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Opinions Archive 1999
Starving out the Russians

NATO has adopted an interesting strategy for dealing with the unwelcome presence of Russian troops at Slatina airbase in Kosovo. It is ignoring them. Certainly, high level talks are continuing, but without any apparent urgency on NATO's part. Rather, NATO has successfully closed off the routes for Russian resupply and reinforcement and has declared that it didn't really want the airport, anyway. Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria have all refused overflight rights to Russian transport aircraft, at least until Russia and NATO reach a final agreement on Russia's role in KFOR. And KFOR commander Lieutenant General Sir Michael Jackson told reporters that, after surveying the area, he was happy to leave the airport to the Russians. "Frankly, now I've seen the grounds, it is too far out of town, I was a bit concerned about unexploded ordnance, so I'm very happy to leave the airfield in Russian hands," said Jackson. So NATO is going to try to starve the Russians out. Moscow's 200 troops can sit on the tarmac and watch the grass grow through the cracks while NATO troops secure the rest of Kosovo. This is a clever negotiating ploy, but not necessarily a solution. First, as Yugoslavia sees the guardians of its interests in Kosovo continue to be marginalized, Belgrade may attempt to come to the Russians' aid. The airport is not without stockpiled resources, and Russian "tourists" could filter into Yugoslavia, be armed and even reinforced by the Serbs, and make another overland trek into Kosovo. Second, NATO's utter disregard for Russian interests drove Moscow to generate the current standoff at Slatina. Continued marginalization of Russia will only further damage relations between NATO and Russia, not only in Kosovo but throughout Russia's former and current spheres of interest and influence as well. NATO's prize for winning this battle may be a revived cold war.

Source: Stratfor Kosovo Crisis Center

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