Of course, Russia could jump in with both feet and fly in several divisions of Russian airborne troops and special forces and base a large number of advanced warplanes in Serbia as a checkmate to future NATO moves. This is not as likely as simply supplying state-of-the-art air defense systems but cannot be totally dismissed as a possibility.
A powerful Russian force and/or a effective air defense shield could protect Serbia as it supplies "volunteers" or its regular army in northern Kosovo. The Second Lebanon War, just a year and a half ago, demonstrated the effectiveness of the cheap but deadly Russian AT-14 Kornet solid fuel anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). The supply of sufficient numbers of these nasty ATGMs could play hell with NATO armor and the troops protected by them; likewise modern Russian anti-aircraft missiles including MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems) such as the shoulder-fired SA-18 could prove costly to NATO aircraft.
Next month could see a brief but major battle, mostly in the north of Kosovo, and over the sky of Serbia between NATO and Serbia with Russia equipment and/or Russian forces protecting Serbia proper. Or the beginning of a real "tar baby" struggle over Kosovo by Serb irregular forces, that could tie down NATO forces for some time.
The Russian Navy has just sent a major battle fleet into the Mediterranean headed by the modern aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov and the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, the Guided Missile Heavy Cruiser Moskva. This powerful fleet has at least 11 surface ships and unknown numbers of subs and can use the Russian naval facility at Syria's Tartous port for resupply.
The Admiral Kuznetsov carries approximately 47 warplanes and 10 helicopters. The warplanes are mostly the powerful Su-33, a naval version (with mid-air refueling capability) of the Su-27 family. While the Su-33 is a very powerful warplane it lacks the power of the stealth USAF F-22. However, the Russians insist that they have developed a plasma based system that allows them to stealth any aircraft and a recent incident where Russian fighters were able to appear unannounced over a US Navy carrier battle group tends to confirm their claims. The Su-33 can be armed with the 3M82 Moskit sea-skimming missile (NATO code name SS-N-22 Sunburn) and the even more powerful P-800 Oniks (also named Yakhonts; NATO code name SS-N-26 Onyx). Both missiles are designed to kill US Navy supercarriers by getting past the cruiser/destroyer screen and the USN point-defense Phalanx system by using high supersonic speeds and violent end maneuvers. Russian subs currently use the underwater rocket VA-111 Shkval (Squall), which is fired from standard 533mm torpedo tubes and reaches a speed of 360kph (230mph) underwater. There is no effective countermeasures to this system and no western counterpart.
One should not underestimate the determination of the Serb people to defend their nation and of the Russian bear to protect its fellow Slavs. This after all is the location where the First World War began over the issue of Russia protecting Serbs from the Austrians.
A couple of years ago, I was in Belgrade and was shown around the city by a Member of Parliament. Several buildings that were hit by USN and USAF cruise missiles were pointed out to me ~ I did not have the guts to admit that my cousin was in charge of the US Navy's cruise missile program. The Serbs did impress me as a serious but friendly people (with the most beautiful women that I have ever seen). Belgrade is one of Europe's oldest cities ~ a city when most European capitals were but wilderness. It will take a great deal of very careful diplomacy to avoid a even greater nightmare war in this part of Europe than we witnessed in 1999. The question is, will the Cheney-Bush team and their European supporters rise to the occasion and push for peace successfully or seek a diversion from their Middle Eastern wars .
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