Mystery Swede with Kremlin links who helped end war

Richard Norton-Taylor

Thursday March 9, 2000

A Swedish financier played a crucial role in persuading Slobodan Milosevic that the Russians would not come to his aid days before the Yugoslav president agreed to a peace deal with Nato, according to a BBC documentary on the Kosovo war.

Peter Castenfelt - known to be trusted by Boris Yeltsin, the ailing Russian president, and the Russian security apparatus - was used in a secret channel opened by the Germans in an attempt to end the conflict.

After secret talks in the Kremlin, he was driven by the Russian security service to the border between Romania and Serbia. He was then taken to Belgrade where he stayed for four days at the end of May last year.

Mr Castenfelt's role is revealed by Karl Kaiser, adviser to the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. He told the BBC: "It was not easy for Germany. This country was particularly interested in getting the war ended. There was a possibility that the crisis could evolve in a way that could end up in a tragedy".

He said the message the Swede took to Belgrade was: "The security apparatus in Moscow said 'end the war'. Or 'here are some conditions that look acceptable to us, and we cannot help you beyond it, so exit now'."

The condition was that though the K-For peacekeeping troops would be "Nato-led" they would still be a UN force.

The Castenfelt visit was closely followed by a meeting in Belgrade between Mr Milosevic, Viktor Chernomyrdin, Mr Yeltsin's official envoy, and the Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, which finally paved the way for the entry of K-For troops.

However, the peace nearly began with a highly dangerous confrontation with Russian troops. General Wesley Clark, Nato's supreme commander, backed by Javier Solana, the organisation's secretary general, ordered 500 British and French paratroopers to be put on standby to occupy Pristina airport where an advance party of Russian troops were heading.

The plan was vetoed by General Sir Mike Jackson, the K-For commander, in consultation with London. The British general told his military chief that the plan risked sparking a third world war.

But this was not the end of it. General Leonid Ivashev, a senior Russian officer, tells the BBC that "we had several air bases ready. We had battalions of paratroopers ready to leave [for Pristina] within two hours."

Gen Clark planned to order British tanks and armoured cars to block the runways. But what he describes as "an appropiate course of action" was again overruled by Britain.

Instead, Gen Clark asked neighbouring countries, including Hungary, a new member of Nato, and Romania, a keen candidate for Nato membership, not to allow Russian aircraft to overfly their territory.

In an interview with the Guardian shortly after the end of the conflict, General Sir Charles Guthrie, chief of the defence staff, emphasised the role of the Russians in getting Mr Milosevic to agree to withdraw his forces from Kosovo. But Germany's back-channel and the role played by Mr Castenfelt has never previously been revealed.

Why he was so trusted by Mr Yeltsin and his security advisers is unknown. What is clear is that Mr Yeltsin persuaded the Russian military to accept the deal, possibly by promising them more money and a free hand in Chechyna.

The BBC programme also reveals the extent to which senior US military commanders were deeply frustrated by political constraints on their bombing campaign. Asked what impact the high-flying bombing strategy had on Mr Milosevic's ability to cary out ethnic cleansing, General Mike Short, US commander of allied air forces, replies: "I don't think it impacted on him at all."

He discloses that more than once he considered resigning.

General Henry Shelton, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, says: "The one thing we knew we could not do... we could not stop the atrocities or the ethnic cleansing through the application of our military power."

Nato military chiefs, who were advised, wrongly, that Mr Milosevic would buckle after a few days of bombing Yugoslavian air defences, wanted to hit Serbia much harder and sooner with heavy attacks on a wide range of military and economic targets.

General Klaus Naumann, the German chairman of Nato's military committee at the start of the conflict, says: "I said on one occasion to the [Nato] council, we cannot stop this by using air power alone. It's impossible. No one in the political arena should have had the illusion that we could do it."

Tony Blair concedes that the air campaign hindered, rather than stopped, ethnic cleansing. That, he says, is because of the "limitations" of "that type of military action".

Washington was furious with British attempts to talk up the possibility of sending in ground forces, an option which Washington considered impossible politically and logistically, and which was unacceptable to the German, Italian, and Greek governments and probably many more of the allies.

Nato's failure to stop the exodus of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo led to increasing frustration in Nato's capitals, with Washington placing the blame on the US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. Ivo Daalder, a member of Bill Clinton's national security council, says: "Madeleine's war, as it became called, all of a sudden didn't look so good."

Original article