Incident at Pristina airport
|Incident at Pristina airport|
|Part of the Kosovo War (aftermath)|
Russian medal for participants
|Commanders and leaders|
|Mike Jackson||Anatoly Volchkov|
|Casualties and losses|
The Incident at Pristina airport was a confrontation between the NATO forces and Russian forces over the Pristina International Airport on 12 June 1999, in the aftermath of the Kosovo War. Russian troops occupied the airport ahead of a NATO deployment, resulting in a tense stand-off, which was resolved peacefully.
Russian Assistance to Serbia
On the night of 12 June 1999, 200 Russian airborne troops arrived in Yugoslavia to assist their ally and occupied Pristina International Airport ahead of the arrival of NATO troops. NATO Command had closed airspace, making it impossible to send support and ammunition from Russia to Serbia, which could have led to a confrontation between Russia and the block CIS. NATO eventually gave control of the airport to Russia.
The Kosovo War ended on June 11, 1999, and a joint NATO-Russian peacekeeping force was to be installed in Kosovo. Russia had expected to receive a peacekeeping sector independent of NATO, and were angered when this was refused.
Upon hearing of the deployment, American NATO commander Wesley Clark called NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, and was told "you have to transfer authority" in the area. Clark then ordered a contingent of 500 British and French paratroopers to seize the airport by force, an order that is still debated. British officer James Blount (later famous as singer James Blunt) who commanded the contingent, questioned and did not carry out this order. His delay was sanctioned by British General Mike Jackson. Jackson refused to enforce Clark's orders, reportedly telling him "I'm not going to have my soldiers be responsible for starting World War III." Jackson then instructed the paratroopers to encircle the airport instead.
Russia placed several airbases on standby, and prepared battalions of paratroopers to depart for Pristina on Il-76 military transport planes. Fearing that Russian aircraft were heading for the airport, General Clark planned to order British tanks and armored cars to block the runway, and requested American Admiral James O. Ellis for helicopter support. His orders were not carried out, and the United States instead put political pressure on neighbouring states not to allow Russia to use their airspace to ferry in the reinforcements. Russia was forced to call off the reinforcements after Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania refused requests by Russia to use their airspace.
Negotiations were conducted throughout the stand-off, during which Russia insisted that its troops would only be answerable to Russian commanders, and that it retain an exclusive zone for its own peacekeepers. NATO refused, predicting that it would lead to the partition of Kosovo into an Albanian south and a Serbian north. Both sides eventually agreed that Russian peacekeepers would deploy throughout Kosovo, but independently of NATO.
After securing an agreement, Pristina Airport was reactivated by 53 Field Squadron (Air Support) Royal Engineers as a military airbase on 15 October 1999, then with 45 employees restarted international air transport to several European cities. During that period, the Russian KFOR along with NATO forces were in charge of security for the airport.
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