Moscow to allow use of force in Bosnia: West struggles to prevent revival of old Russian alliance with Slavs of Serbia

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RUSSIA appears ready to drop its objections to a Western-backed United Nations Security Council resolution that would permit the use of force to stop Serbian military flights in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But doubts are growing in Western capitals over whether, in the long run, Russia will continue to support Western policy towards the former Yugoslavia.

Russia, never enthusiastic about military action against the Serbs, has this month resisted American pressure for the UN resolution's quick passage. But Andrei Kozyrev, the Foreign Minister, said on Tuesday that Russia 'if necessary will take joint measures to punish' those violating Bosnia's no-fly zone. The Russians are reluctant to be seen as approving US-led air strikes against Serbian targets, but they will not block the resolution if it avoids singling out the Serbs by name.

Britain, and to a lesser extent France, have had doubts about force. But, in public at least, both are becoming more anti-Serbian. John Major, in an interview with the European published today, accused Serbia of 'arrogance in defying the UN Security Council' and said the West had 'no choice but to increase the pressure'.

The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, yesterday asked the West to await the outcome of peace talks in Geneva on 2 January between the leaders of the Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs. 'Before having additional sanctions, let us try once more for a peaceful solution,' he said. 'Let us give another chance to the peace process.'

Both the UN chief and Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' leader, warned that UN peacekeepers and aid workers might have to leave Bosnia if the Security Council passed the proposed resolution. Serbian leaders, meanwhile, accused the Muslims of launching an offensive to lift the siege of Sarajevo, but UN officials said there was no evidence to support the charge.

Russia's problem is that an argument is raging in Moscow over how closely its foreign policy should match that of the West. The debate reflects the power struggle between reformists such as President Boris Yeltsin and Mr Kozyrev and their conservative rivals, who this month flexed their muscles so effectively in the Congress of People's Deputies.

The conservatives contend that Mr Yeltsin and Mr Kozyrev have betrayed Russia by not using its Security Council veto to block a string of anti-Serbian resolutions this year. They see Serbia as a natural Russian ally, partly because it is a fellow-Slavic nation and friend since the 19th century, but also because they think that the West's Balkan policies have expanded German influence in a region of vital interest to Russia. Other Russians worry that the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communism in Eastern Europe has brought German influence up to Russia's borders.

A former KGB general, Alexander Sterligov, said this month that Russian 'volunteer battalions, which will help out our brothers in Yugoslavia, are being formed by advocates of Slavic nationalism'. Similar volunteers have turned up this year in the Baltic states and Moldova to assist local Slavs. In the Balkans, they regard support for the Serbs as a counter-balance to the plans of Islamic states to send arms to Bosnia's Muslims.

The Supreme Soviet, Russia's standing legislature, adopted a resolution on 17 December reflecting the conservatives' views. It said Russia should veto Western military intervention in the former Yugoslavia, prevent the lifting of the arms embargo on Bosnia's government, and ensure sanctions were passed against 'all parties to the conflict' rather than the Serbs alone.

Russia's Foreign Ministry criticised the resolution as 'meddling by non-professionals', but Western diplomats are uncertain how long Mr Kozyrev and his allies in the ministry will keep control of foreign policy.

One important liberal, Fyodor Shelov-Kovadyayev, who was First Deputy Foreign Minister, was compelled to resign last October, and Mr Kozyrev is the hardliners' next target.

Even Mr Yeltsin is sensitive to the charge that the West takes Russian support too much for granted. He conceded this month that the Russian legislature had the right to approve his choice of foreign minister.

Another sign of the conservatives' victory was that Yuri Skokov, secretary of the unelected Security Council, was given extra powers over foreign policy. Mr Skokov spent 30 years in the Soviet military-industrial complex and is not pro-Western.

(Photograph omitted)