February 22, 2008

(CNN) — Russia has not ruled out using force to resolve the dispute over Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia if NATO forces breach the terms of their U.N. mandate, Moscow’s ambassador to NATO warned on Friday.

“If the EU works out a single position or if NATO steps beyond its mandate in Kosovo, these organizations will be in conflict with the U.N., and then I think we will also begin operating under the assumption that in order to be respected, one needs to use force,” Dmitry Rogozin said, in comments carried by Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Following violent protests in the Serbian capital Belgrade on Thursday, culminating in an attack on the U.S. Embassy which left one person dead and dozens injured, a spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry also warned that Kosovo’s declaration would have a “negative impact.”

“What happened in Belgrade yesterday is regrettable. But we would want to draw your attention to the fact that the forces that supported the unilateral recognition of Kosovo’s independence should have realized the effects of the move,” spokesman Mikhail Kamynin told Interfax.

Russia, which has close ties with Serbia, has refused to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty, triggering a terse diplomatic standoff with the U.S. and several EU member states including the UK, France and Germany which have already recognized its independent status.

NATO has led a 15,000-strong peacekeeping operation — known as KFOR — in Kosovo since 1999 under the terms of a U.N. Security Council mandate authorized following a 78-day bombing campaign by the military alliance against Serbia.

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