#8 - JRL 7139 Russia to quit ex-Yugoslavia; Kosovo to become "a second Chechnya" Interfax April 9, 2003 Russia has decided to withdraw its peacekeeping troops from the former Yugoslavia as they were sent there to protect Serbs in Kosovo, but there are hardly any Serbs living there now, a Russian defence official has said. Interfax-Military New Agency cited the unnamed Defence Ministry source as saying Kosovo is drifting toward independence and will become "a second Chechnya", where terrorism and drug-trafficking will flourish. Russia does not want to be responsible for this, he said. This the text of the report: Moscow, 9 April: Russia has decided to withdraw its peacekeeping contingents from Kosovo and from Bosnia-Hercegovina, a high-ranking representative of the Russian Defence Ministry told Interfax-AVN [Interfax-Military News Agency] in Moscow on Thursday [as received - presumably Wednesday 9 April]. "We have taken a final decision to terminate our participation in the peacekeeping operation in the Balkans, and a corresponding document will be officially circulated in the next few days," the source said. "There is no war in the Balkans and no threat of it starting, nor is there any such possibility," the spokesman said. "Our peacekeepers are not doing anything there now, and it costs 25m dollars every year to keep them there. These funds can be better spent on development of the armed forces. "Russia no longer has strategic interests in the Balkans. We entered the Yugoslav region of Kosovo in 1999 to protect the Serbs living there. There are virtually no Serbs there now, just as Yugoslavia no longer exists," the high-ranking representative of the Ministry of Defence also said. "Kosovo is now drifting steadily towards independence," Interfax-AVN's source continued. "As a result a second Chechnya, where terrorism and drug trafficking will flourish, will emerge in the centre of Europe. We do not want to be responsible for this." The spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry also said the NATO leadership "had been informed long ago of Russia's decision to terminate its involvement in the peacekeeping operation in Balkans". "It remains only to resolve technical questions involved in the withdrawal of the peacekeeping contingent. As soon as the rearrangement of the sectors of responsibility has been agreed, the withdrawal of the Russian forces will begin," the source said. "The withdrawal of the peacekeepers from the Balkans will take one month," he added. The source told the agency that there are currently 970 Russian peacekeepers in the Balkans: 650 in Kosovo and 320 in Bosnia-Hercegovina.