RUSSIAN Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev engaged in saber rattling against Armenia yesterday, threatening ``resolute measures'' against the former Soviet republic unless it issued an open apology and punished those responsible for attacking the convoy of a Russian peace envoy.
``The government resolutely denounces this act ... and demands an immediate public apology from the top Armenian leadership,'' declared a government statement read at a news conference yesterday.
``We will toughly protect the interests of the Russian-speaking population wherever they are threatened,'' Mr. Kozyrev added, more broadly linking the incident to the treatment of Russians in former Soviet republics.
Observers say Kozyrev is using the incident to put extreme pressure on Armenia, which Russians say is now the main obstacle to resuming peace talks. He indirectly threatened military intervention in the five-year conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The Russian mediation effort is taking place in parallel with - and some say in opposition to - negotiations sponsored by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).
Kozyrev pointedly defended Russia's role and hinted that Russian forces might be employed if Armenia refused to cooperate. ``Other methods will be used in addition to persuasion,'' if the conflict expands, he said. ``We appreciate the interest of the CSCE there and we collaborate with them. But in this area, Russian interests are affected directly.''
The Russian foreign minister refused to spell out what steps might be taken, but in answering questions he said all economic aid could be cut off.
``If something like that happened to an American diplomat ... I am sure we would have seen an aircraft carrier by now,'' Kozyrev said. He quickly added that ``this is not gunboat diplomacy. This is defense of our interests.''
Russian Special Envoy Vladimir Kazimirov was traveling from Azerbaijan to Armenia to mediate the war when an Azeri jeep carrying his escort troops was fired on as it approached the Armenian border crossing. Armenian officials blamed the incident on the Azeris, saying the Azeris deliberately switched the route to a more dangerous one.
Kozyrev angrily dismissed Armenia's explanation as an attempt to ``shrug off the accusations,'' but Mr. Kazimirov admitted there was a disagreement at the last minute over the route, one he called part of the ``absurd tradition of this conflict.''