Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 130

Russia began flying troops and materiel into Kosovo yesterday, one day after Moscow and NATO resolved their differences over the conditions under which the Russian contingent would serve in the province. Several hundred Russian paratroopers and about twenty tons of equipment arrived at the Slatina airport near Pristina yesterday, with more to follow in the coming days. According to General Anatoly Volchkov, head of Russian operations at the airport, all of Russia’s 3,600 troops are expected to be in Kosovo by the end of July. They will be part of an international peacekeeping force which is to total 55,000 troops. NATO has so far placed more than 29,000 peacekeepers in the province (AP, Reuters, July 6).

Meanwhile, there were few new details available yesterday of the intensive talks which took place in Moscow over the weekend and opened the way for Russia to begin sending reinforcements to Kosovo. The text of the agreement was not made public, and NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark of the United States said only that “all of the issues have been clarified just as was required by the Helsinki agreement.” The Helsinki accord, concluded on June 18 by the Russian and U.S. defense chiefs, had seemingly set the terms for Russia’s participation in the Kosovo peace mission. During follow-up talks in Brussels last week, however, Moscow appeared determined to reopen some key issues, and the effort led an already suspicious NATO to block additional Russian military flights into Kosovo (see the Monitor, July 6).

In the latest talks, the Russian side reportedly did agree–albeit with great reluctance–to serve under the nominal control of the allied commanders in the U.S., German and French sectors. The 750 Russians who are to be stationed at the Slatina airport will reportedly have a similar arrangement with the British commander in that sector. Moscow did reserve the right to refuse to carry out orders. The Russian contingent will also have the benefit of a parallel chain of command which includes liaison officers in each sector, as well as at NATO headquarters in Kosovo, in Italy and at NATO’s military headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

The Russians did not get the right to move their troops freely across Kosovo, as they had reportedly sought, or to introduce troops into the area controlled by Italy. They will thus remain in noncontiguous sectors, as had been agreed upon in Helsinki. NATO, however, will have the right to send other peacekeepers into the Russian zone to carry out those orders which Moscow might refuse. Ultimately, Russia is expected to have some 1,000 soldiers in the German sector in southwestern Kosovo, 600-800 in the American sector in the southeast and another 600-800 in the French sector in the north. The alliance reportedly blocked a Russian effort to operate in the northern city of Mitrovica, where Serbs are trying to declare a “Serbian zone” (New York Times, Washington Post, July 6). Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov yesterday tried to downplay tensions between Russia and the Western alliance generated by the latest standoff over peacekeeping duties. He said that all problems have been resolved, and underscored that all the nations involved in the Kosovo peacekeeping mission must work “in concert” (Itar-Tass, July 6). It is not clear, however, whether Ivanov’s views reflect those of the military leaders who are running Russia’s Kosovo mission. Indeed, it also remains unclear whether the government itself is able to exercise full control over hardline elements in the armed forces which are involved in the Kosovo peace effort. Russia’s recent moves in the Balkans prompted one NATO official to comment yesterday that the “Russians aren’t playing straight with us.” The Russian newspaper “Vremya,” meanwhile, suggested that NATO will now double-check every Russian move. Like other Russian sources, it predicted that the Kosovo mission will be a source of continuous friction between Russia and the western alliance (Washington Post, July 6).