Moscow troops must obey Nato orders in Bosnia

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RUSSIAN and French troops must serve under Nato command in any Bosnian peace-keeping operation, a senior Nato diplomat said yesterday. 'The chain of command must be unitary,' the diplomat insisted, admitting that there could be serious disagreement over the issue.

If a peace treaty can be agreed, the United Nations is expected to ask Nato to police it. The force would probably total some 40,000 to 60,000 Americans, Russians, French, British, Spanish, Canadians, Belgians, Dutch and Danes. But the Americans would predominate. Though the operation would be formally under the UN flag, the command structure must be Nato, the diplomat said, despite French objections. France is a member of Nato, but not of its integrated military structure. 'It's clear that the French would like to be full participants. They recognise that success depends on US forces, and to get the US they have to do so through Nato.'

Russia - particularly the conservative elements opposed to the leadership of Boris Yeltsin - would also have difficulty in accepting that its forces would be under the command of a former Cold War adversary.

This may be eased by putting the operation formally under UN control and giving the troops blue helmets. In practice, however, this would be a convenient cover. 'It's clearly not going to be like Desert Storm, in which the UN simply handed the operation over to a coalition of states,' said the diplomat. 'But the UN can't run it.' The force would have 'aggressive rules of engagement' and it would probably be the first time Nato ground forces have been given the ability to mount offensive operations if necessary, diplomats said. This meant that there could be no UN day-to-day control, since 'there needs to be a responsive decision-making chain'.

The possibility of the Russians working under Nato command in Bosnia represents a shift from their position three weeks ago, when they were holding out for equal status with Nato. The Russian Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, has earmarked a motor- rifle division of 13,500 men specifically for the peace-keeping role. Nato countries are reluctant to identify formations beforehand.

The Russians, like several East European countries, have expressed a desire to join Nato. If they operated under Nato command in Bosnia, that could strengthen their case. Russian planes are expected to join the US Air Force at Rhein-Main airbase in Germany to fly aid missions to eastern Bosnia, but last night the US Air Force still did not know when to expect them.

Ministry of Defence officials told the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday that the UN lacked the mechanisms to command a complex military operation. Rather than the UN 'thinking operationally' - as demanded by Lt Gen Robert Johnston, the US commander in Somalia - operational command should be delegated to a 'UN- blessed' military organisation. This could be a single power like the US (as in the Gulf war) or a coalition like Nato (as looks probable in Bosnia). Only certain countries had the trained forces and expertise to conduct peace- keeping operations.