MOSCOW — Moldovan forces attacked a police station Wednesday in a predominantly Russian town in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, killing six people. Russia's foreign minister, meanwhile, increased the pressure on Moldova by threatening to use "forceful methods" to protect Russia's brethren.
"It goes without saying that we will guard the rights of Russians beyond Russia's borders," Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev told the prestigious newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "I personally think that forceful methods can be used at some times."
Kozyrev did not specify what methods Russia would use, but he made it clear that Russia would not tolerate more bloodshed.
The Russian Supreme Soviet, or legislature, met in closed session to discuss the sharply deteriorating situation in Moldova and resolved to "appeal to both sides to refrain from using force," according to Dmitri A. Volkogonov, a Russian lawmaker and an adviser to Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.
Wednesday's violence in the town of Bendery was the most recent clash in a two-year conflict between Moldovans and Russians in a region of Moldova populated mainly by ethnic Russians and Ukrainians. Most of Moldova, a region of 4.3 million, is inhabited by ethnic Romanians. The non-Romanian population has declared its independence from Moldova and calls its territory the Dniester Moldavian Republic.
The Dniester crisis, which has claimed 50 lives in the last month alone, presents a complicated political challenge to Moscow. Although the Russian government recognizes Moldova's sovereignty, it feels a responsibility to the 600,000 Russians and Ukrainians who live on the eastern bank of the Dniester River.
"We respect Moldovan sovereignty," Volkogonov said. "But we cannot be apathetic about the fate of the Russian-speaking population there."
Although Russia does not recognize the Dniester Republic's self-proclaimed independence, Moscow is trying to use its political muscle to prevent Moldova from turning the ethnic tension into a war.
Yeltsin signed a decree Wednesday transferring the former Soviet military units in the region from the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Independent States to Russian control, Volkogonov said. But he added that those troops will not participate on either side of the conflict.
Moldovan Prime Minister Valery Muravsky declared Sunday that the residents of the Dniester Republic have "gone too far" and gave the officials of the separatist region an ultimatum to surrender their weapons within two days or face attack.
At dawn Wednesday, five armored vehicles entered Bendery and opened fire on the police station, according to Vladimir I. Kravchenko, the deputy chairman of the town council.
Five local Russian-speaking policemen and one woman were killed, he added, and three of the 10 wounded were in critical condition.