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U.S.-Russia Agree on Kosovo Role

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

HELSINKI, Finland, June 21, 1999 – It was over just before midnight. International news reporters, standing by for more than 15 hours, finally got the word -- U.S. and Russian defense leaders had defined Russias role in the Kosovo security force.

After three days of intense negotiations, U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Russian Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeyev announced they had reached an understanding. Cohen said the agreement acknowledged the stakes Russia and NATO share in Europe's future.

"It also shows that the United States and Russia can work together on important security issues," he said. "As major powers, we share a responsibility to work together for peace and stability, and we have shown that we can meet that responsibility."

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, passed June 10, authorized an international peace force with NATO at its core to establish a secure environment in Kosovo, thereby enabling refugees to return. KFOR, as it's known, will be made up of about 50,000 troops. It will enforce Yugoslav compliance with the military technical agreement and demilitarization of the Kosovar Liberation Army.

Under the U.S.-Russia agreement pending approval by NATO and the Russian government, about 3,600 Russian troops will serve under NATO tactical command. Russian troops will remain under Moscows political and military control, just as other national forces remain under control of their respective national command authorities.

Under the terms of the Cohen-Sergeyev agreement, 16 Russian liaison officers will serve at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, Allied Forces Southern Europe and at KFOR headquarters. They will help plan and coordinate Russian activities within the NATO-led peacekeeping force.

A total of five Russian battalions with up to 2,850 troops will serve within the U.S., German and French sectors in Kosovo. A Russian contingent of up to 750 troops will man an operations base near the town of Polje and Slatina Airport at Pristina.

About 200 Russian troops are already located at the airport, which will be opened to all international forces. KFOR command will run air operations there, while Russian forces provide airfield security, ramp management, runway maintenance and other functions.

The agreement preserves the "unity of command necessary to make KFOR an effective military force," Cohen noted in an opening statement at the June 18 press conference.

"Command and control was a key issue during our talks," he said. "Russian troops will serve within KFOR's unified command structure and under the commanders of the sectors in which they serve."

Cohen said Russia helped achieve the Kosovo peace accord so "it is appropriate that Russia now participate in the enforcement of that peace." Calling Sergeyev a "tough, but fair" negotiator, he said, the Russian defense chief "balanced Russia's needs with Russia's commitment to working for a more secure Europe."

Speaking through a translator, Sergeyev said the agreement "turns a new page" in Russia-NATO relations. "We have found solutions to the issues and we are satisfied with our work," he said.

Overall, a senior U.S. official said, the agreement represents a success for the United States, NATO and Russia. It defines Russia's role in Kosovo, and in a much broader sense, it reestablishes Russia's ties with the alliance and the United States.

Russia froze relations with NATO in opposition to NATO' air campaign against Yugoslavia. After signing the agreement, Sergeyev said relations would officially resume when NATO's military operation was terminated. NATO officially ended Operation Allied Force June 20, after Serb forces withdrew from Kosovo. The Kosovar Liberation Army also signed a demilitarization agreement with NATO.

Acting on NATO's behalf, Cohen arrived in Helsinki, June 16, to meet with Sergeyev to work out the Russian role. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov arrived the next day to join the negotiations and help overcome some of the obstacles, a State Department official said.

Throughout nearly 40 hours of negotiations, proposals met counterproposals. U.S. officials consulted Washington and NATO allies, while Russian officials called back to Moscow. In the end, Cohen said, it all came down to the time- consuming task of agreeing to terms, and then ensuring the words used in the documents meant the same thing in English and Russian.

"Like all big negotiations, it was a roller coaster," a senior U.S. official later told reporters. "There were times we thought we were never going to finish, and at times we thought we were within a few minutes of finishing."

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