Russians complicate NATO deployment plan Offer of 20,000 troops meets U.S. resistance

October 11, 1995|By GILBERT A. LEWTHWAITE AND MARK MATTHEWS | GILBERT A. LEWTHWAITE AND MARK MATTHEWS,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Russia is willing to send more peacekeeping troops to Bosnia than the United States wants it to, complicating plans for rapid deployment of NATO forces once a peace agreement is signed.

Russia's defense minister, Gen. Pavel S. Grachev, has offered to send up to a division, about 20,000 troops, to Bosnia, nearly matching the U.S. commitment of up to 25,000 troops to the NATO force. The NATO force is expected to total about 60,000.

Russia, which is not a member of NATO, is refusing to serve under NATO command while still insisting on being part of the international peace-implementation force.

The United States wants Russia to participate in the peacekeeping operation as a way to strengthen cooperation with the Kremlin on European security and to reassure the Serbs, who have suffered allied airstrikes and who are traditional Russian comrades. But Washington does not want, or see the need for, so many Russian troops in Bosnia.

After a meeting of U.S. and Russian defense ministers Sunday in Geneva, the two countries remained at odds on key aspects of Russian participation in a peacekeeping force for Bosnia.

Having so many Russian troops on the ground in Bosnia would raise these problems, according to U.S. officials:

* Who will command the Russians, and how will their operations be coordinated with NATO? NATO insists on keeping sole control of implementing the peace to avoid the kind of indecision and confusion that have marred the joint operation of U.N. and NATO forces in Bosnia over the past three years.

Two other non-NATO peacekeeping groups, from eastern Europe and Islamic nations, will participate under NATO control. The administration prefers that the Russians accept this formula. The alternative is for Russia to operate outside the NATO plan and only on noncombat functions, like civil engineering. So far, the Russian preference has been to join the military operation.

* Who will pay for the Russians? The cash-strapped Russians have shown reluctance to foot the bill themselves and are looking to the United Nations to finance it.

The United States expects all nations to pay for their own peacekeepers in Bosnia, as they did in the Persian Gulf war. Defense Secretary William J. Perry estimates it will cost between $1 billion and $2 billion to maintain a division-strength force in Bosnia for a year. The Clinton administration is preparing to seek payment from Congress to cover its outlays.

* The presence of a Russian division would likely mean a Russian general on the Bosnian scene, raising the risk of high-level military tension and conflict.

The Russians have more than 1,200 troops in the former Yugoslavia -- 810 in Serb-controlled Eastern Slovenia and 420 in the Bosnian-Serb sector of Sarajevo. The Russians have offered to keep these forces in the area.

"They have also said they would like to contribute more troops, perhaps up to a division," said Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon, noting that NATO had suggested that the Russians send only several battalions. He gave no troop total, but such a force strength would likely involve no more than 5,000-10,000 troops.

Nicholas Burns, the State Department spokesman, said there was no agreement on whether Russia would be inside or outside the command structure or on whether Russia would play a central role in implementing a peace force or a minor role outside it.

"All remains to be decided," Mr. Burns said.

Mr. Burns said it was "crucial" that these disagreements be worked out and a way be found for the Russians to participate. Negotiations will be held at a meeting of the five-nation Contact Group on Bosnia -- the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Britain -- in London next week. Richard Holbrooke, the administration's point man on Bosnia, will travel to Moscow next week, and the Russians are sending a military liaison team to allied headquarters in Europe.

"We certainly don't want to see a situation where Russia is on the outside of the glass looking in," Mr. Burns said. "Much better to have Russia inside."

Significantly, the Pentagon announced yesterday that 250 Russian and 250 American troops would hold joint peacekeeping exercises at Fort Riley, Kan., later this month.

The new complications came as a cease-fire was slated to take hold in Bosnia last night, and as NATO prepared to approve the broad outlines of the peacekeeping plan today. Peace talks are to start in the United States Oct. 31. Once agreement is reached, the NATO force is expected to be deployed within days.

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