Russians await orders in Kosovo as generals meet with NATO
June 12, 1999
Sergei Prikhodko, a senior international policy aide to President Boris Yeltsin, told CNN the deployment of the small contingent in Pristina was part of the first phase of the international presence in Kosovo. But earlier, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott the move was a mistake.
The Russians waited for further orders at the airport in Kosovo's provincial capital, Pristina. Ivanov said the troops will be withdrawn, but the Russian commander in Pristina said no pullback order had been given.
British Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, the military commander of the peacekeeping mission, arrived at the airport hours after the first NATO units. He told reporters he welcomed the Russian soldiers to Pristina, and that he planned to meet with their commander Colonel-General Viktor Zavarzin to try to sort out the dispute.
The advance into Pristina came while NATO and Russia were negotiating over Moscow's role in the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping force, dubbed KFOR.
Russia wants control over a section of the Serbian province and has balked at putting its troops under NATO command. NATO has resisted giving Russians their own sector.
Clinton administration officials remain deeply concerned over the continued presence of Russian troops in Pristina. But they tried to downplay those concerns Saturday, suggesting that the Russian move was largely a publicity stunt.
President Bill Clinton said Saturday that the United States "looks forward" to working with Russia in keeping the peace in Kosovo but he did not elaborate on what role the Russians could play.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke to her Russian counterpart by phone about the sudden arrival of the Russian troops and the need to make them part of the NATO-led force.
One U.S. official suggested the move could be "a way to make their (Russia's) voice heard, to salvage pride... and play to domestic politics." He said it was "not the best thought-out" action.
Another administration official says it's clear the Russians are "very anxious" to be a major player in the Yugoslav situation. But that official acknowledged "it's not clear" why the Russians are still there.
In London, British military officials said NATO has accepted the Russian explanation that the deployment was a mistake.
"The participation of Russian forces in the peace implementation force was welcome and remains welcome," Armed Forces Minister Doug Henderson said.
A delegation of top Russian generals took off for Skopje, Macedonia, to meet with NATO military leaders a few hours after Russia's troops entered Pristina.
The Russian troops arrived in Pristina at 1:30 a.m. Saturday (7:30 p.m. Friday EDT), upstaging NATO troops' entrance a few hours later. Russia and Serbia are traditional allies, and the Russians were greeted as heroes by the local Serb population.
The Russian commander in Pristina, Gen. Viktor Zavarzin, said his troops were in a "good mood," and he had established contact with "local authorities." Zavarzin was Russia's military representative at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, until he was recalled March 24 to protest the beginning of the air war against Yugoslavia.
Prikhodko said Yeltsin gave the order to move the force from Bosnia into Yugoslavia on Friday -- but left the details of carrying out the order to the Russian military.
The Russian news agency Interfax said more troops could be on their way to Kosovo: Interfax reported Saturday that an additional several hundred soldiers could be flown into Pristina from bases in central Russia.
With KFOR's advance guard approaching Pristina, NATO's top general avoided answering a question about whether the alliance would ask the Russians to place their troops under the command of NATO's military leader in Kosovo.
But NATO troops are familiar with many of the Russian officers in Pristina from their service with the Bosnian peacekeeping mission, Gen. said Saturday.
"We know we will be able to work this out, as soldiers always do," Clark said.
Russian troops enter Kosovo; Moscow orders them to leave
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