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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bosnia Issue Causes SplitIn Russian Cabinet

Russia's government appeared to split over policy toward Bosnia on Wednesday when Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said he opposed the new tougher line against the Bosnian Serbs advocated by the Foreign Ministry.


The State Duma -- which had presented a united front on the issue until only a few days ago -- also split for the first time over Bosnia, deferring debate on the subject during a stormy session.


Grachev, speaking to reporters in the Defense Ministry, said he disagreed with Russia's special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, Vitaly Churkin, who on Monday advocated breaking off talks with the Bosnian Serbs and dropped his opposition to NATO air strikes against their forces besieging the town of Gorazde.


"Now they are attempting to bring about air strikes, and that is extremely dangerous for the escalation of the military situation," Grachev said.


President Boris Yeltsin repeated Russia's previous position at a meeting of his Security Council, that the "use of military force -- moreover delivering such strong air strikes -- is impermissible without the coordination of the UN Security Council," according to Interfax.


Apparantly backing Yeltsin's stance, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said Russia would not support air strikes until a common policy on the crisis had been agreed between Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.


Yeltsin on Tuesday proposed a summit between Russia, the United States and the European Union.


In a public rebuttal of earlier state ments by both Churkin and Kozyrev, Grachev said that it was unfair to blame the Bosnian Serbs for the fighting round the eastern Bosnian enclave of Gorazde.


"It is not right single-handedly to accuse the Bosnian Serbs of violating the cease-fire by launching strikes," he said after meeting the Turkish Defense Minister, Mehmet G?lhan. "The situation in Gorazde today is so mixed up, so I would say the following: both sides are guilty."


Grachev also revealed that he had spoken with the Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic on Sunday and on Monday and urged him to halt his attacks and return to the negotiating table.


These contacts and his remarks suggested that, whereas the Foreign Ministry has lost all patience with the Bosnian Serbs, Grachev believes it is still possible to negotiate with the Bosnian Serb army led by Mladic.


"Over the past days, he has practically not launched any attacks, but the other side has carried on provocative activities," Grachev said.


On Wednesday, 10 patients in Gorazde's hospital were killed when shells slammed into it as part of the continuing barrage of the town in which some 65,000 people are trapped.


Grachev's thinking appeared to be closer to that of Yeltsin's hardline opposition than to the president's own statement Tuesday night, which said the Bosnian Serbs had not kept their word to observe a cease-fire at Gorazde and should pull out of the town.


The State Duma, which only last week voted by 262-2 votes to condemn NATO's actions in Bosnia, was riven with dissent on the issue when it convened Wednesday.


The extreme nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky was rebuffed when it tried to put the question of lifting sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro on the agenda.


Speaker Ivan Rybkin instead proposed forming a delegation, with members from each party, to pay a 10-day visit to all parts of the former Yugoslavia. He said the Duma would discuss the sanctions issue in closed session when the delegation returned.


The decision caused fury in the ranks of the Liberal Democrats. Zhirinovsky shouted from his seat that the plan was "political tourism."


Reformist deputies supported the Kremlin's shift in policy and sharply criticized the Bosnian Serbs.


"If a week or two weeks ago we could speak of the progressive lifting of sanctions, speaking of it now will only encourage the aggressor, encourage the criminals," said the chairman of the Duma's Defense Committee, Sergei Yushenkov of the Russia's Choice bloc.


To consolidate a united international policy toward Bosnia, mediators Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg arrived in Moscow for talks Wednesday afternoon.


"The Russians understand the use of power and the key thing is to carry them with us," Owen said in London before leaving for Moscow, Reuters reported. "What we can't afford to do is to have the UN Security Council, particularly its permanent membership, split."