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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia to Bring Aid to Kosovo In Joint Greek-Swiss Program

Russia's top emergency aid official said Wednesday that Russia would launch a joint humanitarian project in Yugoslavia with Switzerland and Greece, intending to reach out to refugees inside Kosovo.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said the program would set up stores of humanitarian aid outside of Kosovo, in Macedonia and Serbia. The aid will then be airlifted or trucked to Kosovo, an operation that would probably require some sort of as-yet unobtained safe passage guarantees from NATO.

With international public opinion mostly focused on ethnic Albanian refugees who have fled Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo for neighboring Albania and Macedonia, Shoigu said Russia wants to help refugees and war victims of any ethnic group inside Yugoslavia as well.

"The emphasis is on Kosovo," Shoigu said. "We would like to help all people who are in Kosovo."

"We very much dislike the position of some countries that here are the real refugees and those are not the real refugees," he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Wednesday that a half-million people are thought to be in urgent need of help within Yugoslavia's borders. Red Cross officials said they were negotiating with Yugoslav authorities in an attempt to return to Kosovo.

Shoigu's remarks came after an An-124 cargo plane carrying trucks with food and clothes flew to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia on Wednesday after a delay of 24 hours caused by Bulgaria's unexpected refusal to issue landing permission. From Sofia, the convoy of KamAZ trucks will travel to Yugoslavia.

Shoigu said Wednesday he hopes the delay was "technical" but said he could not understand the reasons why Bulgaria delayed its permission.

Last month, Hungary, a NATO member, refused to allow a Russian-Belarussian aid convoy cross through its territory to Yugoslavia, citing UN arms embargoes and claiming some Russian vehicles could be used for military purposes. After two days of negotiations, the convoy passed while trucks with armored cabins were sent home.

As part of the internationally coordinated project, Russia will send a fully staffed and equipped 150-bed field hospital with four operating rooms to Nis, a Serbian town just north of the Kosovo border, Shoigu said. The hospital operation will cost Russia $2.5 million, he said.

In addition to using the Bulgaria route, Russia will deliver cargos sponsored by the UN World Food Program through Italy by ship to the Montenegrin port of Bar. Greece will deliver its aid through Albania, Shoigu said.

He said Switzerland and Belgium undertook safe conduct negotiations with NATO, and Canada and Belgium were deciding whether to join the project.