MOSCOW, FEB. 9 -- Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev warned the U.S.-led coalition today that its military strategy in the Persian Gulf risks going beyond the U.N. mandate and he announced that he is sending a personal envoy to Baghdad.

"The logic of the military operations, the character of the military actions, is creating a threat of going beyond the limits of the mandate," Gorbachev said in a statement read on the evening television news.

"Events in the Persian Gulf region are taking a more and more alarming and dramatic turn," he said. "The flywheel is spinning faster and faster in the biggest war of the past decade.

"There has been an increasing number of casualties, including among the civilian population. Military actions have already caused huge material losses. Entire countries -- first Kuwait, then Iraq, and now perhaps others -- are under the threat of catastrophic destruction."

Gorbachev also called on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to relinquish Kuwait. "At this critical moment I appeal publicly to the president of Iraq with an urgent call to consider everything that is at stake for his country and show realism, which would allow {him} to take the path of a reliable, just and peaceful settlement," he said.

Gorbachev's warning to the alliance was the clearest sign yet that Moscow wants to distance itself from U.S. military strategy even while remaining a "committed" member of the coalition against Iraq, its former ally and arms recipient.

Gorbachev's statement was similar to those made by Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh during a recent trip to Washington, when he said the U.N. resolutions did not sanction direct attacks on Iraq itself. But the fact that Gorbachev himself emphasized the Soviet Union's concerns about the war has great resonance both in diplomacy and in domestic politics.

Domestically, hard-liners as diverse as former Politburo member Yegor Ligachev, military adviser Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev and Lt. Col. Viktor Alksnis, head of the parliament's hard-line faction, have all expressed doubts about U.S. intentions in the region. The hard-liners, who now are in the ascendancy here, believe that Gorbachev and former foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze were too quick to side so decisively with Washington.

As a diplomatic ploy, Gorbachev's statement is seen as an apparent attempt to distance himself from Washington, not only to placate the hard-liners here, but also to present Moscow to Saddam as a potential mediator. Gorbachev, who is in desperate need of any sort of political victory, would benefit greatly both here and abroad if he were able to help engineer a settlement of the war before it reached the level of a ground conflict.

The statement comes less than a week after the Central Committee of the Communist Party called on the Kremlin leadership to do all it could to resolve the gulf crisis. Gorbachev did not say whom he was sending to Baghdad. In October, Yevgeny Primakov, an adviser to Gorbachev, met with Saddam twice.

Gorbachev said in his statement that Moscow was committed to its role as a member of the alliance opposing Iraq, but his sense of anxiety about the conflict was evident.

He said that the war caused great concern among Soviet people, espcially because "it is taking place so close to Soviet borders."

He accused Iraq of trying to lure Israel into the war and criticized both sides for "trying to condition people to the idea of a possibility and a permissibility of the use of weapons of mass destruction. If this happened, the whole of world politics and the world community in general would be shaken to its foundation."