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The First Time Putin Tried to Invade a Foreign Country

The First Time Putin Tried to Invade a Foreign Country

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During the Kosovo war in 1999, Vladimir Putin, who was the Russian national security advisor at the time, backed a dangerous plan that almost led to NATO exchanging fire with Russian troops. Here’s what Putin learned from the incident, and what the West probably should have.
During the Kosovo war in 1999, Vladimir Putin, who was the Russian national security advisor at the time, backed a dangerous plan that almost led to NATO exchanging fire with Russian troops. Here’s what Putin learned from the incident, and what the West probably should have.

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Published by: Center for American Progress on Mar 10, 2014
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1 Center for American Progress |  The First Time Putin Tried to Invade a Foreign Country
 The First Time Putin Tried to Invade a Foreign Country
By John Norris March 13, 2014
‘We don’t have to ask NATO for permission’
On June 10, 1999, Presiden Bill Clinon addressed he naion rom he Oval Office as he declared vicory in he Kosovo war: “onigh or he firs ime in seveny-nine days, he skies over Yugoslavia are silen. Te Serb army and police are wihdrawing rom Kosovo. Te one million men, women, and children driven rom heir land are prepar-ing o reurn home. Te demands o an ouraged and unied inernaional communiy have been me.
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 For Presiden Clinon, success afer he many misseps and miscalcula-ions in he early sages o he war vindicaed his leadership and willingness o embrace a combinaion o orce and diplomacy.Te erms acceped by Yugoslav Presiden Slobodan Milosevic had been se afer weeks o grueling shutle diplomacy beween a roika o negoiaors: U.S. Depuy Secreary o Sae Srobe albot, Finnish Presiden Marti Ahisaari, and Russian Special Envoy  Vikor Chernomyrdin. Alhough hese diplomas sill had o finalize an agreemen on how󲀔and i󲀔Russian orces would paricipae in he NAO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, and he Russian eam had ofen seemed spli during he conenious final days o negoiaing, he mood back in he Clinon Whie House was buoyan. Everyone el like hey had dodged a bulle. Bu back in Russia, U.S. negoiaors woke up o a much darker urn o evens. A 1:00 in he morning on June 11, he quie o General George Casey’s hoel room a he Moscow Marrio was shatered by he ringing o he phone. Te urgen news: A Russian batalion o 186 peacekeepers in Bosnia was preparing o move, and i seemed like hey migh be headed or Kosovo, hoping o seal a march on NAO peacekeepers poised o ener he province. Te move sparked urious coningency planning a NAO headquarers. “Te danger was ha i he Russians go in firs, hey would claim heir secor,” said NAO’s miliary commander General Wesley Clark abou he poenial or he Russians o pari-ion Kosovo, “and hen we would have los NAO conrol over he mission.”
 
2 Center for American Progress |  The First Time Putin Tried to Invade a Foreign Country
 A a morning meeing beween Russian and U.S. miliary officials, he Russian officers  were in urn smug and belligeren, wih one general declaring, “We don’ have o ask NAO or permission. We have he righ o ac. I NAO inends o bring in 50,000 people o Kosovo, we will bring 10,000.” When U.S. officers menioned he roops on he move in Bosnia, he Russian generals looked like he ca ha ae he canary.  A he very same momen, Russian diplomas approached he Ukrainian and Hungarian oreign minisries wih a low-key reques or over-fligh clearance or six Russian IL-76 ranspor planes headed or he Balkans. Te Russians convenienly negleced o inorm heir diplomaic counerpars ha he planes were filled wih elie Russian pararoopers o be deployed in Kosovo. Hungarian officials graned wha hey hough was a rouine reques, bu he Ukrainians were immediaely suspicious.
‘It will be done before you reach the airport’
 A he Russian Foreign Minisry, albot and his eam sa down wih Vladimir Puin. As naional securiy advisor, Puin had been almos invisible during much o he Kosovo  war, bu his inelligence background would prove paricularly pivoal in he hours and days ha ollowed. Alhough an old Russia hand, albot had no had many chances o inerac wih Puin previously and ound ha he cerainly made a more posiive pre-senaion han many o his conemporaries. He was fi and urbane, and he began his remarks by graciously praising albot’s role in he diplomacy. albot acknowledged he heavy srain he NAO air campaign had placed on U.S.-Russian relaions, bu noed he “srange and ominous” signals ha he was geting in regard o a poenial unilaeral Russian deploymen in Kosovo. albot was slaed o fly ou o Moscow around noon, and he asked Puin or clarificaion regarding Russia’s sance. Puin was reassuring, sressing ha “Miliary cooperaion will coninue o be 100 percen.albot called Puin’s commens “music o my ears,” and again pressed or a clariying posi-ion, as he was scheduled o brie NAO ambassadors laer in he day. Puin promised o see ha a saemen was released: “I will be done beore you reach he airpor,” he said.  A 12:30 ha afernoon, he U.S. plane lifed off rom Moscow. As one o he U.S. negoia-ors remarked, “I was my firs ase o Vladimir Puin. We had been old by Puin an hour  beore ha by he ime we reached he airpor, he would issue a saemen ha assured he world ha hey would no go ino Kosovo. I’m sill waiing or ha saemen.”
 
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 siuaion quickly escalaed. As he Yugoslav miliary began o pour ou o Kosovo, NAO and he Russians prepared o move in. Te convoy o Russian roops crossed rom Bosnia ino Serbia, flashing radiional hree-finger Serb vicory signs as hey were escored down he highway; hey were headed or he Slaina airfield in Kosovo. Te Russian miliary and inelligence services had clearly decided ha pushing in heir own orces and changing he acs on he ground were he bes ways o recapure wha had  been los a he negoiaing able. o make maters even worse, when Presiden Clinon phoned Russian Presiden Boris  Yelsin o raise his concerns abou he move, Yelsin was rambling, repeiive, and almosincoheren. He said again and again ha he and Clinon, wih no ohers presen, should mee on “a boa, a submarine, or some island so ha no a single person will disurb us … No one else can do i.” A disurbed Clinon was lef rolling his eyes. “I was he mos  bizarre Yelsin-Clinon call in six and a hal years󲀔and ha’s saying a lo,” said albot. Te adminisraion eared ha Yelsin had los conrol 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 Slaina wih  Apache helicopers and waned auhorizaion o inercep and shoo down Russian planes i hey ried o bring in pararoopers agains NAO’s will. Briish General Michael  Jackson, who waned simply o surround he Russian orces a Slaina and isolae hem, disobeyed Clark, amously elling him, “Sir, I’m no saring 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 reinorce heir posiions, and he small Russian coningen was largely marginalized a he airfield unil a deal was sruck or heir paricipaion in he broader peacekeeping mission. Te siuaion did no explode.
Putin’s prestige
 Vladimir Puin would become Russia’s presiden jus monhs laer, and he effor o push roops ino Kosovo ahead o NAO became somehing o a emplae or his uure acions in he Near Abroad. Insead o concluding ha he operaion had been a dangerous fiasco, he saw a plan ha would have worked i i had no been hwared by he need or overfligh clearance rom wha had once been reliable saellie saes such as Romania, Hungary, and Ukraine. He seemed o conclude ha even hough Russia was  weak a he negoiaing able compared o he Unied Saes and he European Union, i could sill achieve is sraegic aims by being willing o embrace he advenurism ha had always been he hallmark o he KGB and is successor, he FSB.

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