War in the Balkans: Russian Threat - Do not push us into war, warns Yeltsin

BORIS YELTSIN has warned Nato and its allies against forcing Russia into the deepening Yugoslav conflict, saying this could lead to the Third World War.

The president has repeatedly said he intends to stay out of the Balkans war, but he revised that stance yesterday by adding an important new proviso: Russia will not get embroiled - "unless pushed".

He said on television: "I told Nato, the Americans, the Germans, don't push us towards military action. Otherwise there will be a European war, for sure, and possibly world war, which must not be permitted."

In separate comments, he warned that if Nato went through with what he considers its aim "to seize Yugoslavia and make it their protectorate", there could be a stronger response from Moscow.

He did not specify what, but went on: "We can by no means give Yugoslavia away." He said a ground war would mean "big losses", as the Serbs are prepared to fight to "the last man".

The president's outburst amounts to a strategic decision to step up the barrage of angry words flying westwards over the Kremlin's battlements since the conflict began.

So far Mr Yeltsin and his premier, Yevgeny Primakov, have sought to tread a precarious line in this conflict. They have made clear that they intend to refrain from sending weapons to Belgrade or joining the war militarily, knowing this would vastly complicate relations with the West.

But they have also maintained a noisy flow of complaints and diplomatic moves to appease a genuinely outraged public and - crucially - a dangerously exasperated and anti-western Russian military.

But they are under intense domestic pressure to do more. Almost every major political entity outside the enfeebled liberal democrats has called for Russia to arm the Serbs.

The now-emboldened Duma, parliament's Communist-dominated lower house, voted overwhelmingly to send weapons and military advisers. Mr Yeltsin is threatened with impeachment proceedings, although these face many hurdles. An investigation is underway into corruption within the Kremlin. And his restless, broken-down army is deeply humiliated by Nato's strike on old Slavic friends. He needs to get this right.

So far, Moscow has restricted its protests to considered manouevres. It has severed ties with Nato, dispatched a surveillance warship to the Adriatic, and sent 80 lorry-loads of humanitarian aid to Belgrade (only days after accepting EU and US food aid to Russia).

At the same time, Russia has tried to position itself as a mediator, knowing that whoever leads the world out of this deepening crisis will emerge with a hero's garlands.

Not unreasonably, Moscow's hopes are pinned on suspicions that Nato has been drawn into an unwinnable conflict.

Although it remains likely that the Russian government will continue to resist being drawn militarily into Yugoslavia's deadly vortex, Mr Yeltsin clearly believes his task is getting daily more difficult.

Yesterday he embraced suggestions that Yugoslavia might join the Belarus- Russia union - another symbolic gesture because the alliance between Moscow and Minsk has been singularly fruitless. Even in these dark hours, Russia will not want to be seen to be locked in a three-way embrace with Belarus's dictatorial Alexander Lukashenko and Mr Milosevic.

Nato and the Kremlin refused to comment on the most thespian Russian gesture of the day, the reported re- targeting of Moscow's nuclear missiles at Nato countries taking part in the bombing.

These originated from Gennady Seleznyov, the Duma's chairman, who said he and the president discussed the issue yesterday. Initially, claims shot around the world saying the warheads had already been redirected at Nato countries.

Though this was officially denied, during the diplomatic panic the British Embassy in Moscow was issued urgent instructions from London to check the information. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said nothing that Nato "is doing in Yugoslavia or Kosovo ... poses the remotest threat to Russia".

There could be "no justification" for Russia "increasing its military posture".

Last night, these assurances turned out to be premature.

But the fact that Mr Cook talks separately about Yugoslavia and Kosovo will do nothing to soothe Mr Yeltsin's ire. Or his nerves.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine