World » Europe
Author`s name Ольга Савка

Russian Peacekeepers Leave Balkans

Russia is gradually cutting its military presence in foreign countries

The withdrawal of Russian peacemakers from the former republic of Yugoslavia is about to be completed. An official ceremony devoted to the end of the Russian peacekeeping mission is to take place at the Slatina airport, not far from Kosovo's capital Pristina. The venue of the ceremony is rather symbolic: Russian commandos landed in Slatina in 1999. Some people probably remember video reports, in which exulting crowds of Serbs were welcoming Russian soldiers. There have been practically no Serbs left in Kosovo at present.

NATO generals were shocked in 1999, when they found out about the deployment of Russian commandos at the Slatina airport. However, the effect did not last long. Washington and Brussels-based officials quickly understood that Russia was incapable of doing anything else. They gave a certain sector in Kosovo to Russian peacemakers not to hurt Moscow's self-esteem. On the other hand, the number of Russian military men was not enough to stop the expulsion of Serbs, although foreign peacemakers acknowledged their high professionalism.

The official reason to stop the Russian peacekeeping mission in Kosovo is explained with the "cessation of ethnic conflicts that require a military interference." Allegedly, there is no need for Russian peacekeepers to be present in the Balkans anymore. Yet, one should mention that news reports about armed clashes between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo are still rather frequent. Virtually, the Serbian population of the region has been isolated, and only peacemakers can provide security for them. Another reason to withdraw Russian peacemaking troops from Kosovo is connected with the considerable spending that the Russian budget could not afford.

Russian peacemakers in Bosnia and Kosovo are high professionals indeed. They are supposed to be provided with up-to-date equipment and good wages. A professional army has been an issue in Russia for long already. Peacemakers in the Balkans have served as a guiding line to a certain extent. Yet, if the Russian budget could not afford a peacemaking unit in Kosovo, what can be said about a professional Russian army then? Probably, the Russian government decided to pay good wages to Russian peacemakers just to put up a good show for American, German and French peacekeepers.

One has to point out another important thing. Russian peacemakers' presence in Kosovo was a constant irritating factor for Albanians. Of course, the situation in 2003 was not as tense as in 1999, but it was still an actual factor anyway. President Ibrahim Rugova and Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi have been invited for the ceremony at the Slatina airport. Nothing has been reported yet about the presence of local Serbian leaders at the ceremony.

Russia is gradually cutting its military presence in other countries. Of course, the comparison with Cuba (Lourdes) and Vietnam (Cam Rahn) is not really correct, because Russian peacekeepers had different objectives in the Balkans. Nevertheless, it is a pity that Russia is leaving like that.