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Opinions Archive 1999
Russians may be seeking to change status quo in Kosovo

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently affirmed that Russian forces "will cooperate with NATO," but added the caveat that, "We have our geopolitical interests and we will stand up for them." Statements made on August 20 by Russian defense and foreign ministries suggest that Russian participation in K-FOR may no longer match Putin's vision of Russia's "geopolitical interests." At a press conference today, Russia's Foreign Ministry envoy to the former Yugoslavia Boris Mayorsky warned that Russia could pull out of KFOR if its exercises "take such a character that it would become unacceptable for Russia to be associated with such activities." Defense Ministry chief of international cooperation Leonid Ivashoy said, "NATO's scenario" for the development of peacekeeping operations is a "dangerous prospect." Ivashoy believes the "dangerous prospect" is NATO's continued ambivalence to Russia's terms for the peacekeeping operation-the same terms established for Kosovo by UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Russia has demanded an authentic peacekeeping operation and believes that NATO has implemented a grisly occupation.

Russia's involvement in peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia is at odds with NATO and U.S. command and always has been. Russia threw down the gauntlet on June 12 by sending paratroopers into Pristina airport to intercept British forces that were en route. Effectively, this meant Russia would participate in KFOR, and they were not asking permission. Since then, NATO's only concession to Russia was to accommodate 3,600 Russian troops into the overall 50,000 strong KFOR deployment. NATO and the U.S. continued to run the peacekeeping operation its own way, without Russia's consent. The arrangement has put Russia on the defensive, triggering a less than veiled threat from Russia to abandon KFOR operations altogether. Russia's role in the peacekeeping operations will be reconsidered in Moscow next month in more detail when Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev receives U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen.

KFOR's command structure is deaf to Russian interests in the region. Russian checkpoints in the southern and eastern sector of Kosovo are continually hit by anonymous snipers, most likely KLA guerrillas. Moscow also complains that KFOR has taken no steps to stop revenge attacks on Serbs by Albanian refugees, whittling the pre-war Serb population in Pristina from 40,000 to 2,000. The latest cause of protest was last night's bombing of Serb teleradio transmitters in northern Kosovo by French KFOR troops, declared by General Ivashov to be "an unjustified act of arbitrariness." Though Russian servicemen were asked to assist with these operations, Ivashov insists the Russian contingent has not, and will not, obey such instructions. Accordingly, the combination of statements made today allows for two options in Kosovo: Russia either pulls out of Kosovo altogether, which is unlikely, or pulls out of KFOR, in which case it could begin operations with the Yugoslav Army.

Regardless of the rhetoric, Russia would likely consider a complete withdrawal of its troops from KFOR or Kosovo to be even more dangerous than the status quo. As much as Russia does not want to be marginalized in KFOR, it wants to be mocked even less. What Russia wants is the implementation of accords reached at Helsinki. This would involve the cooperation of police forces from neighboring states, particularly the 2nd and 3rd Yugoslav Army, comprised mostly of Serbs and a handful of Montenegrins. This is one option.

Another option for Russia, one that may already be in the planning stage, would involve a coalition peacekeeping division of Russian and Serb forces-sans KFOR. This would give Russia the operational command it so desires but cannot otherwise have, while respecting an element of Resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council that NATO has conveniently ignored: the participation of forces from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The steady violence waged against Serbs in the region and the tacit reluctance of KFOR to disarm the KLA is drawing more fire from neighboring states. Serbia wants back in.

Serbian President Slobadan Milosevic drove the point home to Kofi Annan last week after delivering to him a scathing critique of UN failures to protect Serbs from Albanian refugees, a critique fully supported by a recent mission of the UN High Commission on Refugees. Unconfirmed reports also indicate that volunteers loyal to Milosevic loyalist Bucovic are forming policing bands in Montenegro. Yugoslav 3rd Army General Nebojsa Pavkovic, whose zone of operations includes Kosovo, is also screaming to take KFOR's place. Now, KFOR can either integrate Serb forces over General Wesley Clark's dead body, or Russia can seize operational command over peacekeeping operations in Kosovo. Both cannot happen. But in a season ruled by task-master Putin, Russia is more likely to look outside of KFOR to make its way than it is to be chronically humiliated by NATO.

Source: Stratfor Kosovo Crisis Center

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