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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sergeyev, NATO Brass Meet In Kosovo

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev held talks with Western military officials in Kosovo last week after angrily criticizing the NATO-led mission in the province and awarding medals to Yugoslav army chiefs.

Friday's trip by the highest-ranking Russian to visit Kosovo since NATO-led forces - along with 3,600 Russian troops - occupied the province six months ago came amid high tension between the NATO powers and Moscow over Western criticism of Russia's military campaign in Chechnya.

Sergeyev held talks with KFOR peacekeeping force commander Klaus Reinhardt and visiting German Defense Minister Rudolph Scharping, but made no public statements during his visit and canceled a scheduled news conference without explanation.

NATO officials however were at pains to praise the Russian role in Kosovo in an apparent attempt to soothe strained East-West relations.

On Thursday, Interfax quoted Sergeyev as saying: "Our relations with the alliance have apparently entered a new phase of getting colder. The alliance is trying to talk to Russia over the problem of Chechnya from the position of force."

NATO European commander General Wesley Clark, also in Kosovo on Friday, presented awards to Russian troops who assisted American soldiers after a land mine explosion and held talks with commanders of the multinational force.

"Our cooperation with Russian soldiers on the ground is just outstanding," he told reporters. "KFOR is doing a great job and that's why it was a very good thing that the Russian minister was here today to hear that directly."

Asked why he had not met Sergeyev, despite the two men being in Pristina at the same time, he said no such meeting had been scheduled.

The plane which carried Sergeyev and his party from Belgrade made a difficult landing at Pristina's airport after apparently suffering an engine failure, KFOR officials said.

The incident did not affect Sergeyev's schedule and he went straight into talks with Reinhardt and Scharping.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic lavished attention on Sergeyev on Thursday, the first day of his two-day visit to the Balkans, decorating him with medals during a ceremony at the White Palace, Milosevic's residence in Belgrade's lush Dedinje district. The awards were for promoting cooperation between the two countries and their armies.

At his own reception, Sergeyev reciprocated by bestowing awards on Yugoslav army chiefs for their "heroic defense of the country,'' the state-run Tanjug news agency reported.

Among those decorated by Sergeyev was Yugoslav army chief of staff, Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, indicted along with Milosevic by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

"The NATO aggressor did not dare undertake a land operation, fully aware of the strength and determination of your army,'' Sergeyev was quoted by Tanjug as saying while handing out the medals. Sergeyev claimed the Yugoslav army was not "defeated militarily ... a fact NATO realized with horror ... while observing the intact [Yugoslav] military units withdrawing from Kosovo.''