Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 116

NATO officials made light yesterday of a Russian decision to resupply its troops in Kosovo. A convoy of about eleven vehicles, carrying water and food, was dispatched by Russia’s peacekeeping contingent in Bosnia. The Russian Defense Ministry said that the thirty or so troops manning the convoy were paratroopers. The Russian troops in Kosovo, who have adamantly refused British and French peacekeepers access to a large portion of the airport near Pristina, have until now survived on water supplied by British troops in the area. The Russian government has pledged not to reinforce its Kosovo contingent, though military leaders have repeatedly made clear that they are prepared to airlift additional troops to the area at a moment’s notice.

NATO leaders were presumably less accepting of new Russian demands yesterday for the alliance to do more to disarm Kosovo Albanian rebels. In a telephone conversation with U.S. National Security Aide Samuel Berger, Putin reportedly described KLA guerrillas as a threat to the local populace in Kosovo, as well as to the withdrawal efforts of Serb military and police forces and to the peace keeping operation in general (UPI, Itar-Tass, June 15). Other Russian officials had warned earlier that KLA activities constitute a threat to the Russian troops in Kosovo. Moscow’s focus on the KLA seems, on the one hand, to be a rhetorical restatement of its long depiction of the rebels as terrorists and the primary cause for the unrest which has convulsed Kosovo. More ominously, however, the Russian complaints of NATO inaction in disarming the KLA may also be setting the stage for a charge, sometime in the near future, that NATO or the KLA are violating the terms of the Kosovo agreement. That, in turn, could open the way for Moscow–and the Russian troops in Kosovo–to join Belgrade in seeking to abrogate either all or portions of the peace agreement.

Equally disturbing yesterday were indications that Moscow is bullying Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to extend to Russia overflight rights, land corridors and possibly even a naval base in order to handle what Moscow believes will be its peacekeeping presence in Kosovo. The three countries have thus far resisted Moscow’s current demands for overflights with the argument that they are awaiting clarification of Russia’s role in the peacekeeping contingent. But one Bulgarian diplomat was quoted yesterday as complaining of Moscow’s bullying that the “Russians are sounding like it’s Khrushchev all over again.” Other Eastern European diplomats, meanwhile, are suggesting that Moscow may be bent on acquiring a military foothold in the region (International Herald Tribune, June 15). Russian Defense Ministry sources, meanwhile indicated yesterday that the country’s defense and foreign ministers intend to lobby their U.S. counterparts for help in this area during today’s and tomorrow’s talks in Helsinki. They suggested that Washington is behind Bulgaria’s and Hungary’s refusal to allow the Russian overflights (Itar-Tass, June 16).

Russia’s resurgent Defense Ministry was making headlines in other areas as well yesterday. Ministry officials announced that the country’s armed forces would begin a nearly week-long series of military exercises, beginning on June 21. To be commanded by Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, the maneuvers will reportedly involve virtually all military units based in Western Russia, including the Baltic Fleet. Units of Belarus’ armed forces are also to take part in at least some of the exercises. To be called “West-99,” the exercises will reportedly be directed at a “defeat of the aggressor and the restoration of the territorial integrity of Russia and the neighboring countries.” Although the Defense Ministry claimed otherwise, the Russian maneuvers seem clearly to be a response to both the NATO mission in Yugoslavia and to NATO exercises scheduled for this week in Norway (UPI, AP, Itar-Tass, June 15).