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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grachev Arrives in Tuzla For Russia Troop Review

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and NATO's top commander for Europe, U.S. General George Joulwan, arrived in Bosnia on Wednesday to review Moscow's unprecedented participation in a military operation with its former Cold War foe.

Grachev is scheduled to visit Russian bases where soldiers from the 98th and 76th airborne divisions are monitoring 85 kilometers of the former front line. Russia has sent 1,600 paratroopers to Bosnia as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping Implementation Force, or IFOR.

Grachev was greeted at the Tuzla Airbase by the Russian and U.S. national anthems before meeting General William Nash, head of the U.S. forces in Bosnia and effectively the tactical commander of the Russian operation.

He flew on to the main Russian base at Ugljevik in northeast Bosnia. He was scheduled to proceed to the Serbian capital Belgrade for what are expected to be two days of talks with Serbian leaders after spending the night at Ugljevik, headquarters of operations in the 2,500 square-kilometer Russian sector.

In Moscow, Grachev's office said the general was traveling to Bosnia to "check the readiness of the Russian contingent to participate in the international peacekeeping operation."

On Tuesday, military posts throughout the Russian sector were in a frenzy of preparations for the visit.

At a checkpoint transferred from U.S. to Russian control last week, a military vehicle of Russian generals roared up to the base on Tuesday.

General Nikolai Staskov, who some officials say has unnerved the IFOR leadership because he outranks the official commander of Russian troops in Bosnia but has no formal role here, shouted at the checkpoint's officers that their men should not be so relaxed before he got back in the vehicle and roared off again.

Further into the sector at an abandoned restaurant, soldiers armed with saws and hammers were busy constructing a meeting room to serve as neutral territory for talks between local Serb and Moslem officials.

At Ugljevik, where Grachev will attend a dinner at a hotel banquet room, soldiers were painstakingly scrubbing the concrete-covered ground in the midst of a snowstorm.

"We're trying to clean the ground but it keeps snowing," shrugged an officer at a nearby checkpoint.

Grachev's office in Moscow said he would spend two days meeting political and military leaders in Serbia.

IFOR spokesmen in Tuzla said they knew of no similar talks planned with Bosnian government leaders.

Some officials from the Moslem-led government have expressed concern that the Russians were incapable of playing a neutral role in Bosnia because of traditional ties with the Serbs based on their common Orthodox Christian religion.