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Opinions Archive 1999
KLA Versus Russia - Will They Force the Issue?

The KLA, understanding Russia's presence in Kosovo for what it is, has grown increasingly bellicose about the issue, declaring the Russians unwelcome and refusing to guarantee their safety. Russian forces in Kosovo are there to guarantee ultimate Serbian sovereignty over the province. The KLA has fought, and continues to fight, for nothing less than an independent Kosova. In the eyes of the KLA, Russians are direct replacements for Serb forces, and they're right - to the extent that NATO is a replacement for the KLA. Each are there to defend the interests of particular "national communities" as Rambouillet put it. Hashim Thaci, KLA political leader and prime minister of the self-styled Provisional Kosova Government, today called the entrance of Russian troops into Kosovo a "provocation in the efforts to secure the peace." Thaci insisted the replacement of Serb troops with Russian forces will not be accepted. Thaci and other KLA spokesman have previously and repeatedly, if indirectly, threatened to take matters into their own hands, stating that they can not guarantee the safety of the Russians. As NATO and the Yugoslav Army are unlikely to open fire on the Russians, the KLA has essentially refused to protect the Russian troops from the other armed force in Kosovo - the KLA. Will they do it? Will the KLA attack Russian troops in an attempt to force Russian - and by extension Serbian - influence from the province? Now, when Russia has but 200 troops in Kosovo and reinforcements are blocked by closed air corridors, would be the optimum time, if any. It would also be suicidal for the KLA. NATO may be in a standoff with Russian forces at Slatina airbase, but they could do nothing but come to Russian troops' assistance if the Russians came under fire. To do any less - even to hesitate - would clarify NATO's position vis a vis both Russia and Yugoslavia, the Serbian withdrawal would reverse, and NATO-Russian relations would be set back two decades. Russian hard-liners would be utterly vindicated in Moscow and before the UN in their earlier condemnation of NATO actions in Kosovo, and Russia would have ample grounds to demand a much bigger role in any settlement that could be salvaged from the rubble of Slatina. Finally, a KLA attack on Russian troops would also give NATO the excuse to liquidate the KLA. While many in Europe, both in and out of NATO, could tolerate a moderate autonomous Kosovar Albanian government under someone like Ibrahim Rugova, countries like Italy, Greece, and Macedonia are appalled at the thought of a KLA-dominated Kosovo. The KLA was useful when NATO was attempting to put pressure on Belgrade. Now it is a liability. If the situation is reversed - if Russian troops open fire on KLA forces reluctant to surrender their arms - the equations may shift, but for now the Russians have barely enough forces to control the airbase. They are not patrolling in search of armed KLA units. So until the situation at Slatina is resolved, either through the arrival of additional Russian troops and agreement on an action plan or through the arrival of KLA forces and the eruption of a firefight, this line of inquiry will have to wait.

Source: Stratfor Kosovo Crisis Center

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