Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 125

Russia continued yesterday to reinforce and resupply its military contingent in Kosovo. Three Russian cargo planes carrying troops, weapons and airport equipment arrived at the Slatina airport near Pristina. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, meanwhile, told reporters that the main part of Russia’s 3,600-strong troop contingent would be transported to Kosovo over the next two weeks. He said that Moscow would focus first on equipping the Slatina airport. Next to arrive in Kosovo, he said, would be advanced troop detachments, whose main task will be to prepare the basing areas which will be home to the main part of Russia’s Kosovo force (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, June 28). Russian officials have said the full deployment of Russian men and material to Kosovo will take from forty to forty-five days.

This deployment will not necessarily be a smooth one, however. Russian military leaders have insisted since reaching agreement with NATO that the country’s contingent in Kosovo will be fully capable of defending itself against threats posed by Kosovo Albanian guerrillas. The commander of Russian Airborne Forces, for example, observed last week that the Russian paratroopers in Kosovo would face no restrictions on their ability to respond to hostile acts. Colonel General Grigory Shpak was also quoted as saying that the “separatists” (one of Moscow’s standard terms for the Kosovo Albanian guerrillas) would “hardly be willing to test the strength” of Russia’s forces once they observe the level of the Russians’ preparedness (Russian agencies, June 24).

Some Western sources paint a different picture, however. One report quotes a senior NATO officer as saying that the “Russians have expressed concern that they will be used as target practice by the Kosovo Liberation Army. The Russians want protection,” he added. “They are edgy.” The report suggests that some in NATO fear the arrival of the Russian contingent in Kosovo will be a destabilizing event because of the hostility felt by the ethnic Albanian population toward Moscow (Wall Street Journal, June 28). NATO officials, in other words, apparently feel that the consequences of the enmity between the Russians and ethnic Albanians will outweigh the benefits of the sympathy felt between the Russian troops and the ethnic Serb population. In their public remarks senior NATO officers have thus far been careful to welcome Russia’s participation in the Kosovo peacekeeping mission, and to emphasize the positive effect that the arrival of the Russians could have on Kosovo’s fearful Serb population.