MOSCOW -- Less than a week after Croatia's rout of a Serbian army, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin called yesterday for a Moscow peace summit on the Balkans but also threatened to ignore United Nations trade sanctions by coming to the aid of Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.
Foreign affairs specialists said Mr. Yeltsin's combination of mediation and threats were a seat-of-the-pants effort to bolster his own image at home and Russia's image abroad and also to reassert Moscow's traditional sympathies with the Serbs.
"The Croatian army's military actions in the Serb-populated regions have pushed the situation in former Yugoslavia to the verge of a big war in the Balkans," Mr. Yeltsin said after talks with Slobodan Milosevic, president of the Serb-dominanted remnants of Yugoslavia.
But Mr. Yeltsin supported Mr. Milosevic's government, saying it had showed enough restraint for sanctions to be lifted.
"It is time to relieve Yugoslavia of the burden of sanctions," he said. "Further delays in solving this issue could trigger unilateral action [by Russia]," he said.
Mr. Yeltsin returned to full-time duties only four days ago, after a month-long recuperation from a heart attack, and appeared determined to show he was master of international events.
"Russia is trying to assert itself on the world scene," said Eugene Rumer, a Rand Corp. analyst based here. "Also, this is for Yeltsin to take the political stage now after the hospital, to show he is still vigorously present. "
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian foreign policy has often seemed more reactive than planned, as the government devoted most its attention to the economy.
In the case of the Balkans crisis, Russia has remained a member of the five-nation "Contact Group" that has tried to develop a peace plan, but Mr. Yeltsin seemed to leave the initiative to the West.
"By seeming to follow the lead of the West, Yeltsin attracted criticism from hard-liners and even moderates," said Nadia Arbatova of the Institute of World Economic and International Relations.
By stepping into the Balkans crisis, she said, "Yeltsin has done the right thing, domestically."
Although the Balkans is of minor interest to most Russians who are struggling with economic hard times, there is
long-established sense of kinship with Serbia, since Russia and Serbian Christians share the Orthodox religion, Cyrillic alphabet and Slavic culture.
When Serbian interests have come under attack, Russian hard-liners have emphasized Slavic nationalism and demanded that Russia take sides in the Balkans conflict, in favor of the Serbs.