Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 124

Russian military transports began flying men and materiel into Kosovo over the weekend as the Russian Defense Ministry moved to expand its military presence in the devastated province. The Russian action followed a June 25 vote by the country’s upper house of parliament authorizing the troop deployment. In Kosovo, meanwhile, British General Michael Jackson–who heads the international peacekeeping force–publicly welcomed the arrival of the Russian troops. He appeared with Russian Colonel General Viktor Zavarzin in a joint press conference at the Slatina airport near Pristina and both men underscored what they said was increasing cooperation between Russia and NATO in Kosovo. They also pointed to the reopening of the airport as a sign that the international peacekeeping effort in Kosovo was picking up speed. Zavarzin commands the 200 Russian paratroopers who two weeks ago surprised NATO by taking control of the airport.

Moscow claimed the honor of sending the first flight into the Pristina airport since NATO began its peacekeeping mission in Kosovo two weeks ago. On June 26 an Ilyushin-76 jet carried twenty-one paratroopers and eighteen airport technicians into Kosovo. They were said to be an advance team for the 3,600 Russian troops scheduled to be dispatched to Kosovo over the next forty-five days. The Russian arrival was followed several minutes later by the arrival of a French Hercules C-130 transport. In all, the Russian military sent three flights into Pristina over the weekend. Another three Russian flights will reportedly arrive today, after which the airport will close for four days in order to bring it up to international standards. The weekend’s events appeared to ease, at least temporarily, tensions between the Russian and NATO forces in evidence since the Russians successfully dashed into the Slatina airport ahead of their alliance counterparts two weeks earlier (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, June 26-27).