The Bosnia Crisis: Russia clings to a dangerous liaison: Divided politicians play on traditional sympathies and unite in hysterical warning to the West; Pan-Slav Solidarity
Sunday 13 February 1994
'The Serbian war is a blessing from Providence for us,' explains Vronsky's aged mother. 'I don't understand the rights and wrongs of it but for him it is a godsend.' So, with nagging toothache and a head full of ideas about saving Russia's Slavic kin, Vronsky sets off to war.
Serbia is again proving a dangerous but seductive distraction for Russia. It alone can rouse a desperate, dithering and utterly divided political elite. Finally, here is an issue members of the State Duma, Russia's raucous new parliament, can agree on.
On the bloodshed in former Yugoslavia, Russia can speak with one voice: Western armies keep out. Politicians of all stripes have railed at the prospect of Western air strikes against Serbian positions. Nationalism, albeit muddled and unfocused, has become the one area of consensus in Russian politics. And if John Major is to encounter any solid ground during his trip to Russia this week, it will be this.
Which side fired the mortar into Sarajevo's Old Town market cannot be determined conclusively. But while the West blames the Serbs, the official organ of Russia's Defence Ministry, Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) offered this unequivocal version: 'Explosion in Sarajevo - a provocation by Muslim extremists.'
Serbia's loudest cheerleader in Moscow is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultra-nationalist leader who has only just returned from a week-long trip to Serbia and Serbian-held territory in Bosnia. He regaled the Duma with travellers' tales: how he had been mobbed by adoring Serbs begging for Russian help, how Vukovar was a new Stalingrad, and how Russia had a sacred mission to defend Orthodox Christianity.
'On behalf of the party which won the election I warn all Western states that if you start this war you will start a Third World War and we will find a response,' he announced. 'The airmen who bomb the cities of Bosnia, their own cities will be destroyed. We will not leave a stone unturned on the territories of those states. Remember that. Hitler was stopped in our fields. Napoleon was stopped. And any other invader who attempts to establish his own order will be stopped. We will not tolerate that.'
He rambled on, gesticulating wildly and extending his threats of a holocaust abroad to embrace his own opponents in Russia. Only then did the chair intervene: 'Please switch off his microphone.'
Zhirinovsky's rant from the floor - carefully scripted and repeated verbatim in a series of television interviews - found ample, if less hysterical, echo in the corridors of parliament and the columns of Russia's serious newspapers. While Zhirinovsky was chided for his threat to reduce Western Europe to a heap of ash, two clear themes emerge: a misty vision of pan-Slav solidarity, and a hard-headed concern that Nato is trying to by- pass, or supplant even, the United Nations and extend its reach deep into Moscow's turf.
'There are no angels and no devils but only a difficult internal conflict with a long history behind it,' said Yegor Gaidar, leader of Russia's Choice, the reformist party drubbed by Mr Zhirinovsky in the December election. 'Of course there is always a temptation to intervene in such a conflict to show one's muscle and resolve. This is a compensation for being unable to solve the problem, for political helplessness.'
Sergei Stankevich, a former darling of pro-Western demokrati now scrambling to find a new constituency, said that air strikes would turn Russia's public and foreign policy against the West. 'The Russian government will be forced to make certain corrections in response to the very strong sentiments of the Russian people.' The same message came from the Kremlin, though with President Boris Yeltsin incommunicado most of the week, it was left to junior aides and hangers-on to enunciate policy.
Andranik Migranyan, a member of the Presidential Council and adovcate of 'enlightened autocracy' at home and a more assertive engagement abroad, roamed the State Duma seeking television cameras: 'This will be the beginning of serious tensions between our countries . . . We are a young democracy. We are learning and especially learning from the United States. American politicians say we would like to do this or that but our public or congress is against it. Only irresponsible politicians can act against the will of the people.'
In reality, many Russians say they feel only indifference. But a dull fear is spreading. 'Eighty years ago Archduke Ferdinand was killed in Sarajevo. His death served as a pretext for the beginning of World War I. It is a sad anniversary because history repeats itself,' read the front-page headline in Komsomolskaya Pravda.
As Vronsky goes off to save Serbia in Anna Karenina, Tolstoy explains what can bring Russia to war: 'In a nation of 80 million people there will always be found, not hundreds, as now, but tens of thousands of men who have lost caste, a restless crew ready for anything - to join Pugachev's robber band, to go to Khiva, or to Serbia . . . anywhere.' If anything has changed it is this: now they number 150 million.
Leading article, page 20
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
- 3 Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
- 4 Julian Assange and Edward Snowden join piracy mogul Kim Dotcom’s political campaign in New Zealand
Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
Jihadi John': MI5 may have identified Isis militant who killed David Haines but options limited
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: Police will be on high alert on Friday whatever the result
David Haines beheading: David Cameron says Britain will hunt down Isis 'monsters' shown in video murdering aid worker
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly
Salmond accused of laughing off national debt with ‘what are they going to do: invade?’ joke
£18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...
£24,000 per annum pro rata (21 hours per week): Belong: Work as part of a cutt...
£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Are you looking for work in Ed...
£3000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wor...