Fasten Your Belts for Arrival at Pristina Airport

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U.S. and Russian negotiators signed an agreement on Friday in Helsinki that will permit Russian troops to participate in the Kosovo peacekeeping forces. Though initial details were sketchy, Secretary of Defense William Cohen said the agreement "preserves the unity of command necessary to make KFOR an effective military force and gives Russia a unique role by providing for operations of Russian forces within KFOR sectors run by the United States, France and Germany." Russian troops will serve under Russian command and control but they will work with NATO commanders in those sectors. And, of course, they'll free up the runways at Pristina Airport.

Expected in some quarters to drag on through the weekend, the deal was reached before desperation set in on NATO’s side. "Moscow had been quite content to prolong the standoff," says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. After all, by seizing Pristina's airport and spoiling NATO’s victory parade, Russia restored some of the sense of geopolitical power that had faded since the end of the Cold War. But apparently realizing that the standoff could last only so long -- Russia after all remains in economic free-fall and can't afford to step on the West’s goodwill indfinitely -- Moscow "accepted the inevitable compromise of some sort of parallel command," says Meier. The standoff played well with the domestic audience while it lasted, and says Meier, "it allowed the Russians to feel good about themselves again." Even better, it helped assure that Russian commanders will at least be heard in the weeks ahead when they speak about the numerous issues that will inevitably arise over the pacification of Kosovo.

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