Mightily Miffed, Moscow Draws a Line in the Mud

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Just as it was wishful thinking to imagine that Slobodan Milosevic would run up the white flag after a couple of days of bombing, so it was wishful thinking to imagine that NATO could simply order Moscow around when it came to keeping the peace in Kosovo. As the first U.S. Marines entered the province Monday, the alliance had already spent a couple of days confronting minor crises ranging from isolated sniper fire and unmarked minefields to the seizure of a border crossing by the Kosovo Liberation Army. But the most serious crisis remained the confrontation with Russian forces, who stopped British troops from establishing NATO’s headquarters at Pristina’s airport on Saturday. Although President Clinton plans to speak with President Yeltsin again Monday, there’s no sign that Moscow has any intention of allowing NATO to unilaterally define the United Nations-authorized peacekeeping mission.

"Russia’s action in Kosovo has very little to do with peacekeeping," says TIME Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge. "They’re demanding a voice in international relations, and the West has severely underestimated the anger and humiliation that runs across the political spectrum in Russia over NATO’s disdain for Russia’s views throughout the Kosovo conflict. More important, perhaps, they’ve underestimated the degree to which Moscow was willing to act to demonstrate its unhappiness." At this stage it remains unclear whether Yeltsin actually ordered the deployment or whether his generals simply presented him with a fait accompli. Either way, the action suggests moves are afoot in Moscow’s power structure to adopt a more confrontational approach to the West. "The scary thing is that nobody in Moscow is in any hurry to provide assurances that this isn’t the case," says Quinn-Judge. Russia’s economic woes may have prompted NATO leaders to ignore their old foes, but Moscow’s generals are out to prove that beggars can be choosers.

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