Russia’s envoy to NATO warned the alliance Friday against overstepping its mandate in Kosovo and said Moscow might be forced to use “brute military force” to maintain respect on the world scene.
Dmitry Rogozin said the Russian military also might get involved if all European Union nations recognize Kosovo’s independence without United Nations agreement and despite strong objections from Russia and Serbia.
The comments were the latest harsh rhetoric from Moscow protesting Kosovo’s declaration of independence, which has sparked violent protests in Serbia and international disagreement over whether to recognize the fledgling nation.
The comments also sparked quick reaction from the U.S. State Department, which urged Russia to repudiate them.
Rogozin couched his threat, however, assuring that Russia was not currently making plans for a military confrontation.
“If the European Union works out a single position or NATO goes beyond its current mandate in Kosovo, these organizations will conflict with the United Nations,” Rogozin said in a televised hookup from NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
If that happens, Russia “will proceed from the assumption that to be respected, we have to use brute military force,” he said.
The U.S. ambassador to NATO, meanwhile, said Washington was “very disappointed” by Russia’s hostility over Kosovo, and Nicholas Burns, the U.S. State Dept.’s third-ranking official, called Rogozin’s statement “highly irresponsible.”
“This cynical and ahistorical comment by the Russian ambassador should be repudiated by his own government,” Burns said responding to questions in an online discussion.
Later, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Russia’s envoy to the European Union, used a more conciliatory tone, saying the Kosovo problem should be resolved exclusively by political means.
Rogozin – an outspoken nationalist known for his tough rhetoric – told NATO that its 16,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo must “remain neutral” over the contentious declaration.
“Under no circumstances should the alliance get involved in politics,” Rogozin said. However, Moscow already was alarmed by reports that authorities in Kosovo had closed the border with Serbia.
Local authorities patrol Kosovo’s borders, but the main responsibility for security lies with NATO peacekeepers. On Friday, they sent back several busloads of Serbs seeking to join a rally in the Kosovo Serb stronghold of Kosovska Mitrovica.
Russia has staunchly supported Serbia’s to Kosovo’s secession, and has vowed to block any efforts in the United Nations to recognize its independence.
In what appeared to be a contradictory comment, Rogozin assured that “Russia was not planning to get involved in any armed confrontation over Kosovo.”
“There will be no war between Russia and NATO over Kosovo,” he said, though the Kosovo issue “will certainly hamper our dialogue.”
Nations that recognized Kosovo’s statehood had made “a strategic mistake, similar to the invasion of Iraq,” he said.
Other Russian officials have called the recognition illegal and said it could effectively split Kosovo in half. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that Kosovo’s secession could lead to regional instability.
More than a dozen nations have recognized Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, including the United States, Britain, France and Germany. Russia has been joined in its opposition by China and others, including EU member Spain.
Rogozin called the violent protests that took place Thursday in the Serbian capital “national wrath that will be hard to curb,” and criticized the West for making “a step toward a very cruel and emotional ethnic conflict” in the Balkans.
Predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo – which has been governed by a U.N. mission and patrolled by NATO peacekeepers since 1999 – had been widely expected to declare independence from Serbia after internationally mediated talks on its future fell apart last year.