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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Airport Force Supplied From Bosnia




PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- A Russian general said a supply convoy from Bosnia on Tuesday reached the 200-odd Russian troops that have been in control of the airport in Pristina, the capital of the war-ravaged province, since early Saturday.


Itar-Tass quoted Colonel General Leonid Ivashov as saying that the convoy included 15 trucks carrying paratroopers, food and water.


KFOR, the allied force now in Kosovo, confirmed reports that on Monday the Russians holding the airport had asked British troops for water and the British complied.


The Russian troops' quick seizure of the airport Friday - ahead of the entry of NATO peacekeeping troops - has become a major diplomatic issue. It also exposes them to potential attack by resurgent ethnic Albanian rebels.


As the clock ticked toward midnight, the deadline for Serbian forces to leave Kosovo, a Russian military spokesman at the airport expressed unease. "We are feeling vulnerable," the spokesman said.


A rocket-propelled grenade landed harmlessly 500 meters away Tuesday, but the explosion sent Russian troops diving to the ground with their guns drawn. The spokesman said he believed the Kosovo Liberation Army was responsible.


Once the Serbian troops leave, the small and mostly symbolic Russian force must not only occupy its part of the field but also patrol it - a task carried out until now by Serbs. As the Serbs pull out, ethnic Albanian rebels are quietly moving into strategic areas of Kosovo before NATO troops can secure them.


Hashim Thaci, a senior leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, has warned that rebels consider the Russians an unwelcome addition to the peacekeeping mission, especially after their surprise entry into Pristina.


"The Russian troops are not welcome in Kosova and their sudden entrance in Kosova is a provocation in the efforts to secure the peace in Kosova,'' Thaci said, using the province's Albanian name. "The entrance of Russian forces is an attack against the political process. ... We have not and we will not guarantee their security in Kosova and we consider them as an unwanted force."


Meanwhile, the West is struggling to reach an agreement with Russia on Russia's role in the peacekeeping mission. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced they plan to meet their Russian counterparts in Helsinki, Finland, to discuss differences over Kosovo, including the situation at Pristina airport.


NATO has expressed interest in Russian participation in the peacekeeping force if their troops are subordinate to the alliance command - which Moscow has refused to accept. To add leverage to their demands, the Russians have refused to allow British NATO troops to establish their headquarters at the airport.


NATO has resisted the idea of a separate Russian zone, saying it could lead to the partition of Kosovo into Serbian and Albanian sectors.


Meanwhile, Bulgaria said Monday it could allow Russia an air corridor to fly more troops to Kosovo when Moscow and NATO reach an agreement on their role in the peacekeeping mission there.


Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova said the permission would depend on an agreement, under a UN resolution on Kosovo, for a unified command structure that would avoid partitioning the Serbian province.


Russia asked Bulgaria about an air corridor over the weekend. Under Bulgarian law, the parliament would have to give its approval.


Bulgaria allowed NATO to use its airspace during the alliance's 78-day air campaign against Yugoslavia.


"Bulgaria's position is based on loyalty to the United Nations,'' Mihailova said. "An agreement on the [peacekeepers'] united command between NATO and Russia will help avoid any risks of carving up Kosovo."


The staunchest of Moscow's allies in the Soviet era, Sofia is now firmly siding with the West and hopes to join NATO and the European Union.