Defense Ministers Reach Compromise on Russian Army’s Bosnia Role : Military: Moscow’s troops would report to U.S. commander, not NATO. Other issues remain unresolved.


The United States and Russia reached a compromise Wednesday on the role of Russian troops in a planned NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but they remain divided over the potentially deal-breaking issue of how much political say Moscow should have in the operation.

After a day of consultations, U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry and Russian Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev announced a plan under which Moscow could contribute up to 3,000 Russian troops to an allied peacekeeping mission and still avoid having them technically under NATO command.

The proposal involves some convoluted political sleight of hand, with the Russians effectively serving under the top U.S. general in charge of an overall allied peacekeeping force, but reporting to him in his capacity as an American rather than as a North Atlantic Treaty Organization commander.

Clinton Administration officials described the compromise as a major step in the U.S. effort to bring the Russians into an allied peacekeeping operation.


U.S. strategists say Moscow’s participation is vital, partly to give the peacekeeping venture more credibility in the eyes of the Bosnian Serbs.

But they warned that the plan could still be scrapped if the two sides prove unable to work out a second key element--how much political control Moscow will have over the overall operation.

“There still are major differences,” one official said. “Until that is resolved, nothing will happen.”

Perry and Grachev told reporters that the issue of how much political control Moscow would have in setting objectives for the peacekeepers would have to be decided at a higher level--meaning that it will be referred to President Clinton and Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.

U.S. officials are fearful that if the political issue is not resolved, NATO could run into a situation similar to the “dual-key” approach used earlier in Bosnia, in which the United Nations was given political control of NATO military operations--and often blocked NATO action.

The Administration and Congress have said they are dead-set against any such arrangement, and the United States has already won a commitment from its allies that the United Nations will not be granted such authority over any NATO peacekeeping contingent.

Even so, the two defense ministers noted that with the multi-party peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, still going slowly, the two countries probably still have a few more weeks to resolve their remaining differences.

Peacekeeping troops will not be deployed until a peace accord is signed.

The plan announced on Wednesday amounted to a convenient way for the two sides to paper over their differences--at least with regard to the military side of the operation--and stave off what could have proven a serious stumbling block in the effort to enforce any peace agreement.

Washington also won its bid to persuade the Russians to hold down the number of troops they deploy in the peacekeeping venture.

Moscow initially had talked of sending as many as 20,000 soldiers but quickly scaled that back, partly because of the cost.

The compromise worked out on Wednesday relies on a complicated formula involving Gen. George A. Joulwan, who will run any eventual peacekeeping operation.

Joulwan wears two hats--one as supreme commander of NATO forces and a second as a four-star general in the U.S. Army.

Under the plan, the Russian peacekeeping forces would be commanded by a Russian general, who in turn would report to Joulwan, who would have operational control over the Russians, deciding such issues as what their assignments would be and what rules of engagement they would use.

But Joulwan would be acting in his capacity as a U.S. Army general, not as NATO’s top military leader. And while Joulwan would still be running the peacekeeping operation in practice, the force commander’s title would be held by his subordinate, U.S. Navy Adm. Leighton W. Smith.

At the same time, the Russian peacekeepers would come under tactical control of U.S. Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, commander of the 1st Armored Division, who would then be empowered to decide what local movements and maneuvers they should make. Nash will command the U.S. peacekeeping contingent in Bosnia.

Although the arrangement is transparent, the issue was important politically to both countries.

Moscow had refused to place Russian troops under the command of NATO, which was Russia’s old Cold War nemesis. Yet it wanted a visible role in the peacekeeping effort.

At the same time, the United States insisted that the 60,000-member “implementation force,” as the peacekeeping contingent will be known, be under NATO command because the alliance already has an effective military organization in place. Congress would object to a joint U.S.-Russian command.

U.S. officials made no attempt to portray the arrangement as anything but a convenient political ruse.

“What it does is it allows the Russians to say accurately that their forces are not under NATO military command,” one senior U.S. official said.

Grachev, however, stuck faithfully to the script, telling reporters that “our forces will participate” in the peacekeeping operation “but will not be under NATO.”

The defense minister has said repeatedly that he does not mind following orders but does not want them to be “on NATO stationery.”

There was no immediate indication what assignment the Russian peacekeeping forces would be given.

Joulwan and Russian Col.-Gen. Leontiy Shevtsov, who will serve as commander of the 3,000-member Russian contingent, are to hammer that out over the next few weeks.

But Grachev said the Russian force will encompass a full-scale brigade of two to three battalions--or between 2,000 and 3,000 soldiers, the way the Russians organize their units--with the number and makeup depending on what assignments the Russian contingent would be given.

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