Militant members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, whose campaign for independence was left in limbo after NATO took control of the province, have made the traditionally pro-Serb Russian forces the target of their anger over the past two months. The Russians have been furious both about attacks on their own personnel and over the continuing ethnic cleansing targeted against the province’s dwindling Serb population. "If there’s a concerted attack on the Russian forces in Kosovo now, they’ll likely return fire with interest," says Meier. And while that might be exactly what KLA hard-liners want, it could make the Kosovo peacekeeping mission a political nightmare for NATO. Russian defense and foreign ministry statements warned last Friday that Moscow may consider pulling out of KFOR. But that wouldn’t be the easy victory the KLA hard-liners might imagine, because while Russia may have threatened to abandon its torturously negotiated relationship with the NATO-led peacekeeping command structure, it has no intention of quitting Kosovo.
NATO may yet pay a heavy price for its failure to rein in militant ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Albanian demonstrators Tuesday continued their human blockade to stop Russian troops, authorized by the NATO-led peacekeeping mission, from taking control of the town of Orahovac. Tensions in the province reached boiling point Monday as local Kosovar Albanians charged that Russian mercenaries had participated in Serb atrocities during the war, and barred their entry to the town. "For weeks now Russian forces have been taking hits from Albanian snipers, while the Russians believe NATO is doing very little to stop the perpetrators," says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. "The ethnic Albanians are playing with fire, because there’s mounting pressure in Moscow for a forceful reaction."