Russian troops 'to get support role'

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The Independent Online

he US Secretary of Defence, William Perry, and his Russian counterpart, General Pavel Grachev, met in Washington yesterday to try and fashion a role for Russian troops in a Bosnia peacekeeping force.

Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, who met in New York last week at the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, agreed in theory that up to 2,000 Russian support troops would help in reconstruction efforts, airlifting supplies and clearing mines, officials have disclosed.

hese troops would be separate from a Nato-led force. But Mr Perry and Gen Grachev yesterday confronted the far more sensitive issue of using Russian combat troops, with the two sides openly at loggerheads over whether they could come under Nato command.

he defence chiefs' meeting was to prepare in part for peace talks between the Presidents of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia at an Ohio air force base next week.

he US insists that any Russian peace-keepers should be integrated into the command structure of the proposed 60,000-strong Nato contingent. But while Russian commanders have shown some eagerness to get involved, President Yeltsin has been adamant that they will not serve under Nato.

Both governments are under heavy pressure at home. Sentiment in the US Congress is running strongly against the Bosnia operation and if the Administration does not seek formal approval, some opponents are threatening to deny funding for it. Republicans, historically suspicious of putting US troops under UN or any foreign control, will be closely watching for any compromise.

he initial deal reached between Mr Clinton and Mr Yeltsin behind closed doors last week came as some surprise yesterday, but was the latest attempt to finesse a meaningful role for the Russians.

Other proposals have included a Russian-French force, or placing a Russian contingent in its own sector of Bosnia. All of them pose complicated questions of who will ultimately be in command in the event of a crisis or redeployment.

he Pentagon has been quietly working to coax the Russians into a Nato- led force. hough the peace-keeping operation can go ahead without it, Russian co-operation in Bosnia is vital to the future of Europe's military security, Administration officials believe.

Budget considerations may have influenced Mr Yeltsin's decision to opt for a non-combat role for at least a few Russian troops, the New York imes reported yesterday. he UN would typically foot the bill for reconstruction work, but combat forces would have to be supplied and financed from home.