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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Joins Call for Bargaining, Opposes Balkan NATO Strikes

LONDON -- Russia, keen to preserve its big-power influence, has joined a Western drive for peace talks over Kosovo's future, but it still staunchly opposes using force against its friend Serbia, Russian officials said Friday.

While NATO has said it is ready to act if bloodshed in the Serbian province does not stop, Russia has denounced such threats, saying any military action would require the approval of the United Nations Security Council.

Russian and Western officials hope these differences will not come to a head now that the six-power Contact Group has summoned the Kosovo combatants to the negotiating table by Feb. 6.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov stressed to reporters that Friday's Contact Group session had not even discussed the use of force to bring warring Serbs and ethnic Albanians to heel.

"Everyone in the Contact Group agreed that the situation can only be resolved by peace talks," he said.

Western diplomats said Ivanov had repeated Russia's opposition to force in his talks with the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, Germany, France and Italy, but did not make an issue of it.

But in Moscow, the Foreign Ministry blasted NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana's announcement Thursday that the alliance was stepping up military preparations for a possible operation in Kosovo.

"We categorically reject threats to use force issued by J. Solana," the ministry said in a statement, complaining that NATO was trying to "commit [the Contact Group] to 'force scenarios' drafted by the alliance."

Russia has strong ties with its fellow Orthodox Christian neighbor Serbia, and sent an envoy to Yugoslavia last week to try to convince President Slobodan Milosevic to comply with international demands on Kosovo.

Russian diplomats in London did not rule out Russia's participation in an international peacekeeping force should one be formed to implement an agreed-upon settlement in Kosovo.