3 Center for American Progress | The First Time Putin Tried to Invade a Foreign Country
‘Sir, I’m not starting World War III for you’
Te siuaion quickly escalaed. As he Yugoslav miliary began o pour ou o Kosovo, NAO and he Russians prepared o move in. Te convoy o Russian roops crossed rom Bosnia ino Serbia, ﬂashing radiional hree-ﬁnger Serb vicory signs as hey were escored down he highway; hey were headed or he Slaina airﬁeld in Kosovo. Te Russian miliary and inelligence services had clearly decided ha pushing in heir own orces and changing he acs on he ground were he bes ways o recapure wha had been los a he negoiaing able. o make maters even worse, when Presiden Clinon phoned Russian Presiden Boris Yelsin o raise his concerns abou he move, Yelsin was rambling, repeiive, and almos incoheren. He said again and again ha he and Clinon, wih no ohers presen, should mee on “a boa, a submarine, or some island so ha no a single person will disurb us … No one else can do i.” A disurbed Clinon was lef rolling his eyes. “I was he mos bizarre Yelsin-Clinon call in six and a hal yearsand ha’s saying a lo,” said albot. Te adminisraion eared ha Yelsin had los conrol o he governmen, and albot’s plane made a U-urn or Moscow midﬂigh. In Europe, General Clark pushed o block he runway a he airﬁeld in Slaina wih Apache helicopers and waned auhorizaion o inercep and shoo down Russian planes i hey ried o bring in pararoopers agains NAO’s will. Briish General Michael Jackson, who waned simply o surround he Russian orces a Slaina and isolae hem, disobeyed Clark, amously elling him, “Sir, I’m no saring World War III or you.” And hanks o he help o Ukrainian and Hungarian delays, he Russians did no ge imely overﬂigh approval, so hey were unable o reinorce heir posiions, and he small Russian coningen was largely marginalized a he airﬁeld unil a deal was sruck or heir paricipaion in he broader peacekeeping mission. Te siuaion did no explode.
Vladimir Puin would become Russia’s presiden jus monhs laer, and he eﬀor o push roops ino Kosovo ahead o NAO became somehing o a emplae or his uure acions in he Near Abroad. Insead o concluding ha he operaion had been a dangerous ﬁasco, he saw a plan ha would have worked i i had no been hwared by he need or overﬂigh clearance rom wha had once been reliable saellie saes such as Romania, Hungary, and Ukraine. He seemed o conclude ha even hough Russia was weak a he negoiaing able compared o he Unied Saes and he European Union, i could sill achieve is sraegic aims by being willing o embrace he advenurism ha had always been he hallmark o he KGB and is successor, he FSB.