A high-ranking Russian general has warned that Russia is preparing plans for military intervention in Kosovo, and that the Yugoslav army could launch a ground offensive against NATO troops in the war-ravaged province, according to an official Russian news report.
Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov’s comments were broadcast on the “Voice of Russia” World Service Short Wave Radio Broadcast, the official broadcasting service of the Russian government.
Ivashov condemned the growing violence in Kosovo and warned the turmoil there could spread into the Balkans and into Europe. Ivashov called for emergency measures to end the violence in the region, and to suppress what he referred to as “Albanian terrorists.” He also demanded that NATO follow U.N. resolution 1244, which calls for a settlement of the conflict that includes continued Yugoslav rule in Kosovo.
Well acquainted with the politics of the region, in June 1999 Ivashov conducted Russia’s negotiations with the U.S. Department of Defense regarding Russia’s role in the peacekeeping operations following NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia.
In the midst of these negotiations, Russian paratroopers seized the airport in Kosovo’s capital city of Pristina.
Until the Russian paratroopers came into Pristina, NATO had avoided giving Russia any kind of “zone of responsibility.”
The Voice of Russia added its own warning to that of Ivashov, stating, “Clearly these words are a signal of approaching disaster, and Moscow is not exaggerating.”
In order to avoid war in Kosovo, the Voice of Russia demands that NATO end sanctions against Yugoslavia and that the alliance holds direct talks with the Belgrade government.
At present, the leader of the Belgrade government, Slobodan Milosevic, is an indicted war criminal.
“Delay is fraught with danger,” the Russian broadcasting service stated gravely. In addition to the people of Yugoslavia, the threat of war hangs over “nationals of other countries” who believe they are unaffected by the region’s events.
Ivashov’s remarks follow by less than two weeks similar statements made by the Russian Defense Minister, Igor Sergeyev. In an address to a special session of the lower house of the Russian legislature, the State Duma, Sergeyev stated that Yugoslav troops could confront NATO, and that Russian forces could find themselves in a standoff with the Western alliance.
Since the end of the air war against Yugoslavia, Moscow has consistently decried the treatment of the Kosovo Serbs at the hands of NATO. Moscow cites the large number of refugees, most of whom are Serbs, fleeing Kosovo, and the ill treatment of the remaining Serb population at the hands of the ethnic Albanians.
The situation in Kosovo has become so disordered that NATO leaders find themselves in a precarious position.
Moscow’s support of Yugoslavia is deeply rooted in history and remains intense. Yugoslavia has been granted permanent observer status at the parliament sessions of the union state of Russia and Belarus, and there has even been discussion in some political circles in Moscow and Minsk of admitting Yugoslavia into the Russian/Belarussian union.
One year after NATO’s victory over Yugoslavia, any real resolution to Kosovo appears as remote as ever.