Bosnia Crisis: Russians prepare to make Nato pay

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - After it seemed Moscow might again have got the West off the hook in the former Yugoslavia by pressurising the Bosnian Serbs to stop their siege of Gorazde, Russia made clear yesterday that the price for this could be a re-negotiated deal with Nato, giving Moscow more status in the Partnership for Peace scheme (PFP), writes Helen Womack.

The Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, returned to Moscow from Belgrade where his weekend talks with Serb leaders failed to persuade the Bosnian Serbs to back down over Gorazde. He said Russia wanted an improved accord with Nato to rule out unilateral Western military action such as air-strikes in Bosnia. 'What is clear,' he said, 'is that we want a more serious and substantive agreement . . . especially an agreement that will exclude unilateral actions, particularly military ones, in areas where we clearly have to co-operate.'

Mr Kozyrev should have gone to Brussels this week to sign up Russia for the PFP, a plan to promote East- West military co-operation which Nato created largely for Moscow's benefit after the Kremlin made clear it could not accept former Warsaw Pact members such as Poland and Hungary joining the Western Alliance. But the minister has postponed the signing in protest at Nato's failure to consult Russia before launching two punitive air strikes last week against the Bosnian Serbs besieging the Muslim enclave of Gorazde at the beginning of last week.

The West argued that Russia had given its approval in principle to air strikes if United Nations' commanders called for them.

What lies behind Kremlin unease about air-strikes is anxiety that the world is no longer taking Russia seriously as a superpower, and looks only to Washington for leadership.

A few days ago Mr Kozyrev said 'there will never be a time when Russia is not an important country', revealing the country's acute psychological insecurity since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mr Kozyrev's talks with the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, on Saturday made yesterday's deal between the UN and the Bosnian Serbs possible. But whether it will stick remains to be seen.

But even if Russian diplomacy should result in a lasting ceasefire, it is doubtful Western gratitude would extend to a re-negotiation of PFP. Russia says it wants special status to reflect its nuclear might. But other East European countries are against this, saying it will only encourage Moscow to play Big Brother again.