Putin suggests he was key in Kosovo airport occupation

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony of handing Gold Stars medals to heroes of labor marking the Day of Russia holiday in Moscow, Russia, on Friday, June 12, 2020. The ceremony marked the first big public event Putin attended since announcing a nationwide lockdown more than two months ago. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is suggesting that he was a key figure in the takeover of Kosovo’s airport by Russian troops at the end of the 1999 war.

The occupation of the Slatina airport outside the capital Pristina produced one of the most tense standoffs between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

In an interview shown on state television Sunday, Putin said that as then-head of the country’s security council he was approached about the plan by military general staff chief Gen. Anatoly Kvashnin.

“And I told him: ‘If you consider it appropriate, then do it,’” Putin said.

Russia, which resented NATO’s denial of a peacekeeping sector in Kosovo, sent peacekeeping forces from Bosnia into Kosovo and took control of the airport.

Although NATO supreme commander Gen. Wesley Clark wanted the airport’s runways blocked so that Russia couldn’t use it, peacekeeper commander Lt. Gen. Michael Jackson of Britain refused the order. Reports later said Jackson claimed such a move could start a ”third world war.”

The standoff was resolved when Russian forces were allowed to deploy throughout Kosovo outside of NATO’s command.

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