The last farewell from the Russians

Maj. Viktor Nikolla
First published June 20, 2003

On May 28, 2003 at 'Ugly Camp' in Ugljevik a farewell ceremony officially marking the end of the Russian Military Contingent (RMC) mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) took place. The withdrawal of RMC from BiH started on May 22 and was fully completed on June 14, 2003. The withdrawal process occurred in close co-ordination between Russian military authorities and NATO. Once again SFOR restructures and reorganises its military system.

Ugljevik - The story began on Jan. 5, 1996, when the 1st Russian Separate Airborne Brigade (RSAB) consisting of 1,500 soldiers deployed in BiH. In the beginning, Russian forces were stationed in five camps (Ugljevik, Priboj, Simin Han, Vukocavci and Spasoevici). One year later, the area of responsibility was given to the command of infantry troops from Saint Petersburg's military region in Russia.
In the year 2000, the national flag replaced the banner of the unit. In 2003, the RMC consisted of 350 individuals located in Ugljevik (Ugly Camp) and a few of them in Simin Han.
The Area of Responsibility of the Russians included mainly the northeastern part of Republika Srpska (RS), with some smaller parts of Federation. The total area was 1,750 sq. kilometres, with 75 km of Inter Entity Boundary Line. For seven years this area has been home for Russian soldiers and their equipment. The first year as IFOR (Implementation Force) and later as SFOR's soldiers, the RMC constantly and steadfastly accomplished the missions assigned to them. Russia took part in SFOR as a member of the Partnership for Peace Programme.
Their success is tremendous
Russian forces carried out a variety of tasks within Multinational Division North (MND-N) and later within Multinational Brigade North (MNB-N). They patrolled every day in their Area of Responsibility. They conducted several joint patrols with Americans and other SFOR's nations. Russian and American soldiers had been each others enemy for more than four decades. Nowadays, the cold war is over and they are side by side with the same mission and learning from each other. Such co-operation couldn't be imagined in the past.
The doors of the Russian hospital were always open for the local people. The medical personnel treated at least ten local patients a day. Russian engineers will be remembered not only for the destruction of unexploded ordnance, but also for the building of roads allowing better relations into mountain communities.
RMC has been very successful in collecting weapons and ammunition. They collected thousands of weapons and ammunition during Harvest operations, much more than other units.
Russian forces have made a lasting contribution to the improvement of the situation in BiH and that contribution was very much appreciated. Russian soldiers and officers have been highly professional and committed to the fulfilment of SFOR's mission to ensure a safe and secure environment. No doubt that the local peoples will feel the effects of their work. They were part of SFOR's mission and only time will tell the true measure of this success.
Russian soldiers in some ways were unique
Besides their tremendous success, Russians were in other ways different from other SFOR units, which made them unique. They possessed a big advantage. They could understand and could be understood by the local residents because their languages were close. There was no language barrier, therefore the contacts with authorities and local population were easier.
Their camp was different from the SFOR's camp in many ways. The buildings existed, but they made themselves a small wooden orthodox chapel where the practising soldiers could have a place for worship.
The work zone was guarded and had restricted access, but the living area did not mark limits. The local people could enter the camp. "It was not a problem because relations with the neighbourhood were excellent," one of them explained. One could find in the camp bars run by civilians and a Russian field hospital accessible both to the soldiers and the population.
For them training was of paramount importance. They exercised regularly in order to be well prepared for any mission. At hand to hand combat they were incomparable. SFOR Informer No.133 showed how a Russian soldier ignored the pain and the blood caused by the smashing of a bottle over his head.
RMC started its withdrawal from BiH on May 22, 2003. The last of the Russian soldiers left on June 14. Their withdrawal is part of the restructuring of the NATO - led forces, both in BiH and in Kosovo. In line with the progress made by the country, SFOR has reshaped several times its internal organisation, areas of responsibility and force levels (See map).
On May 28, 2003, the symbolic flag - lowering ceremony in the SFOR Russian Contingent Camp in Ugljevik, officially marked the end of the seven - years service of RMC in NATO Peace Mission. Lt. Gen. William Ward, COMSFOR, Gen. Cvjetko Savic, Chief of the VRS (Vojska Republike Srpske, Army of Republika Srpska) General Staff, Alexander Sergueyevich Grishchenko, Russian Ambassador to BiH, and officials of Ugljevik and Bijeljina municipalities were in the attendance.
Both Ward and Savic thanked the Russians for their contribution of promoting and supporting the peace over the past seven years, since SFOR was deployed in BiH. In a show of gratitude from the VRS and BiH citizens, Savic presented the VRS plaque to Shakurin and said: "The withdrawal is a sign that things are a lot better here now than before."
"I am very grateful to the BiH Government, VRS Command and local authorities for the understanding they had for the RMC while it carried out peace tasks. We are leaving this beautiful country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, light-hearted, as we know that we have successfully concluded our tasks here. I wish all Bosnians peace, happiness and prosperity," concluded Shakurin, the contingent's commander.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Russia

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Photos: Sgt. Timothy Haase

Gen. Cvjetko Savic, Chief of the VRS General Staff (l.), presents the VRS plaque to Col. Sergey Shakurin, Commander of the Russian Military Contingent (r.).

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Lt. Gen. William Ward, COMSFOR (r.), and Col. Segey Shakurin, Commander of the Russian Military Contingent (l.).

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Lt. Gen. William Ward, COMSFOR, addresses the Russians soldiers on the occasion of their farewell ceremony.

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The Russian guard of honour.

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Russian soldiers salute during the lowering of their national flag.

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The new Areas of Responsibility within Multinational Brigade North after the withdrawal of the Russian Military Contingent. The SFOR must go on.