Russia’s participation in NATO’s Kosovo peacekeeping mission remained a focus of attention in Moscow yesterday as President Boris Yeltsin met in the Kremlin with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev to discuss the matter. Yeltsin was shown on Russian television welcoming Sergeev warmly and telling him that “with your help, Russia handled the campaign in Kosovo and in Yugoslavia as a whole with excellence.” Yeltsin also told Sergeev that the Russian government must now work out a detailed plan “for the future of Kosovo and Yugoslavia as a whole.” He added, finally, that the Slatina airport near Pristina has “serious strategic importance” for the international peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Russia hustled some 200 paratroopers into the airport on June 12 ahead of NATO’s forces and attempted to use that military presence to win a greater role for itself in the peacekeeping operation. As Moscow has repeatedly emphasized, the Russian troops continue to wield considerable authority at the airport.
Few details were available of the actual talks, but the Kremlin clearly intended for news footage of the meeting to suggest that the president remains personally involved in planning for the Kosovo operation. The meeting also appeared designed to indicate both Yeltsin’s support for Sergeev’s conduct of Russian policy in the Balkans, and to suggest that Sergeev had been involved in the operation which brought the Russian paratroopers to Pristina on June 12 (Reuters, Russian agencies, Russian Public TV, June 28).
Reports in Russia and the West have suggested that hardline Russian generals may have been responsible for the surprise Russian move into Kosovo–possibly without Yeltsin’s full knowledge. They have also referred to the possibility that Sergeev himself may have been left out of the decisionmaking loop. There have long been rumors of tensions between Sergeev–a former rocket forces commander who has launched unpopular military reforms–and other more tradition-minded factions within the military leadership. In his remarks to reporters after the meeting yesterday with Yeltsin, Sergeev said that they had discussed planning for the Kosovo operation, as well as the defense budget and recent Russian military exercises.
GOVERNMENT DEFENDS POLICY IN THE BALKANS.