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Saturday, June 19, 1999 Published at 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Moscow muscles in

Russian troops remain under Russian commanders

By Russian Affairs Analyst, Stephen Dalziel

The Helsinki deal on Russian troops for Kosovo could prove to be a milestone in international diplomacy.

Kosovo: Special Report
A week ago, such a deal seemed a long way off. The Russians had been the first to send troops into Kosovo, had seized Pristina airport and were refusing to allow access to the airport by Nato troops.

Then came the Russian demands - a 10,000-strong force to be deployed in its own designated sector.

Because of Russia's close ties with the Serbs, Nato feared that such a move would threaten the fragile peace in Kosovo, creating a Serbian enclave within Kosovo which could threaten hopes for creating a unified territory.

The crucial question following the Russians' success in taking Pristina airport was, had this satisfied Moscow's desire to show that it must be regarded as a serious player in the Kosovo settlement, or would the Kremlin insist on further concessions?

Diplomatic ploy

[ image: Russia had been aiming for its own zone]
Russia had been aiming for its own zone
When the Russian defence and foreign ministers and the US defence and foreign secretaries arrived for talks in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, on Tuesday, Moscow appeared to be ready to stick to its tough position.

That now appears to have been a clever diplomatic ploy by the Kremlin to ensure that Moscow was not humiliated.

The deal appears to satisfy both Nato and Russia.

From Nato's point of view, the threat of the creation of a Serbian enclave has being removed but the Russians are nevertheless involved, giving the Kosovo protection force, K-For, greater authority than it would have had, had the Russians been excluded.

And although Russian troops will take orders only from Russian officers, and these officers will be a part of the overall consultation process, ultimately orders will come from Nato.

Moscow can be satisfied by the outcome, because of the way in which the deal underlines Russia's place back on the international stage.

A role for Moscow

When the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia began in March, it was launched without regard for Russia's view.

This was a huge slap in the face for the Kremlin, underlining that in the post-Soviet era the once-strong superpower no longer mattered in international decision-making.

But gradually this changed as the conflict rumbled on. Both Nato and Russia acknowledged that, because of Russia's historical and cultural links with Serbia, Moscow could play a vital mediating role.

The action of the Russian troops in rushing in to Pristina airport now seems to have been little more than military and political one-upmanship, rather than a potential spark for further international conflict.

But if it served the purpose of forcing Nato to take the Russians seriously in the Kosovo peace deal, then Moscow will be as delighted by the actions of its troops on the ground last week, as by those of its ministers and diplomats in Helsinki this week.

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