The forced march on Priština (Rus: Марш-бросок), known in the west as the Incident at Priština Airport, was an operation to transfer the combined battalion of the Airborne Army (VDV) of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, which was located in Ugljevik as part of the international peacekeeping contingent in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Priština, the administrative center of the Serbian autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija. The operation was carried out during the night between July 11 and July 12, 1999.

The objective of the operation was to establish control over the Slatina Airport.

Only six individuals were briefed on the full extent of the operation, including the military-diplomatic cover. Even President Yeltsin was only delivered an analytical note with generalized suggestions, instead of concrete actions to take the airport.

As a result of the operation, Russia received four areas of responsibility in Kosovo and Metohija, in which Serbs felt safe. Peacekeepers from Russia remained in Kosovo and Metohija until 2003, when the Russian contingent was withdrawn, and in return, police formations from Russia arrived.

Speaking about the events from 1999, when the Priština Airport Slatina in Kosovo and Metohija was occupied by a combined battalion of the Russian airborne forces, the President of Russia Vladimir Putin said that he had been asked for his opinion on the possibility of carrying out that operation, and his answer had been that if expedient, the operation should be carried out.

In his interview with TV Russia 1, asked when and who had made the decision to take the airport, Putin recounted that he had been the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia at the time and that the then-Chief of the General Staff General Anatoly Kvashnin had told him that there was an idea to take the Slatina Airport.

“When I asked ‘Why?’, he replied that it was evident that we would have to leave the site eventually, but we would have something to negotiate with,” said Putin. He added that he was aware that Kvashnin did not dare to coordinate it with high-ranking officials, including the Ministry of Defense of Russia, but it was done.

In May 1999, Major Yunus-bek Yevkurov received a secret mission from the highest military leadership of Russia — to secretly infiltrate Kosovo and Metohija as a group of 12 special forces soldiers from the GRU of the General Staff of Russia, take control over the Slatina airport, and prepare for the arrival of the main forces of the Russian contingent.

In 2001, the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin presented government awards to Russian peacekeepers in Kosovo.

When Putin arrived to Kosovo, he was received at the Priština airport by an honorary guard of the Russian peacekeeping forces.

Putin was then taken to the staff of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the village of Vrelo. He presented government awards to six soldiers who excelled in performing their peacekeeping duties. Putin also met with the top commanders of the Russian military contingent in order to discuss the military-political situation in Kosovo.

The President said that the international community ought to take measures to isolate the armed extremists and terrorists in the south of Serbia and Macedonia, and eliminate channels for funding militants.

This was also the last time Putin was in Kosovo.

Putin in Kosovo

(Source: Bunt)