Russian troops land in Kosovo

THE DISPUTE over Russian involvement with the Nato force in Kosovo appeared to have been settled yesterday, as two Russian planes carrying troops, vehicles and equipment landed at Pristina, the province's capital.

Ever since Russian paratroopers based in Bosnia seized Pristina's airport before Nato's arrival last month, relations between the two forces have been uneasy. Yesterday's flights have been held up since the Russians attempted to expand the areas of Kosovo into which they would deploy. At Nato's request, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania refused permission for the planes to enter their air space.

Under the accord, four Russian battalions with some 3,600 troops will eventually arrive in Kosovo. Apart from running a logistics base near Pristina, and deploying in three of the five Nato zones, the Russians will continue to administer the airport under the command of General Anatoly Volchkov.

Subtle differences still appear to exist in the two forces' interpretation of who commands the Russians, although both emphasised the strength of their co-operation. "Unity of command will be preserved," said Lieutenant Commander Louis Garneau, the K-For spokesman. "Brigade commanders can give orders to the Russians."

General Volchkov, however, spoke of "reporting" to K-For rather than following its orders. The real test will come when Russian soldiers come into direct contact with the Kosovo population.

Many of Kosovo's remaining Serbs look to their Slavic cousins to protect them from Albanian attacks, but the deployment agreement carefully avoids allowing Russian soldiers near the most sensitive Serbian areas.