Second Wave Of Russians Reaches Kosovo |
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 7, 1999; Page A15
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia, July 6 –– Twenty-four days after the first contingent of Russian troops bolted into Kosovo ahead of NATO forces, the next group of Russian soldiers arrived in the Serbian province today to join allied peacekeepers here.
Maj. Gen. Anatoly Volchkov, commander of the Russian forces at Pristina's Slatina airport, dismissed concerns that his troops might favor Kosovo's Serb minority, which has suffered reprisals from the province's ethnic Albanians who suffered expulsion and atrocities during the war. In the 78-day NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia, Russia openly sided with Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic.
"I don't think there's any basis for this," Volchkov told reporters. "The main job and task of our contingent is the security and safety of everyone, whatever their nationality."
NATO officials have said the arrival of Russians might reassure Kosovo's remaining Serbian residents, whom the alliance has been urging to stay. At least 70,000 Serbs have left Kosovo for Serbia proper since the war ended last month. The approximately 200 Russian troops who arrived on cargo jets today joined 700 Russian soldiers stationed at the airport, which Russian forces occupied June 12 after dashing into Kosovo from neighboring Bosnia hours ahead of the first NATO forces. The entire Russian force of 3,600 is expected in Kosovo by the end of July, joining a NATO force that is expected to grow to 57,000. NATO currently has about 29,000 troops in the province.
The Russians' arrival was delayed by protracted negotiations and, finally, a bit of brinkmanship over their role in Kosovo. Russia's participation in the peacekeeping force was a condition of the agreement under which Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agreed to withdraw Serb-led forces from Kosovo. But Russia wanted a command structure independent of NATO and its own sector of the province to patrol. NATO officials agreed only to the first condition, citing a workable parallel in Bosnia, where Russian troops operate alongside NATO peacekeepers.
NATO has divided Kosovo into five zones run by the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Germany. The issue of where the Russian troops would deploy remained unresolved, and when Russia prepared to send troops to Kosovo under its own terms last week, NATO persuaded Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to deny Russia permission to fly through their airspace. The dispute was resolved on Monday, and NATO announced today that the Russians will be deployed in the towns of Orahovac and Malisevo in central Kosovo, which is controlled by German forces; Kosovska Kamenica in the American sector; and Lausa in the French sector.
In Serbia, protests against the Milosevic government continued. In the southern town of Leskovac a crowd gathered outside the police station to demand the release of TV journalist Ivan Novkovic, who was arrested for airing a tape during a Yugoslav basketball game that called for the resignation of a local pro-Milosevic leader.
And in the central town of Uzice, opposition leader Zoran Djindjic made his first public appearance since he fled the country, telling a crowd of several thousand Serbs that they should be prepared to take to the streets and start working to force Milosevic to resign. "The summer is only going to get hotter," he promised.
Staff writer William Booth in Leskovac contributed to this report.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company