Moscow: Kosovo Air Strikes
Would Start Another 'Vietnam'
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's defence minister raised the spectre on Tuesday of a Vietnam-style war in the heart of Europe if NATO launched strikes to punish Yugoslavia for any failure to reach a peace deal at Kosovo peace talks.
As the 1400 GMT deadline approached for a deal at the Rambouillet talks in France, Marshal Igor Sergeyev told Russia's ORT television that violence should be avoided at all costs and that the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians should not be allowed to leave the negotiations until an agreement was reached.
Diplomats in Rambouillet were pessimistic about the chances of success, noting both sides are reluctant to sign up.
NATO has said it will launch air strikes on Serbia if the Serbian side is deemed to have turned down a deal, although no action would be taken if both protagonists rejected an accord.
"I hope there will be no armed punishment, so to speak, for disobeying," Sergeyev said. "God forbid. In my view, we will then have another Vietnam in the most densely populated region of Europe. That should be prevented."
"The situation there is very difficult," he said. "However, there is confidence that more and more people are in favor of settling the conflict by peaceful means."
"We have achieved a situation when the sides have actually sat down at the negotiating table and are engaged in talks. Neither side should be allowed to leave the talks under any circumstances before concrete results are achieved."
Russia has spoken out repeatedly against NATO military action against Serbia -- a traditional fellow Slav ally.
But Sergeyev's comparison with Vietnam -- a painful chapter in U.S. military history -- was clearly calculated to add rhetorical pressure and underscore Moscow's strong views.
Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov said in Russia's second city of St Petersburg on Monday that Moscow opposed the use of force in Kosovo, but suggested it might back sending foreign troops to Serbia's rebel region if Belgrade requested them.
Russian Defense Ministry officials, notably outspoken head of international relations Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, have said embryonic ties with NATO would suffer if the alliance attacked Serbian targets.
Russia is one of the six Contact Group nations -- along with France, Britain, Germany, Italy and the United States -- working to close the gap between Belgrade and Kosovo's Albanians, who form a majority of the restive province's population. One of the senior negotiators, Boris Mayorsky, is Russian.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is in Rambouillet seeking to cajole the two sides into an agreement. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is in Mongolia on a long-arranged trip after talks in Japan. He is scheduled to visit Tajikistan before returning to Moscow on Wednesday. ( (c) 1999 Reuters)