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Kosmet in June 1999 or on the threshold of the Third World War

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"Because of you, I will not start World War III," is the sentence Jackson allegedly sent to Clark, after receiving London's support for British forces to surround the airport with the Russians.

The red "Suzuki Swift" slowly slid towards the Russian armored personnel carrier, on which the events that took place around were watched with disinterest by a Russian paratrooper. He looked away from the approaching car several times, and only when the vehicle came within ten meters did he move the machine gun in the direction of the red car with his elbows. Just to let passengers know what they might be dealing with.

A few hundred meters from the Russians, next to the road, in the grass that reached to their knees, stood British soldiers, who were not overly zealous in controlling people intending to set off for the Pristina airport, where the Russian flag had been flying for some time.

The British sent the famous Gurka warriors to the first echelon, who wore equally famous Kukri knives behind their belts and boasted of the slogan: "Better to die than be a coward." On the other side were Russian paratroopers who crossed into Kosovo from the mission. SFOR in BiH. The unit consisted mostly of veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

In Pristina itself, too, it was quite chaotic. Smoke billowed from the newly burned houses, this time Serbian, while bursts of automatic weapons echoed from the outskirts of the city. Although members of the Kosovo Liberation Army were forbidden to enter the city armed, Podujeva commander Rustem Mustafa "Remi" set up headquarters in the settlement of Grmija.

An unforeseen move

The day before, Russian paratroopers quickly repainted SFOR insignia in KFOR and entered Kosovo via Serbia. During their trip, sessions of governments in the West were scheduled, because obviously no one foresaw such a move. An enthusiastic mass of Serbs greeted them in Pristina, and the convoy soon left for the airport.

Shortly afterwards, Norwegian and British special forces entered Pristina as a precursor. At that moment, the streets of the city were, due to the general fear, completely deserted. Norwegian soldiers were the first to get in touch with the Russians and informed General Michael Jackson, a tall, thin and slightly hunched professional soldier, who was reassigned to the position of Commander of the British Armed Forces after the Kosovo experience.

The majority of British forces entered Kacanik early in the morning, and then Pristina, where the celebration of Albanians had been waiting for them for several hours. When two British jeeps finally reached Caglavica, a village at the entrance to Pristina, after a heavy downpour, the Russians had already largely taken up positions at the airport.

After somehow breaking through the enthusiastic mass of Albanians, the British moved towards the Russian positions. They reached the road leading from Kosovo Polje to the airport building and stopped there. Several heavy "Challenger" tanks were deployed around the area, and along the road stood the Gurkhas, and behind them paratroopers.

The Russians used an armored personnel carrier as a checkpoint to enter the airport, and the British did the same, a few hundred meters away. The winding asphalt road between them essentially represented no man's land.

Suddenly, a loud thunder was heard from the Pristina airport, and a few moments later, one after the other, six "moments 21" took off from the runway, which flew to central Serbia. Almost at the same time, the British sent several more tanks and combat vehicles around the airport, and NATO helicopters patrolled overhead, now rare observers.

The take-off of the "moments", as it turned out later, was preceded by turbulent hours at the very top of NATO. The Commander-in-Chief of NATO forces in Europe, General Wesley Clark, called on the Secretary General of the Alliance, Javier Solana, who told him that the "takeover of command" was underway, and the American suggested that British and French paratroopers be transferred by helicopter to Slatina and force take control of the airport.

According to later testimonies, General Jackson on several occasions questioned Clark's authority to order such an action, and diplomats feared that the goals of this operation would go far beyond the framework agreed upon by NATO members, so there was there is a serious danger that some countries will simply give up participating in the action. The French were allegedly the first to threaten that, and the British paratroopers spent the hot afternoon in a helicopter not far from Skopje, before the command completely gave up the action.

Accurate estimate

"Because of you, I will not start World War III," said Jackson in a statement he allegedly received from London after receiving support from Prime Minister Tony Blair and Defense Secretary George Robertson. but not to block the runway.

Such an assessment proved to be correct, because without logistical support, the Russians quickly ran out of food, and after a few days of shopping on the black market, KFOR took care of the supply of paratroopers two weeks later.

The statements of Russian General Leonid Ivashov, who claimed that Russia was ready to send thousands of soldiers to Kosovo, did not contribute to lowering tensions. The Russians, to be honest, put several military bases and several Il-76 transport planes on full alert, but the possibility of really reaching Pristina only became theoretical when Moscow's request for a flight was rejected by Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

Despite the fact that the Russians were practically surrounded, General Clark continued to insist that NATO occupy the airport, claiming that it had the support of the highest officials of the international community. In the meantime, the British commander met with the Russian commander Viktor Zavarzin, and after that meeting, the tensions among the direct participants in this crisis almost disappeared.

At the same time, the poster for the film Negotiator disappeared from the shop windows advertising the cinema program. The screening of that film was supposed to start on March 24.

Negotiations on the future engagement of Russian forces were held at the same time, and Moscow insisted that the Russian contingent in Kosovo be given a special zone of responsibility, and not subject to joint command, which NATO refused, explaining that this would divide Kosovo.

In early July, the two sides reached a compromise agreement on the status of Russian forces within KFOR, under which they were under the command of the KFOR commander, but not NATO.

The Russians remained in Kosovo until mid-2003, when they operated the Pristina airport and military hospital, which treated more than 10.000 people. The most famous episode from their patrol of Kosovo is the quarrel with Ramush Haradinaj, after which one of the KLA commanders left the scene with bruises on his face.

Two months later, Clark was removed from the post of NATO Commander-in-Chief. Later, when he announced that he would try to win the candidacy of the Democrats for the presidency of the USA, Shelton said at the public meeting that Clark had "problems with integrity and character", and that he would never vote for him.

The last airplane of the then FR Yugoslavia, one "utva", took off from Pristina airport on June 16, 1999.

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