Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 209

Following the talks yesterday between Lavrov and Milosevic, Moscow and Belgrade emphasized their joint dissatisfaction over what they said have been efforts by the international administration in Kosovo to push the province toward independence from Yugoslavia. Earlier, following his meetings with UNMIK head Bernard Kouchner and with KFOR commander Klaus Reinhardt, Russian UN ambassador Sergei Lavrov had also demanded an increase in the number of patrols conducted in Kosovo by international police and KFOR troops. Those added patrols should, he said, be coordinated with Yugoslav and Serb authorities and be aimed at providing conditions for the return of nonethnic Albanian refugees to Kosovo.

Lavrov also used his stay in Kosovo to hold talks with Russian Lieutenant General Valery Yevtukhovich, commander of the Russian military contingent in the province. Those discussions reportedly centered on the problems the Russian command has faced in deploying troops to the town of Orahovac. For approximately two months a blockade of the main roads leading to the town by Albanian protesters has prohibited Russian troops from carrying out a planned replacement of Dutch peacekeepers there. Moscow has repeatedly protested KFOR’s failure to win entry for the Russian forces into Orahovac, and Lavrov this week repeated those complaints. “Ethnic groups cannot dictate to the world community as to which nationalities should live in various areas of Kosovo,” he told journalists (AP, November 8-9; Reuters, November 8; Russian agencies, November 7-9).

The escalation of hostilities in the Russian Caucasus has tended in recent weeks to drive news of the Kosovo peacekeeping mission out of the headlines. In Moscow, however, the NATO air war against Yugoslavia continues to be cited as the primary reason why Russia has not moved to rebuild cooperative relations with NATO. Of equal interest, perhaps, is the fact that NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia–and the broader conflict between Russia and the West for influence in the Balkans–appeared to empower a group of hardline Russian generals. They are believed to have been behind the surprise dash of Russian airborne troops to the Pristina airport in June, and are also a part of the driving force behind Russia’s current aggressive military moves in the Caucasus. They have moved more generally to build support for increased defense spending and for a strengthening of the country’s armed forces. To provide the proper conceptual underpinning for such policies, they have also helped push for the drafting of a pair of national security documents–including a new military doctrine–that identify a wide range of potential military threats to Russia. It remains unclear how the government can possibly come up with enough funding for the military to address all of these threats. But in the midst of a frenetic election campaign season, and while Moscow’s military adventure in the Caucasus still enjoys widespread public support, it seems unlikely that the generals will receive any public rebuff of their demands.