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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kozyrev: Air Strikes Would Hurt Partnership

As Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev set off for talks in Eastern Europe on Bosnia and security issues Thursday, Russian officials warned that Western military action in Bosnia could undermine NATO's Partnership for Peace plan.

Kozyrev left for Athens on the week-long trip just three days before a NATO ultimatum to Bosnian Serbs surrounding Sarajevo to withdraw or suffer air strikes is due to expire Sunday at midnight.

Kozyrev will visit Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland on the trip. In Athens he will meet with foreign ministers from Greece, Germany and Belgium.

"Partnership for Peace would be under threat" if the air strikes were carried out, said Serafim Yushkov, a Russian official who coordinates military cooperation for the Commonwealth of Independent States.

"It would discredit the idea of Partnership for Peace, because rather than representing the interests of all governments, in reality it would be quite different," he said.

Kozyrev will discuss these themes with Russia's former East European allies who are likely to form the core of Partnership for Peace -- a plan to bring the entire former Soviet bloc into a closer relationship with NATO.

"It's impossible to undertake one-sided actions without consulting all governments involved in the process of settling the Bosnian crisis," Kozyrev said at Moscow's Vnukovo airport just before leaving, Interfax reported.

Yet Kozyrev downplayed suggestions that the Bosnian crisis could worsen Russia's friendly relations with the West, marking just one in a series of public contradictions in Russian policy pronouncements in recent days.

"As much as some might try, Russia will not be pushed from the course of strategic partnership with the U.S. and other Western countries because of the Bosnian crisis," he said.

Still, the Bosnian crisis is already proving a test of sorts for the Partnership for Peace before it has even been set up, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

"The events of the last few days are tests of such partnership," said Mikhail Demurin, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry's press office. "Russia is not against Partnership for Peace, but we are looking at this program not only how it works on paper, but how it functions in practice."

Boris Yeltsin offered lukewarm support for Partnership for Peace -- a still vaguely defined junior NATO membership for Eastern Europe -- during President Bill Clinton's visit to Moscow last month. The Defense Ministry has expressed deep skepticism.

"Of course, any military action in Europe would create great difficulties in the very idea of Partnership for Peace," said Alexander Golz, political observer for the military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda. Several Western diplomats expressed agreement with that view.

Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine, Lithuania and Estonia have already signed up for Partnership for Peace, and others, including the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Albania are expected to join shortly.