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Crisis 1999
Opinions Archive 1999
Another Fracture in KFOR

Intensifying a standoff, leaders of the village of Orahovac on August 24 rebuffed the demands of Western and Russian negotiators who want Russian troops to enter the community in south-central Kosovo. More than a confrontation over a single village, the deadlock will likely trigger other such struggles, threatening Russia's participation in KFOR and encouraging Moscow to carve an independent role for its troops in Kosovo.

Leaders of the ethnic Albanian community met with Russian and NATO officials on August 24 to negotiate the entry of Russian troops who had been scheduled to replace German and Dutch troops. The residents allege that during the recent conflict, Russian mercenaries fought side by side with Serbs.

"The Russians can be sent where there were no massacres committed by Russians," said Albanian community spokesman Agim Hasku. "Why station them here where so many crimes were committed by Russians?"

Orahovac is just one in a series of incidents that threatens the viability of Russia's participation in KFOR operations. Ethnic Albanians and the KLA have taken pot shots at Russian troops. And by choosing to place Russian troops in controversial situations, KFOR may force Russia to reconsider its peacekeeping role.

Moscow is not about to pull its troops out of Kosovo. Colonel General Georgi Shpak, commander of Russian Airborne Troops in Kosovo, affirms, "We shall find a way to fulfill our mission." His sentiments match those of the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Defense.

NATO and Russia cannot politically afford to sever their joint operations in Kosovo. Russia's participation is essential, lending NATO legitimacy while allowing Moscow a greater role in the Balkans and protecting Serb interests. But the wedge between NATO and Russia is widening as the United Nations resolution which authorized KFOR has been ignored. Russia's allies, the Serbs, have been restricted from sending limited numbers of troops to police Kosovo's borders and religious shrines.

If conditions continue to deteriorate, we believe Russia and Serbia will be tempted to challenge KFOR's authority with limited Serb police forces approaching the border to join with Russian troops. The longer NATO fails to help Serbs in Kosovo - either directly or by sending Russian troops to impossible assignments - the more hostile Belgrade will become.

This winter will be decisive for Russia's role in KFOR. Moscow has not even found a way to pay the US$39 million cost of its peacekeeping force. The patience of soldiers in Kosovo will recede without adequate supplies. Unwilling to forfeit its presence, Moscow will find a way to aid its partner, Serbia.

Source: Stratfor Kosovo Crisis Center

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