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
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
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.
Nations of SFOR: Russia