Back in Moscow, an air defense planner proudly watches Serbs

Ex-Soviet general sees his handiwork as NATO's nightmare

April 30, 1999|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- Yuri Rodin-Sova, a roundish, genial man, can't help but beam at the way Yugoslavia's air defense system has been performing, proud as a teacher who hears years later that a favorite pupil has made good.

"If you remember these systems are 30 years old and they are acting against the most modern planes in the world," he says, "then their efficiency is very high.

"When NATO says they are not losing planes, you can't believe it."

From a shabby old building on the periphery of Moscow, Rodin-Sova runs Defense Systems, the company that produced the Yugsolav anti-aircraft system. Though the building looks as if it's ready to fall down and the lobby is full of unintentionally exposed brick, Rodin-Sova's fourth-floor offices are smartly turned out.

A toy truck bearing a toy missile -- a model of those sold to Yugoslavia -- sits on top of a gleaming credenza. Next to it is a twisted hunk of metal -- a chunk of a Scud missile.

"Before we sold Scuds to Saddam Hussein, we decided we better know how to shoot them down, in case he ever turned them on us," Rodin-Sova says. "This is part of one we shot down."

Rodin-Sova, 50, is a much-decorated retired major general who served with the Soviet anti-aircraft troops from 1967 to 1992. He says the Yugoslav anti-aircraft system includes three types of weapons developed by the Soviet Union from 1968 to 1972, based on experience in Vietnam, where Soviet advisers assisted the North Vietnamese during their war against the United States.

"Everyone realized that in such a small country as Vietnam, it was impossible to shoot down all planes," he says. "We developed this tactic of a high-mobility, low-visibility system. An armed unit is hidden; it shoots and quickly moves to another place and hides, waiting for another opportunity."

Rodin-Sova, who says he learned English by conversing with American prisoners of war in Vietnam, says that if his anti-aircraft system is being used, it stands to reason that more planes have been shot down and that NATO is simply covering it up. He thinks about 20 have been shot down.

"I'm sure NATO has losses but is hiding them so as not to stir up opposition to the war," he says. "It's not a surprise. During World War II, we never told the truth. Stalin never gave statistics about losses. It's only later we find out."

Rodin-Sova says Yugoslavia has used its anti-aircraft system much more effectively than Iraqi President Hussein used his Soviet-made system during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

"Iraq made a mistake. Saddam used the whole missile system at once, to strike back," he says. "The system was revealed and destroyed. Yugoslavia hid its system, took its time and used it carefully"

He says the Yugoslavs still have an intact system, which serves as a deterrent to the widening of the war and would be effective against America's Apache helicopters.

According to NATO information, after 4,423 bombing missions flown over Yugoslavia, only one plane has been lost -- the F-117 stealth fighter shot down March 28.

Rodin-Sova says that can't be true.

"I'm sure there are more," he says, going on to impugn the "invisibility" of the F-117. "They don't want taxpayers in the U.S. to find out they paid their money for nothing. There can be no invisible planes. It's a trick. To make it invisible, you would have to violate all the laws of physics, and that isn't possible."

Though Rodin-Sova is clearly proud of his company's work, he says that doesn't mean he likes war -- a good anti-aircraft system should help prevent one. "Just because we're making weapons doesn't mean we want to shoot them," he says. "If there's an atomic bomb, that doesn't mean we should explode it. It's a deterrent."

And, finally: "Technology doesn't make war, people do."

Like the vast majority of Russians, he thinks NATO's action against Yugoslavia is wrong, and he doesn't think NATO will accomplish its objectives.

"In Yugoslavia, the military spirit is very high," he says. "They have a perfectly trained army will- ing to fight to the last soldier, and that will take a long time.

"I can't understand why the country should be completely destroyed. If NATO wanted to prevent a human catastrophe, that catastrophe has already happened, and bombing is only making it worse. Where will the refugees return, to destroyed Pristina? To villages burnt to the ground from bombing? Bombs will not solve anything."

He contends that NATO has set off a chain of events that it will not be able to control.

"Even if NATO stops bombing tomorrow and [President Slobodan] Milosevic accepts all demands, the war will not stop. There will be people who will continue. . . . Those who lost relatives will continue, and the consequences will last for a very long time."

NATO strengthened Milosevic by bombing because the attacks have unified Yugoslavs around him, he says.

"Now, for Serbs, it's a question of national pride," Rodin-Sova says. "When the bombing stops, Milosevic will be a hero. The more bombs, the more glory."

He predicts the Albanians will never be able to return to Kosovo. "Will you give every Albanian family a military unit to protect them from terrorists? There will be constant attacks. You won't be able to protect each family."

And the trouble will spread farther, he says.

"If NATO is able by bombing to reach some goals, NATO will desire to solve all international problems this way," he says. "Why not bomb the Turks because of the Kurds? Why not bomb England because of Northern Ireland? Why not bomb Spain because of the Basques? Why not bomb Canada because the Quebecois want to split? It can be arranged so that the whole world will explode."

If only Yugoslavia had had the foresight to buy Russia's latest anti-aircraft system, Rodin-Sova says. "Then NATO would never have dared to start bombing at all."

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