Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 151

The Russian Defense Ministry appeared to end several weeks of waffling yesterday when one of its representatives said that Russian troops would participate in a NATO military exercise scheduled to take place in Albania on August 17-22. Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, who heads the ministry’s main directorate for military cooperation with foreign countries, said that changes made by NATO–at Moscow’s behest–in planning the exercise have made Russian participation possible. Ivashov did specify what those changes were, but did say that the exercises had shed their “anti-Serbian bias” and had “acquired a humanitarian rather than political character.” (Radio Russia, August 5)

Ivashov has emerged in recent months as an outspoken and, at times, vehement critic, both of NATO’s enlargement plans and of the alliance’s possible military intervention in the Kosovo crisis. (See Monitor, May 28, June 22) Among the six countries comprising the Contact Group for the former Yugoslavia, Russia has been by far the most supportive of Serbian authorities in Belgrade. Moscow criticized NATO for its conduct of air exercises over Albania and Macedonia in mid-June and has insisted that NATO military intervention in Kosovo must first receive backing by the UN Security Council. That position has been part of a more general effort by Moscow to head off NATO military action in Kosovo altogether.

Although Russia had originally expressed an interest in participating in NATO’s August 17-22 exercises (Itar-Tass, July 17), Col. Gen. Valery Manilov of the Russian General Staff said in Beijing on July 27 that Moscow had in fact not yet made a decision on the issue. Manilov said that Moscow’s hesitation was a result of its “principled position… to avoid bloodshed in Kosovo and unilateral use of force.” He also said that Russia should be involved in planning the exercise. (Itar-Tass, July 27)

The NATO exercises in Albania are being conducted under the aegis of the alliance’s Partnership for Peace program. A NATO official said last month that at least a dozen countries–including the United States, Britain, Germany, Greece, Spain, France and Italy–had confirmed their intention to participate in the drills. The exercises in Albania come amid escalating violence in Kosovo and amid growing concerns in the West that the Kosovo conflict could spill over into Albania and other neighboring countries.