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Saturday, April 24, 1999 Published at 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK

World: Europe

Russian anti-US feeling grows

The Russian military has begun to flex its muscles

Anti-American feeling in Russia is increasing as a result of Nato's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, according to a series of opinion polls by the respected Public Opinion Foundation over the past three weeks.

Kosovo: Special Report
More than a third of those polled said America had once again become an enemy state. Far fewer people mentioned Nato or any other alliance member.

The military has also been flexing its muscles, with armed forces leaders warning that if Nato were to launch a ground offensive against Yugoslavia, Russia could be forced to intervene on the Serbian side.

BBC Moscow Correspondent Andrew Harding: "Russia is in an ugly mood"
Some have even talked of a Third World War.

BBC Moscow Correspondent Andrew Harding says Russia is still obsessed by the huge sacrifices it made in World War II, and is terrified that a new Balkan conflict could spread to its borders.

The growing anti-American hysteria is "a dangerous game", former Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev has said.

"It's like Russian roulette, and the gun is smoking with nuclear weapons."

[ image: Hardline nationalists have growing support]
Hardline nationalists have growing support
Popular Russian concern with the situation in Kosovo and its potentially far-reaching consequences at home has so alarmed the Kremlin that it has been pushing hard for a diplomatic solution.

Moscow's apparent impotence has played into the hands of influential hard-line nationalists. President Boris Yeltsin is facing a wave of public anger which, unchecked, could even sweep him out of office.

Russians have historically regarded the Serbs as allies. However the polls indicate that Russians appear to be more anti-Nato than pro-Serb.

Russian opinion is being sharpened by the media, which has portrayed the Nato campaign as an act of aggression.

[ image: Envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin has so far failed to produce a deal]
Envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin has so far failed to produce a deal
In another opinion poll, half of Russians questioned said they thought the Albanians were fleeing Kosovo to escape the Nato bombardment.

However, Nato may be relieved to hear that the polls also indicate that few people are in favour of Russia getting involved in the conflict - 86% backed President Yeltsin's position that their country should stay out.

The polls were taken before President Yeltsin took an active interest in the Kosovo issue. He has now toned down some of the rhetoric and says Russia must on no account sever its links with the West.

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