It’s always going to be a tricky situation when the Russian Army and NATO allied armed forces are in the same fight. In the 1999 Kosovo War, such a situation could have sparked the all-out NATO-versus-Russia war the world had been hoping to avoid for 50-some years at that point. Good thing Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter James Blunt was there to stop all the madness from taking hold over everyone’s better judgement.
No time for Stalin when you’re racing the Russians.
To be fair, he wasn’t yet Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter James Blunt quite yet. In 1999, he was still James Hillier Blount, a Royal Military Academy-trained British Army officer, and he was leading a reconnaissance troop ahead of the coming NATO peacekeeping operation in Kosovo to the airport at Pristina.
He led his armored troop all the way to capital city of Kosovo, only to find Russian troops already already captured the airport.
No one told General Strangelove the Russians weren’t the enemy.
For Russia, the NATO intervention in Kosovo was a stark reminder of how far they had fallen since the end of the Soviet Union. The Balkans were firmly in Russia’s sphere of influence but there was little the Russians could do about the NATO meddling in their backyard — except maybe join them a little.
The Russians sent a small, token unit of peacekeepers to Kosovo and the first thing they did was a capture the airport. When Gen. Wesley Clark, then NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, found out the Russians had beaten NATO to the punch, you might think his response would be mild, considering they essentially had the same mission and the Russians were no longer the Soviet Union.
He gave an order to retake the airport by force.
General Michael Jackson politely implored General Clark to beat it.
Think, for a moment, what would happen if a NATO armored column completely annihilated a 250-man Russian peacekeeping contingent with 30 armored vehicles over an airport in Kosovo. British General Mike Jackson, the commander of NATO’s Kosovo Force, knew exactly what would happen.
He told General Clark, “I’m not going to start the Third World War for you.”
“Oh look, here come our British Allies, Sergei.”
Instead, the British General flew in to Pristina and shared a flask of whiskey with the Russian general of the small force, even though Clark was also on his way into Pristina. Meanwhile, Russian airbases and paratroopers were getting ready for any escalation that might come next. Thousands of Russian troops were on standby to kick off World War III.
Jackson and Clark met at the NATO headquarters in the capital of neighboring Macedonia. He reminded the Supreme Allied Commander that the Russians helped broker the peace deal that ended the war and would be assisting the peacekeeping afterward.
The British, instead of murdering potential allies, simply used the armor to isolate the airfield but didn’t even block the runway. Blunt, the commanding officer of an armored troop, with a parachute regiment and some SAS in reserve, instead called for instructions and held the position while the generals decided what to do — and what not to do. After a few days without water or food, the Russians offered to share responsibility for the airport.
But even if Jackson wanted to carry out Clark’s orders, Blunt — from a military family with more than a thousand years of service — would rather have taken a court martial than carry them out, starting a world war.
In the end, no one carried out Clark’s orders to recapture the airfield from the Russians by force. In fact, Clark left his posting as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander a little earlier than expected after the incident. Blunt served two more years in the British Army and recorded his first album just a few months later.