Bear-Faced Cheek! Russians Beat NATO to Pristina

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It looks like the space race all over again -- and just like the Sputnik beat the United States into orbit, the Russians got into Kosovo before anyone from the West. And that’ll be a blow to a lot more than just NATO’s pride, because it shows that Moscow -- although it's all described as a big "mistake" -- doesn’t accept the second-fiddle peacekeeping role envisaged for it by the Western alliance. While NATO forces delayed their entry into the province for logistical reasons Friday, a Kosovo-bound Russian convoy raced through Serbia from Bosnia, bearing the markings of the U.N.-authorized international peacekeeping force, KFOR. Because the U.N. resolution doesn’t put NATO in charge of the peacekeeping operation, Moscow is insisting on playing a larger role.

Whereas NATO had envisaged dividing Kosovo into sectors run by its major members, Russian General Leonid Ivashov warned that Moscow wouldn’t "beg the U.S. to provide it with our own sector of Kosovo," but would simply "declare our sector and agree on this question with the Yugoslav side" if talks with NATO failed to resolve the issue.

While in the worst-case scenario, failure to reach agreement with Russia creates the possibility of a Berlin 1945-style partition of Kosovo, Moscow’s gambit could also be designed for domestic consumption in Russia and Yugoslavia, emphasizing that Kosovo hasn’t been surrendered to NATO. So don’t expect Western and Russian forces to square off in a Cold War replay. Like the space race, the rush to get to Kosovo may be more about planting a flag.

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