For 45 minutes, ashen-faced delegates to the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) asked each other if they had heard him right - until Mr Kozyrev took the floor again to explain that he had not meant a word of it. He said he was only trying to show what might happen if reformers lost control in Moscow and conservatives took over.
Earlier, in harsh words that appeared to mark an end to the brief era of Russian co-operation with the West, Mr Kozyrev had threatened to use force against other ex-Soviet republics and accused Nato of interfering in Russia's backyard. He described the territory of the former Soviet Union as 'a post- imperial space where Russia has to defend its interests by all available means, including military and economic ones'. He demanded an end to United Nations sanctions against Serbia and expressed Slavic solidarity with Serbian nationalists.
'I couldn't believe, when he said it, that it was serious. But it sounded very serious,' said the US Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, who hustled Mr Kozyrev into a side room and demanded an explanation. To his relief, the Russian minister said he was playing out a deadly serious charade to illustrate what the world could expect if Russian President Boris Yeltsin lost power to conservatives. Mr Kozyrev then retracted his statement in a second speech to the forum, which groups foreign ministers from 51 countries.