PRISTINA, Yugoslavia – Reasserting Russia's interests in the Balkans, Russian President Vladimir Putin made an unscheduled stop in Kosovo on Sunday after blaming ethnic Albanian "terrorists" there for most of the region's instability.
His flight from Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, was announced at the last minute because of security concerns in the province, where the majority ethnic Albanians view Russia as pro-Serb because of historic ties between the two Slav nations.
Putin was greeted by a white-gloved Russian military honor guard and the Russian national anthem as he disembarked at Pristina airport, where the 3,000-strong Russian contingent to the NATO-led force is based.
Walking with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Putin shook hands with several Russian soldiers before getting into a motorcade taking them from the tarmac to the Russian command center.
Along with Russian troops, Putin also was to meet with the commander of the NATO-led force, Danish Lt. Gen. Thorstein Skiaker, and U.N. officials including representatives of the U.N. Security Council, who were on the second day of their visit to Kosovo.
A string of other world leaders have visited the provincial capital since the end of the NATO bombing, but Putin was the first head of state to travel straight from meetings with Belgrade government officials.
Russia has been pushing for the 45,000-strong peacekeeping force to do more to disarm ethnic Albanian extremists in Kosovo, which is a province of Serbia, the main Yugoslav republic. The extremists have been harassing minority Serbs and contributing to clashes with government troops in neighboring Macedonia.
In Belgrade, the Russian and Yugoslav presidents blamed ethnic Albanian "terrorists" for the instability in Macedonia and Kosovo and called for a regional agreement on borders and minority rights to end the violence.
Fresh from his summit with President Bush, Putin said he told Yugoslav officials that he and Bush had discussed the crises and pledged to do "everything possible to achieve a fair solution" for the region.
"The stability of the region is seriously endangered by national and religious intolerance and extremism, and the source of the problem is in Kosovo," Putin said, referring to ethnic Albanian extremists.
"We must do all to disarm the terrorists," Putin said.
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said Putin presented a plan calling for a regional conference to reaffirm the inviolability of borders and the territorial integrity of the countries in the area as well as minority rights.
"This conference would once and for all put an end to the practice of attempts at redrawing state borders and the wars in the Balkans," Kostunica said.
The guarantor of the agreement would be the U.N. Security Council, sources close to the Russian delegation said.
Putin and Kostunica criticized NATO and the U.N. administration in Kosovo for not fully implementing U.N. resolutions guaranteeing the integrity of Yugoslavia and the rights of minority Serbs in the province.
"Wrong moves" by the international community have "destabilized the entire region," Kostunica said.
Although Russia has cultural, religious and historic ties to Yugoslavia's Serbian and Montenegrin population, it also was critical of former President Slobodan Milosevic's "ethnic cleansing" campaign against majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Still, Russia strongly opposed NATO's 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslavia over Kosovo and has been eager to play a role in settling that and other conflicts in the Balkans.
Moscow has pledged to help Yugoslavia repair destruction from the 1999 NATO air campaign, and Putin pledged Sunday "unconditional" delivery of natural gas.
That would be a boost to Kostunica's efforts to improve Yugoslavs' living conditions, which suffered under international sanctions imposed to punish Belgrade for its role in inciting Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Kostunica spearheaded a pro-democracy movement that led to Milosevic's ouster in October.
Putin is the first Russian president to visit Yugoslavia since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev toured the old Yugoslav federation, then consisting of six republics, in 1988.
In 1999, five months after the U.S. military led NATO to victory in Kosovo, then-President Clinton came to the remote Camp Bondsteel army base to talk to American troops there.
Earlier that same year, British Prime Minister Tony Blair also made a triumphant visit to Kosovo's capital, urging grateful ethnic Albanians who gave him flowers and kisses to live in peace with rival Serbs.