In a speech he later termed "a wake-up call," Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev shocked European foreign ministers Monday with a Cold War-era diatribe, threatening to force former Soviet republics to join a Russian-dominated federation and demanding an end to Western interference in Yugoslavia.
But half an hour later, Kozyrev returned to the rostrum of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe to recant the speech. He said it was meant as a demonstration of the policies the world will face if right-wing nationalist factions take power in Moscow.
Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who said Kozyrev's original speech gave him "heart palpitations," later termed the Russian's gambit a forceful message both to the West and to President Boris N. Yeltsin's hard-line opposition. "It brought home . . . that, should reform fail in Russia, we could well be faced with what we heard from Mr. Kozyrev this morning but in a far more serious vein," Eagleburger said.
And, he added, the angry reaction of other foreign ministers should convince Russian right-wingers that any attempt to recreate the power of the collapsed Soviet Union would leave Russia "totally isolated from the rest of Europe."
In his original speech, Kozyrev said Russia is determined to defend its interests in the entire territory of the former Soviet Union, "using all available means, including military and economic means." He said Russia would "strongly insist that the former U.S.S.R. republics join without delay a new federation or confederation" dominated by Moscow.
Regarding the festering Yugoslav crisis, Kozyrev accused the West of meddling in the internal affairs of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, the old Communist name for the now-disbanded federation, and complained that economic sanctions against the Yugoslav republics "cause us economic harm." He called for an end to all sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council on Serbia and its tiny ally, Montenegro.
In his second speech, Kozyrev said that neither he nor Yeltsin agrees with anything he had just said. But he asserted the statement was "a fairly accurate compilation of the demands of the opposition, and not just the most radical opposition, in Russia." He said he wanted the CSCE ministers to "be aware of the genuine threats which face us on our course toward a post-Communist Europe."
The United States also sought to ensure there would be no misunderstanding on the Yugoslav crisis. Eagleburger conferred alone with Kozyrev immediately after speaking; they later issued a statement saying the outcome of Serbia's Dec. 20 presidential election could be crucial.
"If the correct (electoral) choice is made, Russia and the United States pledge to work with the government of Serbia to restore its position in the world," the statement said.
It contained no names. But there was no doubt that, from the standpoint of Washington and Moscow, the "correct choice" for Serbian voters would be to pick Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic to replace Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.