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  • Moscow Talks Set on Peacekeeping Tiff

    By Sharon LaFraniere
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Monday, July 5, 1999; Page A16

    MOSCOW, July 4 A NATO delegation flew to Moscow today in hopes of resolving the latest flap over the role of Russian peacekeepers in Kosovo.

    Moscow had planned to fly more peacekeeping troops to the region today, but the United States and NATO persuaded Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary to deny Russia an air corridor and insisted that details of the Russian mission be worked out first.

    Unnamed Russian military officials told the Interfax news agency that the delay was unexpected and amounted to "a provocation on the part of the United States." The Russians say their peacekeeping role in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, was settled last month during negotiations in Helsinki. Under that agreement, Russian troops are to be based in sectors assigned to German, French and U.S. forces and commanders instead of controlling a sector of their own.

    The key issue, one that bedeviled Russian and NATO negotiators through weeks of talks, is who ultimately will be in charge of the 3,600 Russian troops that are slated to become part of an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo that eventually will number more than 50,000. According to U.S. officials, the Russians now want their troops stationed in additional sectors controlled by other NATO countries, and they still want their own sector.

    The weekend row is the latest illustration of the lingering tensions between the United States and Russia over NATO's 78-day bombing campaign of Yugoslavia, which led to a withdrawal of Serb-led Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, the return of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians driven out of Kosovo by those forces and the deployment of the NATO peacekeepers. Although Russia in the end supported NATO's conditions for peace, officials here still want to demonstrate that Russia is independent of NATO and a military power to be reckoned with.

    On June 12, 200 Russian troops occupied the airport in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, as part of a larger plan to move in 1,000 troops without the consent of NATO. Ten days ago, two Russian strategic bombers flew within striking distance of the United States as part of Moscow's largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War. On Thursday, the Kremlin abruptly expelled an assistant U.S. Army attache from Moscow.

    NATO officials, increasingly distrustful of Moscow's motives, apparently decided it was better that the newest Russian peacekeepers cool their heels at a Russian airport until the two sides settle on specifics of their deployment. But a prolonged delay would clearly embarrass the Russian government and increase criticism here that President Boris Yeltsin did NATO's bidding in the Kosovo conflict and reaped nothing in return.

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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