Yeltsin's heated rhetoric raises stakes over former Yugoslavia

WAR IN BOSNIA Moscow is on a collision course with Washington, writes Michael Sheridan

The Russian government's denunciation yesterday of the Nato air raids and cruise missile strikes against the Bosnian Serbs was clearly intended to put the Western alliance on notice that Russian tolerance of its campaign cannot be infinite.

Talk of "genocide" and similar language is normally the preserve of Russian nationalists, who treasure the ties that link Serbs to Russia by their common Orthodox Christianity and generations of pan-Slav enthusiasm.

After successive Balkan conflicts from 1912 to 1945, Churchill and Stalin drew up an agreement to divide their influence 50-50 in Yugoslavia, an ambiguity which allowed Tito to run a non-aligned Communist state more liberal in character than the Eastern European satellites.

The outbreak of war in 1991 when Yugoslavia broke up has threatened to disrupt this balance. After the Nato air strikes and a violent upturn in Russian rhetoric, the disruption now threatens to turn dangerous. The risk is that Moscow and Washington may find themselves ranged on opposing sides of the Yugoslav war, trapping European powers in the middle and perhaps destroying the network of security agreements, such as Nato's Partnership for Peace put in place since the end of the Cold War.

Consider the following. On Tuesday last week Andrei Kozyrev, Russia's liberal Foreign Minister, welcomed Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, to Moscow. So cordial were their talks that Mr Rifkind shared with Mr Kozyrev overnight intelligence reports from Sarajevo on the deployment of Bosnian Serb artillery. Mr Kozyrev, speaking to the cameras, deplored the Nato air strikes and said "we can only hope and we require that the campaign should end". The combination of the public, reproving Kozyrev and the private, understanding Kozyrev, seemed to Mr Rifkind a reassuring continuation of the characteristic Russian posture throughout the Bosnian crisis.

But a more ominous note was sounded when the Russian Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, cancelled a planned meeting with Mr Rifkind on the flimsy pretext that he was campaigning in Kursk. Then, last Friday, President Boris Yeltsin weighed in with a strong attack on Nato, saying its use of force in Yugoslavia exemplified the threat to Russian interests posed by Nato's planned expansion to the east. Mr Yeltsin warned of "a conflagration of war throughout all of Europe" if that should come to pass.

This could be Mr Yeltsin's response to the government's electoral problems. If Western policymakers wanted proof of the inherent dangers posed by Russian domestic upheaval they need have looked no further than the rowdy proceedings in the Duma over the weekend.

Admittedly, most liberal politicians in the 450-member Duma boycotted the session, leaving a rump of 260. None the less, those deputies present voted by 258 to two to approve a non-binding resolution which called on Mr Yeltsin to suspend Russia's Partnership for Peace agreement with Nato and demanded that Russia unilaterally lift sanctions on Serbia. Mr Kozyrev was singled out for derision and christened "the minister of national disgrace" by Gennadi Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader.

In London, officials were downplaying the significance of Russian rhetoric yesterday, noting that Moscow was still part of the diplomatic effort to end the Yugoslav conflict. "Although the words have changed I don't think our analysis of the problem has changed fundamentally," a British official said.

Mr Kozyrev and senior Russian officials privately warn that the problem with the Bosnia issue lies in the way it can serve to highlight Russia's humiliation as a former superpower and Mr Yeltsin's economic and security dependence on the West.

The danger of a Russian-American stand-off in the Balkans is well understood - the Washington Post editorialised this week that "nobody in Washington should want a fight with Moscow on what is to both, finally, a symbolic issue". That is why President Bill Clinton has dispatched his Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, to Moscow, on a mission to tell the Russians that much more than the fate of Bosnia is at stake in this argument.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor