Alliance seeks to define Russia's role in Kosovo

Officials meet in Moscow to iron out difficult details

June 10, 1999|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Now that the Russians have helped seal a Kosovo peace plan, they are proposing to send as many as 10,000 of their soldiers into the embattled province as peacekeepers.

They want to have their own sector to patrol but don't want to come under NATO's command.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said yesterday that Russia was considering four possibilities ranging from 2,000 to 10,000 troops, and added: "Russian peacekeepers will be commanded by the Russian leadership."

NATO officials, meanwhile, are putting the finishing touches on a plan to send in an international force of 50,000 peacekeepers, including 7,000 Americans. One retired senior U.S. officer said there is widespread concern among military officials that the peacekeeping effort could be a "disaster."

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott is in Moscow today to negotiate details of the Russian deployment. NATO officials also will participate in the talks.

"The Russians will see that we are flexible, we are imaginative," said NATO's civilian spokesman, Jamie P. Shea. "We will be looking at ways to coordinate with them in a force which would preserve, of course, the essential command arrangements on the NATO side, but also take into account the specificity of Russia."

A State Department official said the likely scenario is for the commander of the Kosovo peacekeeping force, British Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, to wear two hats as both a United Nations commander and a NATO commander. The Russians would report to Jackson in his U.N. role.

NATO's plans now call for five allied sectors in Kosovo headed by the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

A Russian sector would be problematic since it would amount to a partitioning of Kosovo, giving the Serbs' close ally exclusive control over part of the province, said Ivo Daalder, a Balkans expert at the Brookings Institution. He said a Russian command separate from NATO would undermine the alliance.

Retired Adm. Leighton Smith, who as NATO commander in Southern Europe ran the Bosnian bombing campaign in 1995, said coalition efforts are always difficult. "What makes it worse is when you have a country like Russia with a different agenda," he said.

Ethnic Albanian leaders balk at having Russian troops in Kosovo, because Russia has been a steadfast ally of Serbia and Russian mercenaries have been fighting alongside the Serbs.

"We are very concerned by reports that the Russians will not be under NATO command," said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the National Albanian-American Council. "Russians and Serbs are interchangeable."

Zherka predicted that the presence of Russian troops could be a "deal killer," saying the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army would be hard pressed to support it and that ethnic Albanian refugees might be reluctant to return home.

President Clinton spoke this week with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and suggested that Russia's participation in Kosovo should be similar to its peacekeeping presence in Bosnia, where about 1,300 Russian paratroopers serve alongside 32,000 NATO troops.

In Bosnia, the Russian troops are not under NATO command but answer to a U.S. general who commands the multinational division in the northern sector, where the Russians and soldiers from other nations are patrolling. That U.S. officer reports to NATO.

Daalder said Clinton administration officials hope to have the Russian troops patrolling in the U.S. sector, which will be in the southeastern portion of Kosovo.

The final number of Russian troops could be far lower than what some in Moscow have suggested, Daalder and others analysts say, because the Russians are strapped for cash. Prime Minister Sergei V. Stepashin said the cost of deploying 5,000 to 10,000 troops would be about $150 million per year.

In Bosnia, the Russians proposed to send thousands of troops and ended up with 1,300.

Whatever the level of Russian troops in Kosovo, Smith said, the peacekeeping effort is a "disaster waiting to happen." He pointed to the "fuzzy" peace agreement, competing views on the part of NATO, the United Nations and Russia, and doubts that the KLA would give up its arms.

"I smell a very bad situation," Smith said, noting that many of his retired and active-duty colleagues are worried. "I have not talked to a single person who's not shaking his head saying, `Watch out.' "

But yesterday, Undersecretary of Defense Walter Slocombe said the plan was a "very good framework" for returning the refugees, setting up a democratic system of autonomy in Kosovo and providing security for the troops.

"The agreement contains very broad powers for the NATO force to take action if there is any failure of compliance," he said.

Sun staff writer Mark Matthews contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 6/10/99

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