Secret Russian Troop Deployment Thwarted

                   By Robert G. Kaiser and David Hoffman
                   Washington Post Staff Writers
                   Friday, June 25, 1999; Page A1

                   Russia's surprise deployment of 200 troops
                   to the Pristina airport on June 12 was part of
                   a scheme to send into Kosovo a contingent
                   of 1,000 or more men who could have tried
                   to stake out a Russian zone in the northwest
                   sector of the province, Western intelligence
                   analysts have concluded.

                   The carefully planned operation was
                   thwarted when the governments of Hungary,
                   Bulgaria and Romania, prodded by the
                   United States, denied Russian requests to
                   use their airspace to fly more Russians into

                   When senior U.S. officials realized what the
                   Russians had in mind, they lobbied the
                   Eastern Europeans on overflight rights and
                   began pursuing their Russian counterparts by
                   telephone "at ungodly hours" on Sunday,
                   June 13, according to one official. The
                   Americans warned the Russians that their
                   unilateral military moves risked obliterating
                   the good will generated by their help in
                   reaching a peace agreement.

                   Western analysts still dispute whether
                   Moscow's intention was to seize a Russian
                   zone in Kosovo or simply to send in more
                   troops to strengthen Russia's hand in negotiating peacekeeping
                   arrangements. Either way, the unilateral deployment of a large contingent
                   would have caused "grievous harm to support for Russia" in Washington,
                   said one senior State Department official.

                   The Russians nearly succeeded in adding to their forces on the ground,
                   briefly winning permission from Hungary for six IL-76 military transport
                   planes to fly over that country on June 11, before it was clear that the
                   Russians were sending 200 men from their Bosnian peacekeeping force to
                   the airport in Pristina, Kosovo's capital. But before those Ilyushins could
                   get into the air, the United States asked Hungary to deny the Russians use
                   of its airspace, and the Hungarians agreed, telling the Russians that only an
                   act of the Hungarian parliament could grant overflight rights.

                   A reconstruction of the events surrounding the Russians' unexpected
                   deployment into Kosovo, based on reporting in Washington, Moscow
                   and Brussels, indicates that the Russian operation was thoroughly planned,
                   deliberately deceptive and considerably more ambitious than its
                   accomplishments would suggest. Many questions remain about who in
                   Moscow was in charge of the decision-making that led to the operation.

                   When the NATO allies realized, late on June 11, that the Russians were
                   moving men toward Pristina, Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the NATO
                   commander, speedily devised a plan to deploy NATO troops by
                   helicopter to the Pristina airport, creating the possibility for the first
                   NATO-Russia confrontation since the end of the Cold War. But British
                   Gen. Michael Jackson, head of the peacekeeping force, argued that such
                   a move would upset the delicate arrangements he had negotiated with
                   Yugoslav officers on their withdrawal from Kosovo, and Clark's plan was

                   In Moscow, Russian generals were openly frustrated at their inability to
                   complete the deployment.

                   "When the Russian military saw how popular their first little glorious
                   victory was," said one senior U.S. official, referring to the arrival of the
                   200 troops at Pristina's airport, "the effort to score again [with additional
                   deployments to Kosovo] became more intense, and more important from
                   their point of view. If they'd been able to keep on going, you could have
                   had a very serious breakdown in confidence, and maybe in our ability to
                   organize a peacekeeping effort in Kosovo."

                   Western officials are still debating the Russian moves, wondering both
                   why the Russian military took the risks it did and what role President Boris
                   Yeltsin played in the decisions.

                   Senior intelligence analysts in Washington have concluded that there was a
                   strong consensus among Russian officials in Moscow, including Yeltsin,
                   that Russian troops had to play a role in Kosovo after Yugoslav President
                   Slobodan Milosevic accepted peace terms. One official said Yeltsin
                   agreed in general terms that Russian troops would have to be deployed in
                   Kosovo at least as soon as NATO forces were. "Whether he [explicitly]
                   approved the idea of going in first, we aren't sure," this official said.

