Leading Article: Russian risks in Bosnia

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THE Russian intervention in Bosnia is ambiguous. Optimists may see it as a manifestation of the New World Order that flickered briefly on the horizon during the Gulf war. Here are Russians joining Western troops in a United Nations operation to bring peace to Sarajevo, with initially gratifying results. The guns fell silent yesterday, air strikes were assumed to have been averted and everyone started talking about extending the peace. This is just the type of joint venture that was supposed to provide a model for policing trouble spots around the world.

But pessimists also have a case. The door to Russian intervention was opened not by common aims but by Western weakness and confusion. The Western powers had failed to deal with the situation on their own. They could muster neither coherent policies nor the military force to back what plans they did have. They found themselves begging Moscow to use its influence on the Serbs and trying to prop up Boris Yeltsin by giving him a role. When help came it was not political but military, and far more intrusive than expected. The West had fallen into a trap of its own making, allowing the Russians to set a dangerous precedent by deploying soldiers unilaterally in Europe.

The situation will now provide an important test of the Russians' intentions. Are they in Bosnia to work for a just peace, or to support the Serbs? What will they do if Serbs or Muslims start fighting in their vicinity? And will they leave when asked? If they are interested primarily in earning international respectability, or if they see reasons to respect Islam, they could continue to play a valuable role. However, if they are merely responding to nationalist pressures at home, they could cause enormous harm in Bosnia and in the wider context of international relations. The resentful, nationalist noises emanating from around Mr Yeltsin are not reassuring. It may not be necessary to wait for Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

The inhabitants of Sarajevo are therefore right to be worried. They face the twin dangers that fighting could resume or that the situation could be frozen as it is, with the divided city remaining under siege and living off aid for the indefinite future. When Serbian leaders talk about extending the peace elsewhere they must not be allowed to mean this type of peace. Negotiations must be pressed forward, and the threat of air strikes kept alive.

If there is a glimmer of hope ahead, it comes from the talks that took place in Frankfurt on Saturday between Bosnian and Croatian representatives under the auspices of the Americans. There appears to be a possibility of reviving co-

operation between the two countries by persuading Croatia to drop its attempts to annex parts of Bosnia. With American pressure intensifying on the Croats, and if the Russians lean on the Serbs, the two great powers might yet succeed where the Europeans have failed.