- MOSCOW (Reuters) - The chief
of Russia's air force, angered by Western criticism of the Chechnya offensive,
sternly reminded the West Wednesday that his nuclear-armed nation was no
Iraq or Yugoslavia and should not be messed with.
- ``Just to remind them -- Russia is not Iraq, nor is it
Yugoslavia. There you have it. We will deal decisively with any interference.
Let them not think we are totally impotent,'' Colonel-General Anatoly Kornukov
told a news conference.
- The West has been increasingly critical of Moscow's military
drive against Islamic fighters in Chechnya, saying it has caused suffering
and death among innocent civilians. Western countries are urging Moscow
to seek a negotiated solution to the crisis, but have never threatened
to use force to halt the fighting.
- The West, led by the United States, resorted to military
force in 1991 to drive Iraqi troops from neighboring Kuwait. Earlier this
year NATO launched air strikes against Yugoslavia to force it to withdraw
from its province of Kosovo.
- Kornukov acknowledged that the West was highly unlikely
to resort to force against Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security
Council and possessor of the world's second biggest nuclear armory. But
his tough remarks revealed the extent of Moscow's irritation over the Western
- ``I do not think it will happen. Sensible leaders will
not allow (the use of force against Russia) to happen,'' he said.
- Russia Says Fighting Terrorism In Chechnya
- Russia has staunchly defended its 'no negotiations' position
on Chechnya, saying it is fighting ``international terrorists'' and will
not stop until they are wiped out.
- Kornukov's comments came on the eve of a two-day European
security summit starting Thursday in Istanbul. Chechnya will be at the
top of the agenda at the meeting, to be attended by more than 50 world
leaders including President Boris Yeltsin.
- Moscow has repeatedly warned the West against trying
to use the summit to chasten Russia over the seven-week long campaign.
- It sent troops into Chechnya to pursue Islamic rebels
who had twice invaded a neighboring region. Moscow also blames them for
a series of bomb attacks in Russian cities in which nearly 300 people died.
The rebels have denied any involvement.
- Moscow relies on its absolute domination in the air over
Chechnya to wear down the rebels by continually hitting their positions
with bombs and rockets before sending in troops. The air force is blamed
for causing most of the collateral damage.
- Kornukov dismissed reports of carpet bombings in Chechnya,
saying his forces were carrying out precision strikes and that deaths among
civilians had been accidental and rare. He said the death toll during the
Kosovo campaign had been much higher.
- ``There is nothing like the mass annihilation that took
place in Kosovo and we will prove it,'' he said.
- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which
carried out air strikes against Yugoslavia, also used sophisticated precision
weapons which, it said, allowed it to keep collateral damage to a minimum.
- Russia fiercely opposed the NATO campaign against its
Slavic, Orthodox Christian brethren in Yugoslavia, saying it undermined
the whole system of international law and security. But Moscow helped broker
a deal between Belgrade and the West.