The Russian brigade that is supporting the NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia is apparently no longer reporting to the NATO command. It now seems that the brigade has withdrawn from both the command structure and the communication net. While it has made no overt moves against NATO, it also has not shown any inclination to withdraw. Clearly, this is a signal of Russian displeasure at U.S. policy in Kosovo. It is also a potential security risk in the event that NATO chooses to mount any operations out of Bosnia, or the Serbs attempt any operations into Bosnia. Either way, it is a complex and potentially dangerous evolution.
It is particularly interesting that German officials have gone out of their way to issue statements indicating that the Russianís remain under NATO command. Since we are fairly certain that this is no longer the case and we have no doubt but that the Germans know this, it is useful to consider why they would have issued this statement.
One of the worst outcomes of the Kosovo operation from the German point of view would be a collapse of NATO-Russian relations. As we have been noting over time, the Germans are particularly exposed to any Russian military buildup along the Polish-Belarus frontier. Indeed, that frontier is not only virtually undefended, but is virtually undefendable in the current geography of NATO. Were there any serious challenge to Polish security, it would be Germanyís most serious problem. That coupled with the fact that Germany is heavily exposed financially in Russia, makes Germany very sensitive to declines in German-Russian relations.
Germany's current Red-Green government is particularly averse to both military adventures and anything that smells of the Cold War. Thus, news of the Russian withdrawal from the peacekeeping force in Bosnia could cause serious political repercussions in Germany. The German solution is to keep a lid on the problem by using the fact that Russia has not publicly confirmed what has become a fact on the ground, that Russian troops are no longer under NATO command.
The Germans are buying time, hoping that the Russians will not make the issue too public or will reverse. But clearly, this can develop into a major breach in the U.S. alliance. One of the three brigades in Macedonia is German and German aircraft are playing an important role in the war. German diplomacy, particularly in places like Greece where the U.S. is less then popular, is also important. The U.S. cannot afford weakened German support. But Germany cannot afford a confrontation with Russia. So far, the alliance is being held together with bubble gum and paper clips, but it is holding. The Russians are doing everything they can to unravel it. Germany is emerging, now that Italy has been shorn up, as the potential weak link.