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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Specter of NATO Force Rankles Russia

NATO's threat to use force if peace talks on Kosovo fail could once again put Russia on a collision course with the West.

While it is part of the six-nation Contact Group handling efforts to end the conflict in Kosovo, Moscow strongly opposes any use of military force to achieve a solution. Although it could not block it, the use of force in Kosovo would further strain Russia's relations with the West.

"The only solution for Kosovo is negotiations,'' Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said at a news conference Tuesday in Bonn after talks with his German counterpart, Joschka Fischer.

Russia's approach is dictated not just by a longstanding commitment to stand by the Serbs, its Orthodox Christian allies in the Balkans, but also by it fears of the expansion of Western power at a time when it has lost much of its own world influence and its economy and military are in shambles.

The government also has to appease the Communists dominating the State Duma, parliament's lower house, who are demanding tougher Russian action to protect the Serbs. They claim the Serbs are victims of U.S. aggression.

"In Kosovo, like in a laboratory vial, they're growing bacilli in order to split and divide the country [of Yugoslavia],'' Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said on Ekho Moskvy radio Tuesday. He said "the uncle across the ocean'' - the United States - needed this "in order to break Yugoslavia's neck, then suppress Russia and then get Western Europe, because a united Europe turns out to be very competitive."Many Russian politicians fear NATO is a weapon still aimed primarily at Russia.

Some analysts predict that Moscow may be less hostile because NATO now is directing its policy against both Serbs and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian rebels.

Russia has long blamed the Kosovo Liberation Army for provoking clashes in the region.

"NATO is now acknowledging that the Albanian side also is to blame for the continuous tension, and that's a radically new approach," said Sergei Oznobishchev, who heads the Institute for Strategic Assessment, an independent think tank.

However, Oznobishchev added, NATO's military action without specific approval by the UN Security Council is still bound to anger Moscow.

Russia insists that NATO strikes must be mandated by the Security Council, while the alliance believes it already has UN clearance for the use of force.