WORLD

The Serbs pull back

Russia fumes, but NATO appears to get its way

D’ARCY JENISH September 25 1995
WORLD

The Serbs pull back

Russia fumes, but NATO appears to get its way

D’ARCY JENISH September 25 1995

The Serbs pull back

Russia fumes, but NATO appears to get its way

BOSNIA

Wave after wave of NATO air attacks were not enough. Nor were American cruise missiles. And another round of diplomatic

talks brought the usual result, a nebulous peace plan that did little to end the nasty, 41month-old war between Bosnian Muslims and rebel Serbs in the former Yugoslavia. But late last week—under pressure from Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic, a key ally—Bosnia’s Serbs finally agreed to withdraw their heavy guns from around Sarajevo. In exchange, NATO promised a three-day pause in the bombing.

But by then, the offensive against Serbian positions, which began Aug. 30, had set in motion an ominous new development that could ultimately deepen and extend the conflict.

Russian military and political leaders, including President Boris Yeltsin, were becoming increasingly outspoken in their opposition to the attacks. They accused NATO of committing “genocide” against the Serbs, and they threatened to violate international trade and arms embargoes aimed at forcing the Serbs to the bargaining table. Five Russian parliamentarians even said that they were prepared to go to Bosnia and act as human shields to prevent further bombing of Serbian positions. “There’s no doubt,” said Konstantin Zatulin, one of the legislators, “that the Serbs bear the brunt of a double standard by the international community.”

Others had less patience for Bosnian Serb commander Gen. Ratko Mladic’s insistence that he must keep his guns trained on Sarajevo to protect 120,000 Serb civilians from Muslim reprisals. “The international community can continue to bomb us until they kill us all,” said one of Mladic’s spokesmen, Alexa Buha. For the Western governments, which planned and approved the raids, the intransigence of their Serbian adversaries created an unexpected dilemma. They could increase the bombing— and risk an escalation of tensions with the Russians—or they could call it off, and hand a significant moral victory to the defiant Mladic.

Meanwhile, Bosnian Muslims and Croats captured several Serb-held towns in western and central Bosnia, reducing the amount of territory under Bosnian Serb control by 10 per cent. The assaults sent 50,000 Serb refugees

fleeing towards the relative safety of Banja Luka, northwest of Sarajevo. That ground success against the Serbs, coupled with NATO’s persistence two weeks after the air campaign began, buoyed the spirits of besieged Sarajevans.

To increase the pressure on the Serbs, Western forces fired several cruise missiles at Serbian surface-to-air missile sites in north-

western Bosnia from an American warship in the Adriatic Sea. As the attacks continued, Russian opposition hardened, partly out of sympathy for the Serbs, and in part because Moscow felt that the Western powers were acting unilaterally and ignoring its concerns. In an incident thought by some to be related to the Bosnian war, an unidentified protestor fired a grenade at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, causing minor damage. “The Bosnian crisis has shown the West’s disrespect for a weakened Russia,” said Dmitri Trenin, a military analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Centre. “If Russia reaches the conclusion that the West doesn’t want it as a partner, it will revert to its traditional idea that it is alone in the world and that its two best friends are the Russian army and the Russian navy.” Assuming Trenin is correct, the West may

pay a high price for alienating Moscow. As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia must approve future UN peacekeeping activities in the Balkans. Moscow would also cast a vote in any UNbrokered peace agreement in Bosnia—as remote as such an agreement may seem.

D’ARCY JENISH