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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Goodfellows All, For Now

Many Russians, including leading politicians, are eyeing NATO with suspicion and resentment. However, the military brass appears to be getting along much better. Last week's visit by U.S. General George Joulwan, NATO's supreme military commander in Europe, to Moscow created the impression of two good old friends -- Joulwan and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev -- at last getting together to have drinks and trade compliments.


Of course, this is not exactly a novelty. High-ranking military chiefs are always eager to wine and dine each other using public funds. Even in the good old Soviet days, when the Cold War was still raging and the Soviet army was fighting the U.S.-backed resistance forces in Afghanistan, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Crowe, and his counterpart, chief of the Soviet General Staff Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, became close personal friends. Akhromeyev's suicide after the abortive coup in August 1991, and his subsequent disgrace, in no way diminished Crowe's respect for the man.


Last week's encounter between Grachev and Joulwan came just days after the bloody battle in Pervomaiskoye between Russian forces and Chechen rebels. However, their meeting was more than cordial. General Leonty Shevtsov, who was promoted for the battle of Grozny, flew in from Brussels with Joulwan. Shevtsov and a small group of officers are now based in Mons, Belgium, with NATO's Supreme Headquarters in Europe, or SHAPE, to relay NATO orders to the Russian brigade in Bosnia.


When Grachev opened the official meeting with Joulwan by saying: "Let me introduce you to your new deputy, General Shevtsov," Joulwan joked: "If he's my deputy, then why is he sitting on your side of the conference table?"


During his visit, Joulwan's main theme was: "We are very proud to have Russian airborne soldiers in Bosnia. We in the U.S. and in NATO look forward to working with you in the future. We have a great opportunity for a new security arrangement -- one based on trust and confidence and friendship."


In Bosnia, the International Implementation Force, or IFOR, is being successfully deployed. And the military part of the Dayton accords is being fulfilled to the letter, surprisingly, with little or no deception. In the first weeks of IFOR deployment, NATO officers in SHAPE had feared that rogue, "wild" Bosnian sniper fighters would shoot at IFOR servicemen from the forests and hills.


The concerted retreat of Serbs, Moslems and Croatians from the cease-fire lines shows they are not hoodlums, but organized and disciplined soldiers. This proves that all the barbaric shootings, the ethnic cleansing and other atrocities committed by all sides during the years of fighting were directed, rather than improvised by overzealous armed irregulars.


However, NATO officials understand that a smooth beginning in Bosnia does not preclude the possibility of difficult times ahead. Thus NATO needs political support from Russia for IFOR. A high-ranking SHAPE official who came to Moscow with Joulwan told me: "We accept the fact that the Russian brigade in Bosnia is a lightly armed peacekeeping unit. We understand that the Russians intend not to fight battles, but to patrol, observe and report cease-fire violations. Several other countries have also supplemented IFOR with lightly armed contingents. But IFOR does not intend to fight a conventional war in Bosnia, to punish the villains and save the innocent. There are victims, but there are no innocent parties in Bosnia."


For the Russian military, the most important statement, reconfirmed by Joulwan during his visit to Moscow, is that IFOR forces will be withdrawn exactly a year from now, regardless of whether there is war or peace in Bosnia then. If war begins again before then, IFOR will be withdrawn ahead of time and the Bosniens will be left to their own fate.


At the same time, NATO would like to take advantage of a joint operation with Russia in Bosnia in order to "seduce" the Russian military into finally beginning to cooperate within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program. Russian generals also think that NATO should be rewarded with greater friendliness for the slowing down of the process of expanding to the east.


So long as the shooting all but stops in Bosnia, so long as NATO does not enlarge, Russian soldiers will be on friendly terms with the West until June 1996. Then Russia will have its presidential elections and what happens after that is anybody's guess.





Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security editor for Segodnya.