SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. -- When NATO issued its 10-day ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs to remove their artillery from around Sarajevo, few would have thought that Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his army could defy the deadline and still be big winners.
But with a little help from the Russians, the Bosnian Serbs have done just that. They manipulated a weak Western resolve to get involved in Bosnia and turned it to their advantage.
By almost every reasonable measure, the Serbs are far ahead of where they were when the NATO ultimatum was issued 10 days ago. The Bosnian government -- whom NATO was ostensibly trying to help -- is accordingly far worse off.
The West, meantime, has missed another chance to impose its will on the Bosnian conflict.
How did it happen?
Because of differences between the United Nations and NATO, because of an inexperienced U.N. commander in Sarajevo, because of Russian intervention on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs and, most importantly, because of the clear lack of Western political will to dictate terms to the Serbs.
Only in one sense did the West achieve its objective: It has, for now, halted the shelling of Sarajevo. It has not lifted the siege, however.
Stopping the shelling is no small thing. Serbs have withdrawn nearly all their heavy artillery 12.4 miles from the city center or turned it over to the U.N., as NATO ordered. They have, in large measure, kept to the most effective cease-fire in the 22 months in the siege of the city. The streets of Sarajevo have been safer during the past 11 days than at any other time since the war began.
But the NATO ultimatum -- move or surrender all heavy guns within 12.4 miles of the city center, or face air strikes -- proved to be no ultimatum at all.
As carried out by U.N. officers on the ground, it proved to be a strongly worded request, negotiable at every stage. The Bosnian Serbs, who have all the military advantages here, negotiated hard and well.
As a result the Serbs have gained these advantages:
* De-facto U.N. recognition of their gains in Sarajevo.
NTC * They have U.N. troops effectively boxing in the Bosnian army.
* Russian U.N. troops (who share Slavic and Orthodox Christian ties to Serbs) have been moved into a hotly contested Sarajevo neighborhood, ahuge morale boost to the Serbs.
* They have freed their heavy artillery to fight elsewhere in Bosnia.
* They have maintained troop and sniper positions around Sarajevo and, should the need arise, they can still shell Sarajevo from outside the 12-mile line.
* Sarajevo becomes a divided city, as Berlin and Beirut were at one time. The division of Sarajevo has been a chief Serbian demand since the war began.
The Bosnian gain:
* They received a reprieve from mass killing in Sarajevo -- as long, that is, as the Serbs agree.
It happened this way:
In the wake of a Feb. 5 shelling of a Sarajevo market that killed 68 and wounded more than 200, NATO issued a 10-day deadline, ending at midnight Feb. 20, for the Bosnian Serbs to move their heavy artillery back from Sarajevo. It was no policy on the overall Bosnian war, but it was a serious threat to the Bosnian Serbs that they would shortly face Western intervention on the side of the Muslims.
The same day, the recently appointed U.N. commander in Bosnia, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose, negotiated a quick cease-fire between Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Army. It was so hastily arranged the terms were never written down and documented. As the week wore on, any number of negotiating positions from all sides would be attributed to the cease-fire agreement.
The devil would lie in these details.
General Rose sought to tie the air strikes not to the letter and spirit of the NATO ultimatum, but to this overall Sarajevo cease-fire.
This gave the Bosnian Serbs plenty of room to maneuver and extract concessions from the U.N. in exchange for something they had been ordered to do anyway by NATO.
This was moving the goal posts -- closer to the Serbs' side of the field.
General Rose also came up with another cease-fire condition: U.N. troops would move into areas between the warring parties, establishing a ''green line,'' or neutral zone. In theory, this was to keep the peace. In reality, it meant that U.N. troops would be boxing the Bosnian army in as much as keeping the Serbs out. They have, in effect, frozen the siege of Sarajevo -- and divided the city to the Serbs' advantage.
General Rose reduced the issue of the NATO-ordered weapons removal to be part of the cease-fire negotiations.
Seeing their chance, Serbs dragged their feet about weapons removal. They tried -- unsuccessfully -- to tie it to a retreat of Bosnian Army troops. Failing that, the Russians intervened. They offered to transfer 400 troops then on U.N. duty in Croatia to Sarajevo, to monitor the cease-fire. They would be deployed less than one mile from downtown Sarajevo, in a highly volatile neighborhood called Grbavica.