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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Status in Kosovo Hashed Out




Russia said it sent a third military convoy into Kosovo on Wednesday with supplies for its troops in the province even as Moscow said it wanted to solve a dispute with NATO over who's in charge of peacekeeping operations.


NATO said it was not aware of any third convoy, and it appeared that the trucks arriving Wednesday might have been part of the second convoy Russia sent from Bosnia on Tuesday.


Meanwhile, Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev and his U.S. counterpart, Defense Secretary William Cohen, met in Helsinki, Finland, to discuss the status of the Russian military force in Kosovo.


A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, who declined to be identified, said a convoy of nine vehicles passed into Kosovo on Wednesday heading for the Russian force holding the airport near the capital, Pristina. The convoy was carrying supplies, the spokesman said, but he refused to comment further.


The Russians sent an earlier supply column to Pristina on Tuesday.


The unexpected arrival of 200 Russian peacekeepers in Kosovo on Saturday caught NATO off guard. Russia pledged not to send any more troops to Kosovo until an agreement was reached with NATO, Western officials have said.


NATO, which insists it commands all peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, and Russia have been in a standoff over Russia's demands for its own sector and for its troops not to be placed under NATO command in Kosovo.


Russian officials hinted earlier Wednesday they might be ready to compromise over the status of their forces in Kosovo, but they want Eastern European nations to open their air space so Moscow can fly in reinforcements.


Vladimir Putin, secretary of the Security Council, said Russia wanted to cooperate with NATO troops in Kosovo while retaining limited independence for its forces in Kosovo. A Russian officer could be part of the overall command for peacekeeping forces, he said.


Russia will insist on "a certain degree of independence in making decisions and in conducting the operations," Putin was quoted as saying Wednesday by Interfax. Meanwhile, Russia will press the United States for access to Hungarian and Bulgarian air space to fly troop reinforcements to Kosovo, Russian defense officials said.


In Helsinki, Cohen said before his talks with Sergeyev that it was important to resolve the question of command over peacekeepers at Wednesday's meeting.


"Kosovo is very important, but we have a large agenda with the Russian government and the Russian people, so it's important for the two of us [Sergeyev and Cohen] to indicate we want to see this situation resolved so there can be more progress on the whole spectrum of issues," Cohen said.


The United States and its NATO allies will be "as creative as we can" in trying to accommodate Russia, but Moscow must accept that NATO is in command, Cohen said Wednesday. Sergeyev predicted the issue would be resolved by the weekend.


Cohen and Sergeyev began a series of meetings Wednesday. A second day of talks was expected Thursday.


Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are scheduled to meet in Helsinki on Thursday.


"Russia is always ready for compromises, for a reasonable compromise that would take everybody's interests into account, but not to the detriment of Russia's own interests," Ivanov said before leaving for Helsinki.


President Boris Yeltsin was monitoring the situation in Kosovo in preparation for his scheduled meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton on Sunday at the G-8 summit in Germany, his press service said.