSSIA’S DASH TO KOSOVO: WHAT DID IT AIM TO ACCOMPLISH?