BELGRADE (Reuters)–President Boris Yeltsin got tough with the West on Friday–warning NATO not to drag Russia into Kosovo because it could spark a European or even world war.
A flurry of high-level contacts were made between Washington and Moscow after Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that Yeltsin had ordered strategic missiles to be aimed at NATO states bombing Yugoslavia.
The United States said it had been assured by Moscow that Russia would stay out of the Yugoslavia conflict and had not targeted NATO countries with nuclear weapons.
"We’ve been officially reassured at a high level that Russia will not be drawn into the conflict in the Balkans," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart Lockhart said.
Although the Kremlin denied the missile reports–Yeltsin changed tack dramatically from the hitherto unconditional line that Russia would not be sucked into the Kosovo conflict.
"I told NATO–the Americans–the Germans–don’t push us towards military action," he said in televised commen’s during a meeting with parliamentary speaker Gennady Seleznyov. "Otherwise there will be a European war for sure and possibly world war."
Seleznyov had also quoted the president–who is under pressure from a hostile parliament weighing his possible impeachment–as saying he supported Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic’s request to join the union of Russia and Belarus.
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was the first to break hours of strange silence on parliamentary speaker Gennady Seleznyov’s announcement that President Boris Yeltsin had ordered the re-targeting of nuclear missiles at NATO.
He denied that any new orders had been given to target NATO countries but fired a barrage of verbal missiles at the military alliance.
"If we assess the situation objectively–we clearly see that with every passing day the NATO operation is increasingly demonstrating its senselessness–both political and military," he said–adding that the West had forgotten its aim to resolve the Kosovo conflict.
Seleznyov–who visited Belgrade this week–told reporters in the State Duma that a three-way union between Yugoslavia–Belarus and Russia would mean more than just military assistance for Yugoslavia in its fight with NATO.
He said: "I think that our army would be there too–that our navy would be in the appropriate seas."