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Thursday, 9 March, 2000, 14:14 GMT
Confrontation over Pristina airport
russians arrive in pristina
Nato was taken aback by the Russians' arrival
Details of Russia's surprise occupation of Pristina airport at the end of the Kosovo war are revealed in a new BBC documentary on the conflict.

For the first time, the key players in the tense confrontation between Nato and Russian troops talk about the stand-off which jeopardised the entire peacekeeping mission.

Kosovo: Special Report
The Russians, who played a crucial role in persuading Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end the war, had expected to police their own sector of Kosovo, independent of Nato.

When they did not get it, they felt double-crossed.

As Nato's K-For peacekeepers prepared to enter the province on 12 June, they discovered the Russians had got there first.

A contingent of 200 troops, stationed in Bosnia, was already rolling towards Pristina airport.

'Third World War'

General Wesley Clark, Nato's supreme commander, immediately ordered 500 British and French paratroopers to be put on standby to occupy the airport.

''I called the [Nato] Secretary General [Javier Solana] and told him what the circumstances were,'' General Clark tells the BBC programme Moral Combat: Nato at War.

''He talked about what the risks were and what might happen if the Russian's got there first, and he said: 'Of course you have to get to the airport'.

General Jackson
General Jackson: Backed by UK Government
''I said: 'Do you consider I have the authority to do so?' He said: 'Of course you do, you have transfer of authority'.''

But General Clark's plan was blocked by General Sir Mike Jackson, K-For's British commander.

"I'm not going to start the Third World War for you," he reportedly told General Clark during one heated exchange.

General Jackson tells the BBC: ''We were [looking at] a possibility....of confrontation with the Russian contingent which seemed to me probably not the right way to start off a relationship with Russians who were going to become part of my command.''

Russian plans

The Russian advance party took the airport unopposed. The world watched nervously.

A senior Russian officer, General Leonid Ivashev, tells the BBC how the Russians had plans to fly in thousands of troops.

''Let's just say that we had several airbases ready. We had battalions of paratroopers ready to leave within two hours,'' he said.

Amid fears that Russian aircraft were heading for Pristina, General Clark planned to order British tanks and armoured cars to block the runways to prevent any transport planes from landing.

General Clark said he believed it was ''an appropriate course of action''. But the plan was again vetoed by Britain.

Partition fears

Instead, he asked neighbouring countries, including Hungary and Romania not to allow Russian aircraft to overfly their territory.

Russians are not under direct Nato command
During the stand-off, Moscow insisted its troops would be answerable only to its own commanders.

Nato refused to accept this, predicting it would lead to the partition of Kosovo into an ethnic Albanian south and a Serbian north.

A deal on the deployment of Russian peacekeepers was reached in early July.

The Russians now operate as part of K-For in sectors controlled by Nato states, but are not directly under Nato's command.

Moral Combat: Nato at War will be broadcast at 9pm this Sunday on BBC2
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