Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 133

Over the weekend, for the first time since they arrived in Yugoslavia, Russian troops began deploying away from the Slatina airport near Pristina to the sites where they will establish more permanent bases of operations. An advance unit of Russian paratroopers moved on July 10 from the airport to a damaged cement factory in the town of Kosovska Kamenica, which lies in the American sector some twenty miles southeast of Pristina. The group, reportedly composed of eighty-six soldiers and three armored personnel carriers, is to prepare for a larger force drawn from Russia’s 13th Pskov paratrooper battalion. According to the commander of Russian forces in Kosovo, Major General Valery Yevtukhovich, another Russian advance team was to set out yesterday for the German sector of Kosovo, while a third team will deploy to the French sector by July 15. All the Russian forces in Kosovo, he said, will be deployed by August 6. His comments came as Russian troops continued to make their way to the Balkans by air, sea and rail (AP, Reuters, Russian agencies, July 10).

Although NATO officers in Kosovo continued to speak publicly of the benefits which the Russian troops would bring–particularly insofar as they might help to calm the ethnic Serb population—they clearly continued to harbor concerns that the arrival of the Russian troops could exacerbate the already considerable tensions in the province. NATO officials were reported last week, for example, to be reconsidering whether Russian troops should be sent, as planned, to the town of Orahovac in Western Kosovo. The Dutch troops currently there have reportedly cornered several suspected Serbian war criminals among some 3,000 ethnic Serbs still holding out in an isolated neighborhood in Orahovac. The Dutch troops have also managed to protect the Serbs from ethnic Albanians seeking revenge. There were said to be concerns among NATO leaders that the Russian troops might find the situation difficult to handle, and that they would also be less vigilant than the Dutch peacekeepers in seeking the suspected war criminals. “It’s a sticky point,” one NATO spokesman was quoted as saying. “It’s not impossible that the area [the Russians are assigned to patrol] will change” (Washington Post, July 8). Moscow has made it clear that its troops will not participate in the apprehension of suspected Serb war criminals.

Not surprisingly, there have been protests against the deployment of the Russians by ethnic Albanians in several Kosovo towns. The opposition to the Russians in Orahovac is based at least in part upon reports that Russian volunteers may have been prominently involved in ethnic cleansing operations carried out by Serb forces in and around the town (Newsday, June 22). Ethnic Albanian protesters over the weekend were reported to be carrying placards reading “Russians were our killers” and “Russian troops, get out.” They reportedly also threatened to desert the town if Russian troops replace the Dutch contingent already stationed there (UPI, July 9). More generally, the Kosovo Albanians see the Russians as allies of the Serbs, and fear that the Russians will be less than reliable as peacekeepers and as protectors of the ethnic Albanian population. The local Serb population, in contrast, has warmly welcomed the arrival of the Russians.

A leading Russian daily, meanwhile, on July 8 reprised the argument that the Russian government will be unable to finance the country’s peacekeeping operation in Kosovo. A commentary in the newspaper “Segodnya” claimed that the Kosovo mission will cost Russia well over US$100 million per year. And that, the newspaper pointed out, would be only a portion of a larger budget required to finance the operations of other Russian troops and military bases abroad, including those in the CIS states. The newspaper draws the logical conclusion that these foreign operations are a major reason why the army has no money to purchase weaponry or even to maintain its existing arsenal. This not only undermines military readiness in Russia, the paper implies, but compels the defense-industrial complex to seek arms sales in countries which may ultimately prove to be unfriendly toward Moscow (Segodnya, July 8).