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Saturday, June 26, 1999 Published at 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK

Russian K-For troops are "creme de la creme"

Support and criticism of the deployment of Russian troops to K-For have been published in Russian media. Russia is sending the pride of its airborne forces to serve in the K-For operation in Kosovo, paying the paratroopers around $1,000 a month each for the mission - a "handy" sum of money for Russia's cash-strapped servicemen, the paratroopers' commander Gen Georgiy Shpak told Ekho Moskvy radio on Saturday.

The 3,600-strong Russian contingent will consist of five combat battalions of about 500 men each, an air force group to handle all the technical services at Pristina's Slatina airport, a logistical and technical support group, and a command group, Shpak said.

Seventy per cent of the paratroopers will be regular volunteer servicemen who have served a year or more in the forces, while the other 30%, numbering about 700, are being selected through conscription centres.

"We have huge numbers of volunteers. I am getting hundreds of requests from every corner of our large country from those who want to go to Kosovo. Unfortunately, our contingent [of conscripts] is limited - about 700 people, I repeat. We are selecting the creme de la creme," Shpak told the radio.

He said there were stringent selection criteria.

"An immaculate report during service in the airborne troops, good references from the last job, great physical fitness and, of course, an absence of bad habits." Nobody with a history of alcoholism or drug addiction would be accepted, Shpak said, but "smoking is still allowed".

Shpak said the troops' morale "is very high," and "nobody said he was going for the money" .


"Mainly they are going to boost the prestige of our country and the armed forces, especially of the airborne troops."

Shpak said a private or sergeant would receive $800 - $1,000 a month, while an officer would get $1,000 - $1,200.

"This will come in handy for our impoverished officers and warrant officers. Some people say this is too much. But this money will return to Russia and will be used in developing our country. We will not leave it in Yugoslavia," he told the radio .

Shpak said the Russian troops would operate in four K-For zones - the US, German and French zones and Slatina airport. " We can bring our influence to bear in all three main sectors of the K-For peacekeeping operation," he said, adding that the Russians would also be able to "influence the situation in Pristina itself, for we control the airport" . But he admitted that the fragmentation of the Russian contingent was a " negative" factor.


Russian paratroopers have been preparing for the mission for the past two months with special training programmes. The selected units have been given briefing documents on Yugoslavia's history, politics and inter-ethnic relations, Shpak said.

The entire operation will cost Russia about $69m, of which $35m will be allocated in 1999, the Russian newspaper Izvestia reported. The Finance Ministry will not be able to claw back any of the funds earmarked for the operation.

According to a decree from President Boris Yeltsin, the troops will be deployed in Kosovo until 10 June, 2000, Interfax news agency reported.

Disagreement There have been some public expressions of disagreement in Russia over the Kosovo deployment.

Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, quoted by Interfax, said " an economic dwarf should not pose as a great power. Where will the millions of dollars for the upkeep of our men come from? If we have this money, why are we begging from the IMF and requiring humanitarian aid?" he asked.

Ruslan Aushev, President of Ingushetia in Russia's northern Caucasus, said the Russian peacekeepers would "have no say" in Kosovo because "Nato is calling the shots there".

"We talk about Russia's strategic interests but we should start, I believe, by working out a strategy in this country. There is none, so we have what we have - Chechnya and an explosive situation in the North Caucasus," he said.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, President of Kalmykia in southern Russia, said he supported the mission "as a patriot," but regretted that the funds could not be spent on easing the economic hardship back home. "As a regional leader, every day I come up against the problem of pensions and wages and holiday money not being paid. We need to pay the teachers right now. So there is a problem here," he told Russian NTV television.

Source: BBC Monitoring Caversham 26 Jun 99

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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