                   In Moscow, Russian sources said Yeltsin did approve the deployment in
                   advance, during a telephone conversation with Gen. Anatoly Kvashnin,
                   chief of the Russian general staff.

                   Russian military officials have boasted that the deception involved in the
                   Pristina airport operation was deliberate. "The operation was very
                   carefully prepared," Gen. Georgi Shpak, commander of Russia's
                   paratroopers, told a Russian newspaper. "The main difficulty was to hide
                   the fact that the operation was being prepared."

                   One question is the degree to which Yeltsin, frail and ill, participates in
                   detailed discussions of complex issues. Western intelligence analysts and
                   many Russian sources say his involvement is minimal.

                   In late April, Yeltsin complained in a closed meeting of his national
                   security advisers about Russia's inability to influence the Yugoslav war.
                   "Why are they not afraid of us?" he lamented, according to a source in
                   Moscow. His generals had no answer.

                   Western nations were alarmed when the Russians moved into the Pristina
                   airport, though not afraid of the small force of 200. Within two weeks the
                   British were providing food and water for the isolated contingent.

                   But Clark took the Russian deployment seriously, which led to his plan to
                   dispatch U.S. troops by helicopter to the airport. Defense Secretary
                   William S. Cohen and Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint
                   Chiefs of Staff, supported Clark's plan. But Jackson and the British
                   government demurred, and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov assured
                   U.S. officials that the Russian force moving toward Kosovo would stop
                   before it crossed into the province.

                   The Russians' premature arrival in Pristina despite Ivanov's assurance
                   complicated the diplomatic exchanges over the peacekeeping
                   arrangements. The Russians insisted that they be given a separate sector
                   within Kosovo, contributing to the conclusion of some Western
                   intelligence analysts that they had intended to establish such a sector
                   unilaterally. Other Western officials argued that the Russian goal was to
                   create a presence on the ground as a bargaining chip.

                   The negotiations sharpened U.S. officials' questions about who was in
                   charge in Moscow. At the meetings in Helsinki to decide on Russia's role
                   in the Kosovo peacekeeping operation, U.S. officials perceived open
                   disagreements between Russia's civilian and military officials. They also
                   saw manifestations of the splits within the Russian military. Marshal Igor
                   Sergeyev, the defense minister, is regarded skeptically by many of his
                   colleagues, according to Russian sources. Several sources said Sergeyev
                   may not have been told by Kvashnin, his chief of staff, about the surprise
                   move to Pristina's airport.

                   An especially problematic figure for the Americans was Gen. Leonid
                   Ivashov, a former Communist Party commissar in the old Soviet Army
                   who runs the Russian Defense Ministry's international cooperation
                   department. Ivashov is a long-time hard-liner who has admitted that he
                   agitated in favor of a military coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 and
                   who is clearly skeptical of any Russian cooperation with NATO.

                   In the Helsinki negotiations, U.S. officials said, little progress was made
                   until Cohen drew his Russian counterpart, Sergeyev, into private meetings
                   from which Ivashov was excluded. Even then, disagreement persisted on
                   whether Russia would have its own sector in Kosovo.

                   Yeltsin announced last Friday that he had firmly instructed Sergeyev to
                   win approval for a separate Russian zone, saying he "categorically does
                   not agree" with the idea of Russian troops patrolling sectors controlled by
                   other countries. But several hours later, for reasons still not clear to the
                   non-Russian participants, the Russians agreed to a plan that dispersed
                   their troops through the British, French, German and American sectors,
                   with no zone of their own.

                   At the end of the long negotiations, Sergeyev and Ivanov said they had to
                   make one last phone call to Yeltsin for his approval of the final deal. They
                   adjourned to the Russian Embassy in Helsinki, then came back to accept
                   the arrangements. Had they spoken personally with Yeltsin? "They said it
                   was Yeltsin," according to one U.S. negotiator.