Russia's Turn in Bosnia

August 02, 1994

Is a show of unity among the big powers seeking to impose a peace on Bosnia more important than the credibility of their threats of punitive action? The unpleasant answer is yes.

If the United States, Britain, France and Germany, which have enough differences among themselves, were to split openly with Russia, the implications for European and even global security would be grave indeed. It is better to goad Russia to put its particular brand of pressure on the various Serbian factions than to fire up Russian sentiments of pan-Slav brotherhood.

What has transpired since big power foreign ministers admitted over the weekend that they could not force a solution on the Bosnian Serbs is a sort of diplomatic carom shot: Russia to Serbia to the Bosnian Serb faction. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev went to Belgrade to warn Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic that his rump Yugoslavian state would suffer further economic sanctions and "an escalation of war" in the Balkans if its Bosnian Serb allies definitively reject the big power partition plan for Bosnia. Mr. Milosevic, in turn, told the Bosnian Serbs they had no right to saddle his country with further sanctions.

Since Mr. Milosevic is the chief instigator and weapons supplier of the Balkan tragedy, he is due no sympathy. Serbia cannot escape responsibility for the war that has torn multi-ethnic Yugoslavia apart, at a loss of 200,000 lives. The United Nations should be prepared to tighten its economic embargo against his regime unless the Bosnia Serbs agree to settle for 49 percent of Bosnian territory rather than the 70 percent they control.

The history of the past two years hardly offers encouragement that even the combined weight of Moscow and Belgrade will bring the Bosnian Serbs into camp. Encouraged by Mr. Milosevic's own appeals for a "Greater Serbia," they look to a future in which their enlarged portion of Bosnia will be joined to the Republic of Serbia.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher, in acknowledging the big powers were loath to take military action, left open the possibility that the United States might unilaterally ignore the U.N. embargo against the shipment of arms to the Bosnian Muslims. We continue to believe this is faulty policy. It damages U.S. credibility if the threat is not carried out. And if the threat is carried out, it would set a bad precedent at the U.N. and widen a war in which Muslim factions are believed to be getting considerable clandestine weapons shipments from Islamic countries.

The burden now rests with Russia, and after Russia with Serbia and after Serbia with the Bosnian Serbs. Moscow should be given a few weeks to show if it has any clout. If its peace initiative fails, Mr. Milosevic and his allies should pay the price.

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