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U.S., Russian troops stage exercise

By
JEFF BERLINER

MOSCOW, Sept. 5 -- U.S. and Russian soldiers Monday set up checkpoints in the strife-torn capital Atlantis, carrying out a U.N. mandate to try to restore order, control a massive influx of refugees, calm a hostile crowd, react to sniper fire, stop a gang of hooligans and manage a weapons handover -- a fictional scenario being played out in a training exercise in Russia. Atlantis is really Totskoye, a military site and town 800 miles (1, 280 km) southeast of Moscow, and the 250 troops on each side are participating in Peacekeeper '94, the first joint U.S.-Russian exercises held in either country. 'This is based on the past experience of peacekeeprs -- ours in Somalia and theirs in Moldova, Tadzhikistan and Georgia,' Col. Richard Bridges, U.S. spokesman for the exercise, said in a telephone interview from Totskoye. The scenario being played out at Totskoye involves a U.N.-dispatched peacekeeper force sent to the capital of a country torn by civil war. Russian and U.S. peacekeepers each occupy a sector of Atlantis and man a combined checkpoint in the chaos-ridden but imaginary city while quick reaction platoons are dispatched to trouble spots to deal with sniper fire and outbreaks of violence. Peacekeepers must deal with a surge of refugees, attempts by hostile crowds to break through troop lines, hooligans on the loose and the wholesale surrender of weapons. A separate group of Russian soldiers is acting as hooligans and refugees, making the language barrier a realistic part of the scenario when U.S. peacekeepers confront hooligans whose talk they cannot comprehend.

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For other parts of the exercise, the peacekeepers are acting in separate sectors of Atlantis or, where they interact, they rely on interpreters. The U.S. side brought two dozen of its own interpreters. A bilingual manual -- 'Russian-United States Guide for Tactics, Techniques and Procedures of Peacekeeping Forces During the Conduct of Exercises' -- serves as the guiding document for the maneuvers, and could serve as the basis for real-life joint U.S.-Russian peacekeeping duties, though the exercise will also tell whether the peacekeeping guide needs revision, Bridges said. Peacekeeper '94 spokesman Bridges, who described himself as a 23-year veteran of the cold war, said it was refreshing to see Russian and U.S. soldiers drilling side by side in preparation for what could become real joint duties. 'Both sides are intent on making this a success,' Bridges said. However, not everyone has been pleased by the maneuvers which generated considerable controversy in Russia and calls by communists and nationalists to cancel the operation. Protesters even journeyed to the scene to parade their objections and display 'Yankee Go Home' slogans and sentiments. The U.S. colonel surprised the protesters, led by strident communist Viktor Anpilov, by inviting them to a meeting for what was described as a frank exchange of views. Bridges said he told Anpilov that the protesters' presence was what democracy was all about, but the two sides parted ways without resolving their political differences. The Russian far left and far right object to U.S. soldiers on Russian soil and see it as a fearful sign of things to come. However, Anpilov made good on his promise to remove the demonstrators if U.S. military officers met them -- and the protesters left. Another visitor set to observe the joint maneuvers, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, cancelled his trip to Moscow and his plans Wednesday to go to Totskoye, citing more pressing events. Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev still plans to go to Totskoye Wednesday. The U.S. soldiers come from an infantry regiment based in Schweinfurt, Germany, while their Russian counterparts are from a rifle regiment based in Totskoye.

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