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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Officials Say NATO Ultimatum Illegal

Russian officials said Wednesday that the NATO ultimatum to the republic's Serbs to withdraw heavy weapons around Sarajevo was illegal and that Russia had refused to send its United Nations troops to the Bosnian capital, adding to confusion over Moscow's stand in the crisis.

Sergei Lavrov, a deputy foreign minister, told parliament's lower house that Russia would do everything it could in the United Nations to stop the threatened allied air strikes on Bosnian Serb positions around besieged Sarajevo.

"Our aim is to make sure that the ultimatum is never carried out, that air strikes never take place," he said. "We believe that the ultimatum goes beyond the framework of U.N. resolutions and we consider it illegal."

Lavrov's statement seemed to contradict remarks by Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev who said last Saturday that Russia was ready to accept NATO military action in Bosnia as a "last resort."

"Our representatives (in the United Nations) have been instructed to object to any air strikes," Lavrov said. The U.N. Security Council met earlier this week on the issue without passing a resolution and has no further meetings scheduled.

Lavrov was speaking after Russia refused to allow some of its peacekeeping troops based in Croatia to be moved to the Sarajevo area as requested by the United Nations.

Yevgeny Karatayev, press chief at the paratroopers' Moscow headquarters, said the U.N. command last Monday had ordered part of a unit of Russian paratroopers based near Vukovar in eastern Croatia to the Sarajevo region.

"There are 1,200 Russian paratroopers in Croatia and their commanders have ordered them to stay in Croatia and not move to the area of Sarajevo," Karatayev said.

"This is the position of the Russian leadership which does not support the participation of Russian paratroopers in any armed actions."

Moscow told the Russian unit to ignore the U.N. order and stay put after frantic phone calls between the Russian capital and U.N. headquarters, the liberal newspaper Segodnya said.

The developments highlighted the dilemma of President Boris Yeltsin's leadership, which had followed a pro-Western foreign policy line but is now under pressure from a pro-Serb faction led by nationalists in the parliament.

In another development Yeltsin and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl discussed the crisis in a telephone conversation, the presidential press service said. It said Yeltsin told Kohl the crisis should be settled "according to the decisions of the United Nations."

The NATO alliance has threatened to unleash its air power on Serb artillery positions ringing Sarajevo from midnight GMT next Sunday unless the Serbs withdraw their big guns.The United Nations, in advance of the deadline, is seeking to beef up its military presence in the Bosnian capital.

Yeltsin, on the first day of a visit to Russia by British Prime Minister John Major, urged the West on Tuesday not to abandon efforts to find a peaceful settlement in Bosnia , and declared that Russia had to be part of the process.