Moscow creates its own zone of security in Yugoslavia

So, events in Yugoslavia are entering a new phase which is supposed to establish stable peace on the territory of Kosovo. A UN resolution on a peacekeeping operation in Kosovo was signed. Serbian army and police detachments and non-combatants are leaving the conflict zone. Albanian refugees prepare to come back to their abandoned homes to live there in peace and safety provided by international peacekeepers. Up to 50,000 peacekeepers from almost 30 countries are supposed to be quartered in Kosovo.

US President Clinton: Most of them will come from our partners in Europe. The United States will send about 7,000 servicemen.

According to the president, the international military contingent will be “under NATO command and control” and all its elements will have to observe the “rules of cooperation” established by the Alliance.

Russia refuses to play along. To quote a certain military expert, “We are confident that adoption of the UN resolution will greatly contribute to peaceful, fair, and long-term resolution of the Kosovo crisis under the aegis of the United Nations. That is why Moscow will implement its own plans in Kosovo.” The man was quoted as saying that “the United States and NATO should understand that Russia has played and will continue playing an important part in the settlement in Kosovo and in Yugoslavia on the whole.” At the same time, a whole number of political and moral reasons prevent it “from handing the command over its contingent in Kosovo over to NATO.” The compromise which “will surely be found” “will have to take Russia’s interests into consideration.” This is what Russian officers are stone-cold confident of.

On June 10, a Russian military delegation under Leonid Ivashov, Director of the International Military Cooperation Main Directorate of the Defense Ministry, began negotiations with representatives of the US Defense Department who came to Moscow to talk over the role and the place of the Russian military contingent in the upcoming peacekeeping operation in Kosovo. As Ivashov himself announced before the negotiations commenced, they would be difficult indeed because Russia and NATO had polar views on the matter.

In the meantime, Americans have their own scenario which is based, as Russian military experts unhappily admit, on the agreements previously reached with Presidential Envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin. The man had accepted Washington’s proposals on a single command in the conflict area and on an agreement between Russia and NATO on the former’s participation in the peacekeeping process. In other words, before the negotiations ever began Moscow was all but given an ultimatum by Washington: play along (i.e. accept NATO command) or get lost.

Specialists of the Defense Ministry maintain that on June 10 military experts were busy to try and correct the mistakes made by Chernomyrdin at the negotiations. That is why it all took place in the Foreign Ministry behind closed doors.

As soon as reports on adoption of the UN resolution came in to the effect that the United Nations was once again assuming its key role in the Kosovo settlement, Moscow promptly changed its attitude towards participation in the post-war settlement in Kosovo. Before the second round of negotiations with the American delegation on June 11, Ivashov was quoted as saying the following, “We are not going to beg Americans concerning allocation of a zone of responsibility in Kosovo. We will merely pronounce our sector and have it all agreed upon with Yugoslavians.” The officer went on to say that the group of experts was about to continue discussion of details of the Russian contingent’s deployment in Kosovo. If Americans persist, “we are not going to beg anybody,” reiterated Ivashov.

Asked to elaborate on the tasks the Russian contingent would carry out, on its location etc, Ivashov explained that the tasks would be specified by the UN mandate. Under the UN mandate, Russia could participate in the peacekeeping operation as the next UN member.

Ivashov emphasized that deployment of a contingent in Kosovo required a political decision and its approval by the Federation Council. Anyway, the general does not expect any delays.

Ivashov: We will send our troops there when all other countries begin the deployment. The troops are being prepared already for the peacekeeping operation. Supposedly, our sector will comprise northern and northwestern Kosovo. Numerical strength will be determined by the president, something between 2,500 and 10,000 servicemen.

In the meantime, on the night on June 12 Russian paratroopers from Bosnia made a 500-kilometer long march, entered Kosovo, and took over the airfield near the town of Pristina. Thus the West was shown that Moscow was prepared to act independently, without looking over its shoulder for anybody’s approval. Presently, the matter of transportation of troops from Russia is being thrashed out.

10,000 servicemen is an equivalent of a motorized infantry division. Meanwhile, transportation of some permanent combat readiness formation is unlikely. Most probably, the contingent will comprise two or three brigades one of them an Airborne Troops brigade (it is already known for a fact).

According to Georgy Shpak, Commander-in-Chief of the Airborne Troops, he already has orders to prepare paratroopers for the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Their numerical strength is approximately 2,500 men, equal of a reinforced paratroops brigade of three battalions. Specialists do not eliminate the possibility of including a motorized infantry division or two into the contingent and separate engineering companies for dealing with numerous minefields established during the hostilities.

Participation of Russian servicemen in contingents sent to hot spots is only for volunteers. Needless to say, those wet behind the ears will never be sent there. That means the possibility of recruitment of additional men with scarce military vocations at army enlistment and recruitment offices for contract service.

The General Staff also plans to have some aviation on the spot, combat and military-transport helicopters mostly. Most probably, it will be a mixed wing of between 10 and 15 machines.

Moscow does not mind the presence of contingents of neutral countries and armies of the Commonwealth in its zone of responsibility.

Ivashov: We would have welcomed Greece and some Moslem countries in our sector…

The general announced that the Russian contingent would cooperate with NATO units in Kosovo as well.

Ivashov: Without this cooperation, implementation of the tasks defined by the UN mandate becomes a sheer impossibility. The mechanism of this cooperation is being worked on now. At the same time, we will not put up with NATO lording it over everybody. A great deal of work awaits us all in Kosovo. Americans share our worries with regard to the necessity to disarm detachments of the Kosovo Liberation Army and see in it one of the most serious problems of the multinational contingent in Yugoslavia.

In other words, transportation of Russian troops to Kosovo is just a matter of time, now. It is bound to cost Russia dearly. The Defense Ministry does not eliminate the possibility that financing of the peacekeeping contingent in Kosovo will be Russia’s own responsibility. This possibility was confirmed indirectly by Sergei Stepashin’s address to the Duma where he announced that the contingent might cost the country up to $150 million. A considerable sum for Russias, it amounts to almost 5% of the planned military expenditures. Nobody knows where the money will originate but military financiers do not rule out the possibility that once again, as it already happened more than once, the financial burden will be the Defense Ministry’s to shoulder with no hope of recompense even at a later date.

If sources from the Defense Ministry were to be believed, a compromise may be reached at the Russian-American negotiations. Perhaps, Russia’s experience of “independence” from NATO in Bosnia will be used in Kosovo, now: our representative with a group of advisors was present at the NATO headquarters in Bosnia where he discussed all problems and tasks with top NATO officers and then forwarded them to the Russian troops. Or again, Americans may play along and give Russia and other countries which refused to participate in the aggression a zone of responsibility. Along with that, a kind of “screen” may be set up for decentralized command. For example, a special representative of the UN Security Council will be dispatched to the NATO headquarters, so as to get all directives and “transmit” them to the Russian contingent.

It is clear all the same that the Russian zone will be the hottest. Albanian commandos already announced that hostilities against the Russian contingent would continue because Russians were Serbians’ allies.