Compromise Reached on Russian Role in Bosnia Force : Balkans: Auxiliary unit gets OK. But issue of NATO command in larger mission is still a sticking point.
The United States and Russia agreed Friday on a compromise plan for Russian troops to play a modest supporting role in any Bosnian peacekeeping effort but failed to resolve the key issue of how they could fit into the NATO-led main force.
Under the plan, Russia would send several thousand of its troops to serve in a “special operations unit.” It would be separate from the main 60,000-troop North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led peacekeeping force and would be assigned to perform engineering projects, clear roads and staff checkpoints.
Although the troops would be commanded by a Russian general, he in turn would report to U.S. Gen. George A. Joulwan, who also would lead the NATO force. The Russian troops would arrive in Bosnia-Herzegovina a month after the NATO force sets up operations.
The hastily drafted compromise is designed to satisfy the two countries’ sharply conflicting views on the use of Russian troops in Bosnia.
Moscow wants Russian troops to have a high-profile role but for political reasons does not want to place them under command of NATO, its longtime nemesis. Washington wants to avoid giving Moscow command of any major contingent of troops.
The agreement was reached by Defense Secretary William J. Perry and Russian Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev while flying on Perry’s Air Force jet from Washington to the U.S. Army post here.
The purpose of the visit was to view a combined U.S.-Russian military exercise in peacekeeping operations. About 150 Russian combat troops are taking part in the maneuvers.
Both defense leaders appeared relieved that an agreement had been reached.
The two had been unable to resolve their differences in talks that lasted late into the evening Thursday. They are scheduled to return to Washington today.
“Minister Grachev and I have spent most of our lives on the opposite sides of the Cold War,” Perry said in a joint press conference after the two arrived here. “Today, we have agreed that our troops will serve together in support of peace.”
Despite the upbeat mood, officials acknowledged that the two fell short of agreement on a second, more fundamental element of Moscow’s demand--that Russian troops participate in the 60,000-member international peacekeeping force that will carry out any peace accord.
Perry said the two men plan to meet in Brussels in mid-November to resume their negotiations, following interim discussions over the next few days between Joulwan and Russian Col. Gen. Leontly Shevtzov, who has been named to head the Russian force and has been conferring with Western officials in Brussels.
Grachev said at a press conference that from the Russians’ point of view, much of the discussion in Brussels will center on ensuring that it is clear that the Russians have not joined hands with NATO--an important political issue in Russia.
“This is really one of the touchstones of this whole question,” Grachev said. “When orders or instructions or commands would be arriving at the place where the Russian troops are, the paperwork would not have as its letterhead the word NATO. “
Friday’s agreement came after a meeting last month between President Clinton and Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin in which the two leaders agreed that Russian troops should take part in the Bosnia effort.
The two presidents ordered their defense ministers to work out the details.
Analysts said that in some ways the Russians had agreed to a bit of diplomatic fiction.
Although the Russian general who commands the “special operations unit” will be required to report to Joulwan, the U.S. general will not be wearing his NATO “hat” for that purpose.
As a result, Grachev said, under Friday’s agreement, Russia would be able technically to “circumvent a direct command of NATO and still be able to carry out peacekeeping operations.”
Perry and other senior U.S. defense officials, however, were cautious in explaining what the pair had accomplished during their talks.
“Our President wanted us to agree to this as a minimum, and we did,” Perry said. “We also discussed additional Russian participation in the security force that will implement the military aspects of the peace agreement in Bosnia. We will continue these discussions.”
Grachev re-emphasized Friday that he will accept no scenario under which Russian troops would march under the NATO flag. Russia has the same objections to serving under NATO that U.S. military leaders would have to acting under Russian command.
Nevertheless, both Perry and Grachev expressed optimism that they will be able to resolve the larger issue.
“I am quite certain that we will find the one true path to finding a way out of this situation,” Grachev said.
Although details depend on the terms of any new peace accord, NATO has hammered out plans to send at least 60,000 allied ground troops to Bosnia to help enforce the pact. Washington has said it will contribute about 20,000, plus some 3,000 reservists.
Russia initially also had wanted to send about 20,000 troops, but the Clinton Administration objected, saying that such a large Russian force would interfere with the NATO command structure that is essential to carry out the operation.
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