Russian threat over Kosovo

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RUSSIA WARNED yesterday that any military intervention in the Serbian province of Kosovo which was not authorised by the United Nations would plunge Europe into a new Cold War.

Speaking in Moscow, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, one of the country's most senior military commanders, set out once more Russia's hostility to Nato strikes to drive President Slobodan Milosevic into serious negotiations with the ethnic Albanian majority in the province.

Nato action without the backing of the UN would lead to the start of a new Cold War, the Tass-Itar news agency quoted Gen Ivashov as saying. There were a thousand ways of solving the conflict peacefully; "the military option is only the 1,001st, which we cannot allow".

Russia, in other words, would use its Security Council veto to block any such resolution, a prospect which makes most Western countries even more uneasy about going ahead with strikes, for all their tough rhetoric and the intimidatory air exercises in the southern Balkans staged by Nato this week.

Britain now stands in a minority of one within the European Union in its belief that the formal blessing of the UN is desirable, but not essential, before taking military action against the Serb forces in the province.

The dilemma is only deepened by the official stance of the Western powers that - whatever the brutality of a crackdown which has taken over 300 lives and made 50,000-plus homeless - independence for Kosovo is a non- starter.

That however is now very much the demand of Ibrahim Rugova, the moderate leader of the Kosovo Albanians who hitherto has opposed force.

In Washington last night, the State Department spokesman declared that Kosovars who sought independence were "deluding themselves".