If NATO leaders were looking for additional reasons last week to be suspicious of Russian motives in Kosovo, a commentary published by “Moskovsky komsomolets” on July 2 might have given them a few. Quoting Defense Ministry sources, it repeated widespread suspicions that the June 12 dash to Pristina by Russian paratroopers was part of a much more elaborate plan by Russian military leaders to establish a major Russian presence in Kosovo. According to the newspaper, Moscow intended to use the presence of the paratroopers at the Slatina airport as a bridgehead by which to quickly transport another 3,000-4,000 troops into Kosovo. Those troops would fan out into the area of Kosovo bordering on Serbia and proclaim that area to be the Russian sector of the peacekeeping operation. The entire operation, moreover, was said to have been coordinated with the leadership in Belgrade, which reportedly provided the Russians with all the necessary reconnaissance.
More to the point, perhaps, “Moskovsky komsomolets” said that the initial failure of this larger Russian plan had in no way dampened the enthusiasm of Russian generals to plan additional mischief in the Balkans. The newspaper suggested that future Russian troop deployments could very well be directed not at fulfilling agreements made by Russia and NATO, but rather at achieving the goals set by the Russian military leadership. The newspaper also argued that efforts by NATO to ameliorate Moscow’s obvious dissatisfaction with the peacekeeping arrangements in Kosovo would only embolden Russian generals to intensify their efforts. In perhaps its most disquieting observation, finally, “Moskovsky komsomolets” noted that, in interviews, Russian soldiers headed to Kosovo have shown little interest in peacekeeping activities. Instead, the troops reportedly speak in far more apocalyptic terms of their willingness to “fulfill any task for the motherland.” From their words, the newspaper concludes, the Russian troops appear to be preparing themselves for something in Kosovo far more “hazardous, complex and dangerous” than mere peacekeeping activities (Moskovsky komsomolets, July 2).
MILITARY DEJA VU.