Bosnia Crisis: Russia rolls up for showdown: Impending air strikes over Gorazde have been forced on Clinton and his fellow leaders despite grave political risks

RUSSIA yesterday came out in favour of air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs if they continue to attack Gorazde.

But with the onslaught continuing against the besieged Bosnian town, it seemed that attempts to broker a ceasefire had failed: the resolve of the West and the solidity of its links with Moscow are to be tested to breaking-point.

Andrei Kozyrev, the Russian Foreign Minister, attacked the Bosnian Serbs, whom his country has hitherto supported, in outspoken terms. They had 'issued a criminal challenge to the elementary norms of humane behaviour, to the demands of the United Nations and also of Russia,' he said. Unless they stopped their offensive against Gorazde, in line with the Nato ultimatum agreed late on Friday night, air strikes would be justified.

But on the ground in Gorazde, reports indicated that the Bosnian Serb onslaught continued after the midday deadline set for a ceasefire. UN military observers reported heavy infantry attacks and Gorazde's mayor, in a radio link with Bonn, said hundreds of shells had been landing in the small town. The Bosnian Serbs blamed the Muslims for starting the firefight.

Two hundred Nato aircraft were on standby, and there were reports that aircraft were already flying over the town, apparently in preparation for an attack. Just days after Western officials had indicated that air power was not going to save the day at Gorazde, the chances that this would happen were rising, with all the attendant risks.

Friday's decision in Brussels to use air power to defend all the safe areas in Bosnia, starting with Gorazde, is a recognition that only by doubling the stakes can Western institutions hope to stop the killing and regain their credibility. But there is a series of grave risks involved in this desperate bid: diplomatic, humanitarian, and political dangers that analysts have been warning about since the start of the conflict.

Even though Mr Kozyrev has put Russia behind the West, only days ago a very different and more aggressive line was being peddled in Moscow. Nato diplomats and officials have spoken for months of apparently chaotic decision-making procedures in Russia, of splits between ministries and of contradictory signals. In particular, the defence and foreign ministries have been divided over their approach.

If air strikes happen, they are likely to be on a much wider scale than the close air-support missions of two weeks ago, and are likely to engage not just heavy weapons but also other 'military targets', as specified in the Nato ultimatum. That brings with it the risk of 'collateral damage' - the ugly term for civilian deaths, on either side. The spectre of 'friendly fire' also looms large, after disasters in the Gulf war and northern Iraq two weeks ago. Britain and other troop-providing states have insisted that there is close liaison with Lt- Gen Sir Michael Rose and Unprofor in Bosnia. The new strategy is more coherent than the previous line, since it embraces all safe areas, protects civilian lives and has a more streamlined command system.

'A piecemeal approach doesn't do the job, half-heartedness doesn't pay off,' said the Nato secretary-general, Manfred Worner, on Friday. 'You have to use more decisive means and we will not hesitate to use them.'

But militarily, the use of air power alone has limitations. It cannot seize ground, and there is still a question-mark over the extra UN forces required to implement the UN and Nato decisions. The US is still insisting it will not send ground troops, one of the few immutable positions in the conflict. 'There has categorically been no discussion in which I have been involved, or which I have encouraged or approved, involving the introduction of American ground forces into Bosnia,' Bill Clinton said on Friday night.

Politically, each head of government involved knows that the operation has a serious downside if it collapses, if civilian lives are lost, or if there is a military disaster.

President Clinton has sought to put foreign policy issues on the back-burner, but so far his administration has been dogged by unsatisfactory or botched involvements: another would cost him dear. John Major would be seriously damaged if the decision to launch air strikes alienated backbench opinion. And Boris Yeltsin has been at pains to prevent his flank from being turned by the nationalists in parliament.

Why has the West decided now that these risks are worth taking? The gamble reflects positive and negative factors. On the assets side, there is a chance that, with Russia so angry at Bosnian Serb defiance, with Serbia itself fearing the consequences of further conflict, and with the war moving into its endgame, military involvement now could tip the balance.

On the debit side is the massive blow struck to Nato and the UN by the attacks on Gorazde, at home and abroad, especially in the Muslim world. US allies are intent on seeing more decisive action. 'The confidence in Nato and its esteem is above everything else,' said Hikmet Cetin, Turkey's Foreign Minister, yesterday.

And the West's enemies see an open goal, as demonstrated by Iranian student attacks yesterday on UN offices in Tehran. The US initiative to threaten much wider use of force is an attempt to redress that. To back down now would have been highly damaging.

Britain, perhaps the most sceptical of the Western powers about the use of force, has gone along with the plans because a split in Western institutions, especially a transatlantic rift, could do more damage than anything the Soviet Union ever achieved in 40 years of trying to divide the Alliance.

On Monday, Douglas Hurd was adamant that further escalation would do no good, saying of military action: 'We've seen in the last few days the limitations to that.' Within five days, the line had changed.

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice