Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 150

The visit of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic to Moscow followed an incident on the ground in Kosovo this past weekend which re-ignited tensions between the Russian troops in the province and Kosovo Albanians already resentful of those troops. The incident occurred on July 31 when a top commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)–Chief of Staff General Agim Ceku–was detained by Russian paratroopers near Kijevo in the German-controlled sector of Kosovo. The Russian soldiers said that Ceku was not carrying the identification papers required of KLA personnel wearing uniforms and carrying weapons in Kosovo. They said that the detention was brief and lasted only as long as it took to confirm Ceku’s identity.

KLA leader Hashim Thaqi reacted sharply to the incident, however, calling it a “premeditated political act” which “verifies our doubts about the ability of Russian troops to bring stability to Kosovo.” He called for the Russian troops to be brought under the direct command of the KFOR commander–British Lieutenant General Michael Jackson–to ensure that the Russians not act like “uncontrolled gangs across Kosovo.” Thaqi also denied the Russian account of the incident, saying that Ceku was in possession of the proper identification papers and accusing the Russian troops of trying to take Ceku into a nearby barracks for questioning (AP, July 31, August 1; Washington Post, August 1).

Although KFOR officials and Russian officers in the field downplayed the detention as a “minor incident,” the Russian government reacted with predictable sharpness of its own. A Foreign Ministry statement called Thaqi’s response to the detention a “crude provocation” and criticized what it called the “impunity of the KLA, which is carrying out illegal violence against local Serbs.” Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov reportedly sent messages making the same points to the UN, to commanders of the peacekeeping operation in Kosovo, and to foreign ministers of Western countries (AP, Itar-Tass, August 1).

The respected Russian newspaper “Izvestia,” meanwhile, claimed on August 3 that the arrest of Ceku had indeed been orchestrated deliberately by the Russian troops in Kosovo. Without providing specifics, the paper intimated that Russia’s intelligence services–which it said are well represented among the troops in Kosovo–had arranged the arrest in order to discredit Ceku with the KLA leadership (Izvestia, August 3). An account of the detention published by a Russian news agency on August 2, meanwhile, seemed to suggest that Ceku may indeed have had the proper identification papers with him at the time of his detention, but that the Russian troops had failed to recognize their validity. The report said that the KFOR staff had later worked with the Russian troops to ensure, among other things, that they have samples of those documents permitting their bearers to move freely about Kosovo (RIA, August 2).