In the short term, Russia’s partisan preference might actually suit NATO by persuading Serbs to stay and helping preserve Kosovo’s multi-ethnic character. But the Kosovo conflict has dramatically altered the atmosphere of NATO-Russian relations. "What Boris Yeltsin calls ‘the march on Pristina’ is being hailed in Russia as a great military victory and as a sign that Russia –- however pathetically –- can stand up to NATO," says Meier. And just last week Moscow set alarm bells ringing in NATO countries with a massive military exercise –- including provocative bomber flights into Western airspace –- designed to simulate repelling an attack from the West. "And the anti-NATO card will be played by most Russian political parties in the runup to December’s parliamentary elections and even in next year’s presidential poll," says Meier. So Russia plans to do more in Kosovo than simply keep the peace; it plans to prove a point.
It may not be Berlin all over again, but it isn’t Bosnia either. Russian reinforcements began arriving in Kosovo Tuesday after a weekend standoff with NATO –- which led to the Russians' being denied overflight rights by Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine –- were settled. Although Moscow’s demands for more freewheeling deployment rights were denied for fear of creating a partition along the lines of postwar Germany, the Russians aren’t going to Kosovo as evenhanded mediators. "Unlike in Bosnia, where they were part of a neutral peacekeeping force under coordinated command, they’re making no bones about the fact that their mission in Kosovo is to protect the Serbs," says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier.