I was reading an article from Reuters yesterday about Russia’s interests in Kosovo and it had me remembering my own experiences in the country.
This was back in 1999 and I was near the tail-end of my RAF career. NATO was busy bombing the crap out of the Serbs in Kosovo and I was serving in Tactical Communications Wing in Brize Norton. Once the bombing stopped we were prepared to fly into Pristina airport and set up camp.
There was a problem though – the Russians got there first:
Like all Kosovo Albanians, Zogiani was eagerly awaiting the arrival of 45,000 NATO troops as Serb forces began a withdrawal compelled by 78 days of allied bombing to end ethnic-cleansing ordered by the late Serb autocrat Slobodan Milosevic.
Instead, he saw a Russian column sweep into the airport, completing a bold dash from Bosnia through Serbia to seize the runway with 200 soldiers before NATO could even get there, and be greeted as heroes by Serbs all along their way.
Now, our alliances were with the Kosovo Albanians that had suffered so much from the Serbian ethnic-cleansing, while the Russians were old allies of the Serbs. This turned out to be a bit of an issue! I remember arriving in Pristina (on a very uncomfortable Hercules C130) and having nowhere to pitch a tent.
Things were tense for a while there but diplomacy won out and we shared the airport with the Russians during my two month stay. We were there to set up the airfield comms, radar and ATC and we got on with it. The Russians didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them, although when we did occasionally meet they were very friendly and appreciated the exchange of cigarettes.
Still, there were some tense moments while I was there. It looks like Russia could be aiming to muddy the waters in Kosovo’s attempts at independence from Serbia, so there are going to be a few more tense moments over there nine years after my visit.
While I’m on the subject of Kosovo I’d just like to point out that Kosovo is a spectacularly beautiful country, at least in parts. We didn’t get out too often but we did visit some local beauty spots. History has made the occupants poor beyond belief (the “poor” in this country should see the conditions people live in over there) but the countryside has little pockets of outstanding natural beauty.
It’s still not somewhere you’d go on holiday, but perhaps, with independence, Kosovo can put the past behind it and enrich its citizens within the European community.
I hope so.