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Alexei Arbatov

Race to be first

Obschaya Gazeta, June 17-23, 1999

After the recent adoption of the UN Security Council resolution on dispatching peacemaking forces to Kosovo, NATO had to conduct negotiations with the Russian Federation on the composition, functions, sectors under control, co-operation and financing of the contingents they send. But as usual the North Atlantic Alliance only notified us about decisions that had been adopted separately, in particular, about five sectors for the troops brought by the USA, the UK, Germany, France and Italy. However, they only offered us the opportunity to "join" one of the sectors under the command of a corresponding NATO country. If we had agreed to these terms, we would have virtually legalised the occupation of the region as a result of an aggression, and the resolution of the UN Security Council that we supported would have served as a mere fig-leaf. After learning about NATO's time-table for dispatching troops to the region, in the circumstances we conducted rapid negotiations with Belgrade and instantly transferred there an incomplete battalion (200 people) from Bosnia, which took over the airport in Prishtina to provide for the introduction of additional forces there. This is certainly a brilliant military operation. Now units from Pskov division (5,000 people) are about to be transported there. Now everything will depend on the ability of our politicians to gain air corridors from Romania, Bulgaria or Hungary.

However, we are shocked at the way in which this decision was adopted in Russia. Boris Yeltsin has stubbornly kept silent; however, the President should have immediately made a corresponding declaration. But once again he preferred to adopt a position of feigned ignorance: if our peacemakers are shot in Prishtina, he will not be to blame, as he will claim that he did not know anything about this and so did not do anything... This is outrageous, as the national interests of the country require the President to assume full responsibility for radical decisions. He should have signed a corresponding decree and requested the approval of the Federation Council (Ed. the upper chamber of the Russian parliament) for such an action. Then everything would not have looked like a political show, but rather as the conscientious and consistent actions of a country, that had been undertaken in accordance with its Constitution. But in actual fact it transpired that even the Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov had not known anything about the planned action.

Nevertheless, we must now cater for our contingent there and make arrangements with NATO to allocate a corresponding sector to be controlled by Russia under the UN flag. The future status of Kosovo and the role that will be granted to the United Nations Organisation will depend on this step.

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Obschaya Gazeta, June 17-23, 1999