Russian Air Force
Boss to West: Don't
Mess With US
By Andrei Shukshin

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 criticism.
``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.