Kozyrev questions logic of air attacks

MICHAEL SHERIDAN

Moscow

The Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, yesterday strongly criticised the Nato air campaign in Bosnia but promised, none the less, to support the American-led diplomatic initiative to end the conflict.

Mr Kozyrev voiced sharp disagreement with the visiting Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, over Western strategy in Bosnia, and the atmosphere was not helped when Mr Rifkind conveyed to the Russians overnight intelligence reports indicating that Bosnian Serb forces had made little progress towards fulfilling Nato's conditions.

"We see no logic, except a logic of repression, behind Nato's actions," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement later. It accused the alliance of "getting involved in the conflict on the side of one of the parties to lead to the defeat of the Bosnian Serbs".

The statement called for "a logic of force" to be replaced by "an intensification of the political process with the combination of the efforts of all states concerned".

It claimed Nato had resumed air strikes "under the formal pretext of the non-respect of the conditions of the ultimatum" by the Bosnian Serbs, but asserted that "this reason has no real basis".

Possible Russian displeasure was also suggested when the Russian Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, cancelled a planned meeting with Mr Rifkind on the grounds that electoral campaigning for Russia's next polls would require him to be in the city of Kursk, some 500km from Moscow.

Mr Rifkind glossed over the apparent snub, saying he understood the pressures of electoral campaigns. As reports of Nato air strikes reached Moscow, Mr Rifkind said he had warned the Russian Foreign Minister that action was imminent after overnight intelligence showed that the Bosnian Serbs had failed to meet Nato demands.

"The Russian reaction was really more in sorrow than in anger," Mr Rifkind told reporters.

"The background to this is that last night the alliance received a letter from the Bosnian Serbs promising compliance," he said. "But during the course of this morning there has been insufficient, indeed no evidence that the withdrawal of heavy weapons has been complied with."

The Foreign Secretary said he believed that, despite the latest Nato action, the Russians would remain committed to the present US-led diplomatic initiative.

Mr Kozyrev told the Foreign Secretary Russia could not support Nato's air attacks on the Bosnian Serbs. "As President Yeltsin clearly stated, we are clearly against the Nato air campaign, which exceeds to our minds the United Nations' mandate. We can only hope - and we require - that the campaign should cease."

Mr Kozyrev said Russia believed only a diplomatic settlement could achieve peace in Bosnia and he pointed out that the Nato air bombardment had started just after "a considerable achievement", which was the unifying of the Serb negotiating team under President Milosevic of Serbia. "What's important to us is that there is no military solution inside or outside Bosnia," said Mr Kozyrev.

Mr Rifkind emphasised that Britain did not want to continue air action but could be forced to. "The purpose of the use of air power is to ensure an end to the suffering of Sarajevo," Mr Rifkind said.

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