Russia says it is responding to a Serbian request for humanitarian assistance to Kosovo, the disputed territory that recently declared its independence from Belgrade. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report.
Speaking at a meeting of the Russian cabinet, President Vladimir Putin ordered Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov to work out the details of humanitarian assistance for both Serbian and ethnic Albanian residents of Kosovo.
Mr. Putin says the premise of Russian assistance should be to make all residents of Kosovo - he refers to it as an enclave - feel normal, regardless of their nationality. He notes that if humanitarian assistance is needed, Russia should provide it, but without any political overtones.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claims the humanitarian situation in Kosovo's ethnic Serbian enclaves has become more tense, and that Russia recently received a request for assistance from Serbia.
"Above all," says Lavrov, "they are interested in medication, medical equipment, nonperishable food and hygiene products."
The United States and many European countries, including several members of the former Yugoslavia, have recognized Kosovo's independence. Russia, a Serbian ally, refuses. Kosovo has become 90 percent ethnic Albanian, but Serbs consider it to be the cradle of their civilization.
Moscow-based military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, told VOA that Russian humanitarian assistance is a feel-good gesture that will not change the political reality in Kosovo. Felgenhauer says Russians will say a few words, offer some humanitarian assistance, and send a few bags of flour and canned meat to the [Northern Kosovo] town of Mitrovica. "And what of it," asks Felgenhaur, adding that Russia has little capability and desire to do anything about Kosovo.
Kosovo's parliament declared independence from Serbia on February 17. It has been under U.N. administration since 1999, after NATO air strikes halted Belgrade's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. March 24 marks nine years since the beginning of those strikes.