Russia Has Taken the Upper Hand
A column of Russian troops, around 200 paratroopers and 40 armored vehicles and tanks, arrived in Kosovo's capital Pristina on June 11 night, while the NATO forces were still preparing for their entry into Kosovo. Earlier June 12 morning they took over the Slatina airport in Pristina, which was supposed to be NATO headquarters.
When the first British detachment of 100 soldiers arrived at the airport by helicopter, they found in a big surprise a "besiege" of Russians. Later the British reinforcing ground troops were blocked outside the airport. A British newspaper said it's the first time since the erection of Berlin Wall more than 50 years ago that British soldiers meet with Russian soldiers at close quarter.
Soon after Russia's takeover of Slatina airport, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the event was a mistake. But he changed his words in meeting with U.S Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot next day. While the Russian government gave no official explanation why it swiftly moved up its 200 Russian soldiers, Russian leaders appeared quite pleased with the outcome.
The U.S leaders tried to downplay the event though obviously they were quite annoyed by that. The Sectary of State Madeleine Albright said in an interview: "They (Russian troops) want to be part of the KFOR (Kosovo Security Force) force. We want them to be part of it. I think they got a little bit ahead of themselves."
Compared with more than 15,000 NATO soldiers in Kosovo, the 200 Russian paratroopers do not make any military sense. But it provides Russia a good bargain in its talks with NATO on peace-keeping operations. Also by that move, the Russian government may win support from the Duma, its military forces and the Russian people. Hence some analysts believe that the Russian government took the move intentionally.
In talks with Russia, NATO insisted the Kosovo should be divided into five zones. Five countries, Britain, U.S., German, Italy and Russia respectively, will be responsible for each zone. And all troops should serve under the NATO unified command. On the other hand, Russia demands a zone under its exclusive control and an independent command system from NATO. Only by that Russia may fully play its role in implementing the U.N. resolution.
By the swift move of troops into the airport in Pristina, Russia gains the upper hand in the first round. But the prospect in Kosovo is still not clear, how will Russia take part in the peace-keeping operation? Will that issue affect relations between Russia and the Western countries? Let us wait and see.
Opinion 1999-06-15 Page6
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