After more than ten weeks of nearly unceasing acrimony over NATO policy in the Balkans, Russia and the West decided over the weekend to put that unhappy chapter behind them and to work together to restore friendly relations. The reconciliation between the two sides was consummated yesterday in Cologne during the final of a three-day meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies and Russia. The path to reconciliation was opened on June 18 when Russian and U.S. defense officials and diplomats concluded three days of grueling negotiations with an agreement setting out Russia’s peacekeeping role in Kosovo.
The weekend’s happy events were summed up by President Boris Yeltsin, who told reporters yesterday, on arriving in Cologne, “We need to make up after our fight. That is the main thing” (International agencies, June 20). Yeltsin had himself repeatedly pandered to nationalist sentiment in Russia by denouncing NATO actions in the Balkans as both a crime and a threat to international peace. The Russian president had also skipped the first two days of the G-7 summit, a precaution which some in Moscow attributed to his fears that NATO and Russia might fail to reach agreement either on the peacekeeping issue or on the need for financial assistance to Moscow. In such an event, they suggested, Yeltsin would forego an appearance at the summit altogether.
The often-ailing Russian leader need not have worried. The peacekeeping talks in Helsinki had dragged into a third day (June 18) due to a continuing disagreement over whether Russia would get its own sector in Kosovo. In the end, Moscow did not, but it apparently got enough of what it wanted to approve the final deal. That agreement calls for Russia to dispatch a total of 3,600 troops to Kosovo, where the majority will be split evenly among the U.S., French and German sectors in the southern part of the devastated province. Some 750 Russian military personnel will also be assigned to maintenance and fuel duties at the Slatina airport near Pristina. NATO, however, will control all flight plans and air control matters at the airport. Approximately 200 Russian paratroopers have controlled the airport since they were deployed there unexpectedly by Moscow on the night of June 11. In what appears to have been a key concession by the West, the Russian-U.S. agreement also calls for Russian liaison officers to serve at each level of NATO’s command hierarchy in Kosovo (International agencies, June 18; Washington Post, June 19).
The peacekeeping agreement thus gave Moscow some of what it was looking for. The command system decided to allow Russia to maintain control over its troops, but requires that it coordinate the activities of its troops with the national commanders in each of three sectors in which the troops are deployed. Moscow had insisted that its soldiers would not serve under direct NATO command. Russia had also been looking for broader representation in NATO’s command structure, so as to be involved in decisionmaking at various levels and throughout Kosovo. It appears to have gotten that in the liaison officers who will serve in the NATO command hierarchy.
A RUSSIAN-NATO PARTNERSHIP IN THE BALKANS.