Russia and the United States yesterday announced a crucial breakthrough on the creation of a Balkans peace implementation force when they agreed a formula enabling Russian troops to serve alongside Nato.
Although the peace talks between the main factions in former Yugoslavia continue in Dayton, Ohio, yesterday's deal in Brussels means an important hurdle has been surmounted.
The agreement allows Moscow to claim that Russian troops can serve in the force without coming directly under Nato command. The US has always viewed the participation of Russian forces as essential for the credibility of the force, but has insisted that Nato maintain overall command so that US generals oversee all decisions. Without this, the deployment of US forces would never be acceptable to Congress.
As they announced the plan at Nato headquarters in Brussels, William Perry, the US Defense Secretary, and Pavel Grachev, his Russian counterpart, both appeared cheerful and confident that they had bridged an important gap.
"This plan envisages unity of command but does not require Russian forces to be under Nato command," said Mr Perry. "Our forces will participate but will not be under Nato command," added Mr Grachev.
Neither man would detail exactly how the military command formula would work, and both conceded that the highly sensitive question of political control remains to be solved.
The arrangement appears to involve a cleverly disguised climb-down by the Russians. A Russian brigade of more than1,000 troops, will operate as part of an American division. The division itself will be part of the overall Nato-led force of about 60,000 troops, under the American General George Joulwan, Nato Supreme Allied Commander. However, the Russians in the American division will answer to General Joulwan in his role as US commander and not as Nato commander. A Russian, Colonel-General Leonid Shevtsov, will be second in command.
Both Mr Perry and Mr Grachev were challenged yesterday to explain how the US-Russian division could be set outside the overall Nato command structure. Neither could answer satisfactorily. Mr Perry insisted the arrangement did not involve a "dual key" system like that which allowed both Nato and the UN a say in military decisions in Bosnia until July. He said: "General Joulwan wears many hats."
A Nato official explained later: "It means the Russians take Nato orders but without Nato letterhead on the paper."
"The question of political control will be decided over the next few weeks," said Mr Perry.
Mr Grachev seemed happy that he would be able to sell the agreement in Moscow, where there would have been outright opposition to anything which appeared to place Russian troops under direct control of their old Cold War enemy.
n Copenhagen - Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, the Danish candidate for Nato's top job, said yesterday that his hat is still in the ring, writes Andrew Marshall.
"It's a dream job because Nato has meant something important to me ever since my youth," said the former Danish foreign minister. He would not withdraw, he said, unless Nato settled firmly on another candidate.
Nato has yet to agree between Mr Ellemann-Jensen and Ruud Lubbers, former Dutch prime minister, the only two declared candidates. The US has signalled that it will not back Mr Lubbers but most EU countries including Britain, Germany and France are behind him.Reuse content