Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 123

The Russian government yesterday denied a Western news report alleging that some sixty Russian volunteers had been part of the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo. The New York daily Newsday reported earlier this week that the sixty Russians had been organized into a single unit subordinated to the Yugoslav Interior Ministry’s Special Purpose Police. Basing its conclusions on accounts provided by ethnic Albanians and an unnamed source in the Serb security apparatus, “Newsday” reported that the Russians played a leading role in the killings of hundreds of ethnic Albanians and in the destruction of towns and villages around the city of Prizren. They were also said to have joined Serbian paramilitary units in wreaking havoc in other areas of Kosovo, including Djakovica in the west and Mitrovica in the north. The Russians, who were said to have gathered initially in Moscow in March, were reportedly all retired or inactive military men. “Newsday” said that they confronted German troops as the latter moved into Kosovo on June 13. The German commander ordered them out of the area (San Francisco Chronicle, June 22; AFP, June 23).

A Pentagon spokesman on June 23 confirmed that at least a small number of Russian mercenaries had participated with Serb forces in attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The spokesman said, however, that the United States lacked “firm evidence” on either the number of Russians involved or the areas in which they operated. He also said that there was no evidence linking the Russian volunteers with the Russian government. “We estimate that there probably were a relatively small number of Russians there operating on their own as volunteers, possibly as mercenaries,” he said. Describing them more or less as “soldiers of fortune,” the spokesman said that the Russians were “not in any official capacity and did not represent the Russian government in any way (AP, Reuters, June 23).

Russian government spokesmen appeared to say much the same thing, though they avoided any confirmation that Russians soldiers might have served in Kosovo even as volunteers. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists on June 23 that neither representatives of Russia, nor Russia itself, took part in the fighting in Kosovo. He said that a judgment could be passed on Western reports to that effect only after corroborating evidence had been produced. Unnamed Russian diplomatic sources said yesterday that Moscow had received neither official reports nor inquiries from other countries or international organizations regarding the presence of Russian mercenaries in Kosovo. A highly placed Defense Ministry source said only that no official Russian agencies had dispatched volunteers to Kosovo (Russian agencies, June 23-24).