Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Dilemma For Russia On Bosnia

Several months from now, hindsight may prove that NATO's threat of air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs who have been shelling Sarajevo for the past 22 months was just the tonic required to force this appalling war of attrition to a settlement.


The record of the NATO ultimatum in the days since it was issued has been good. It has forced as solid a cease-fire as there has ever been around the Bosnian capital. Bosnian Serb generals and politicians are having, in public, to take sides on the question of whether to withdraw or fight on.


Ideally, the threat alone would prove sufficient and allied aircraft would never have to fire in anger. The United Nations troops on the ground clearly hope so, stretching as far as they can the definition of how the Bosnian Serbs may avoid punishment.


But the fickle nature of cease-fires and deals in ex-Yugoslavia has become axiomatic, the mood in the West and at NATO is tough and the likelihood of intervention still looms large.


Russia is odd man out in this sudden international consensus for action in Bosnia.


The Western temptation is to scorn the Moscow government for allowing the ravings of people like Vladimir Zhirinovsky to influence policy. Yet the men in the Kremlin have a great deal to lose if the NATO air strikes go ahead.


A poll this week indicated that the vast majority of Russians -- 77 percent -- oppose the air strikes, and more than two thirds agree with Zhirinovsky that they would view such action as an attack on Russia.


With public opinion on their side, nationalists in the State Duma would have a field day against "Western lackeys" in the government if the air strikes took place -- even more so if, as tends to happen in so-called surgical air strikes, there were civilian casualties.


British officials visiting Moscow with Prime Minister John Major acknowledged the Russian dilemma when they said they had no idea how Moscow would react if the air strikes went ahead. In fact, their impression was that the Russian leaders did not yet know themselves how they would react.


Russia's shifting stand on the problem indicates, however, that despite their domestic concerns President Boris Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev are still anxious to remain team players in the international community.


From rejecting the NATO ultimatum outright, Kozyrev has moved to stating that if it proves necessary as a "last resort" for NATO to bomb Serb positions around Sarajevo, Russia will not stand in the way. Whatever one may think of Russia's support for Serbia in the Yugoslav conflict, Kozyrev's position takes a measure of political courage that leaves room for hope.