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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Troops, Cargo Fly to Kosovo




Three cargo planes carrying troops, weapons and airport equipment left for Kosovo on Monday as part of Moscow's peacekeeping efforts in the war-torn Yugoslav province, officials said.


The Il-76 transports were bound for the Slatina Airport near Kosovo's capital of Pristina. Several other Russian planes made the same trip over the weekend.


Much of the equipment aboard the planes that left Monday will help restore the airport, which was heavily damaged during NATO's bombing campaign. Following several days of maintenance work, the airport will be certified in accordance with international standards and begin operations as a joint Russian-NATO air base.


Colonel Nikolai Bragin, a spokesman for the Russian airborne forces, said that NATO and Russia would need until Saturday to make the airport serviceable, Itar-Tass reported.


President Boris Yeltsin authorized 3,616 troops to take part in the peacekeeping operation after the Russian parliament endorsed the deployment Friday. More than 200 Russian paratroopers are already in Kosovo, having raced to the airport earlier this month ahead of NATO peacekeepers. Several units of paratroopers and technicians joined them over the weekend to prepare for the deployment of additional Russian forces.


Meanwhile, Yeltsin met with Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev in the Kremlin on Monday to discuss Russia's peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.


Before closing off their meeting to the press, Yeltsin told Sergeyev that Russia must "strictly develop a strategy for the future of not only Kosovo, but for Yugoslavia as a whole.''


Yeltsin ordered a delegation of Russian military officials to leave for Brussels, later Monday to negotiate additional details of Russia's role in the Kosovo peacekeeping mission. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that the Belgium trip wouldn't bring about the formal restoration of relations with NATO. Moscow froze relations with the alliance to protest its airstrikes on Yugoslavia.


Ivanov was quoted as saying by Interfax that negotiations would only deal with Kosovo peacekeeping, and that the resumption of broader contacts has yet to be negotiated.


On Sunday, the third Russian flight of the weekend to Pristina fell afoul of Romania, which complained that the plane had entered its airspace Sunday just 92 minutes after the day's previous flight, violating an accord calling for a four-hour gap between aircraft.


The Romanian government said it was suspending use of the agreed air corridor over its territory after its aircraft escorted the offending plane to the Romanian-Yugoslav border.


Both of Sunday's flights, Ilyushin planes from Tver in central Russia carrying air traffic control equipment and personnel, later landed at the Pristina airport


A Romanian Foreign Ministry statement carried by the state news agency Rompres said Russian officials, after talks with Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, described the incident as unintentional and there would be no recurrence. The ministry said it was considering lifting the suspension.