TRUMPETING its ``diplomatic triumph'' in getting Serb forces to remove their guns from around the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, Russia is now asserting its preeminent role in an ultimate settlement of the Balkan war.
To the applause of virtually every political party and the media, Russian leaders are engaging in a pointedly public display of the country's restored status as a ``great power.'' With television cameras rolling, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev called his US counterpart on Feb. 21 to propose that the United States now match the presence of Russia's paratroopers in Sarajevo.
In a phone conversation on Feb. 21 with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Russian President Boris Yeltsin laid out the next steps after the establishment of a truce in Sarajevo. According to a Kremlin statement, Mr. Yeltsin called for reinforcement of the truce and transfer of Sarajevo to United Nations administration, to establish peace in other UN-designated ``safe areas'' in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and to convene an international peace conference that would finalize a settlement between the three warring sides.
Bonn hosted talks on Feb. 22 between senior US, Russian, and European officials on how to continue the momentum toward a peace settlement. Russian special envoy Vitaly Churkin and his US counterpart, Charles Redman, attended the talks.
Russia has already been successful in garnering European backing for its role and proposals. France backs the call to put Sarajevo under UN administration and the proposal is part of the European Union's package at the Geneva peace talks. And Chancellor Kohl has lent his backing to convening a peace conference.
Russian envoy Churkin cautioned, however, against Western intentions to apply the ``Sarajevo model'' for imposing cease-fires in other Bosnian towns, telling reporters on Feb. 22 that he considered the situation in the Bosnian capital ``special.''
There are other differences between Moscow and Washington on how to proceed. The Muslim-led Bosnian government opposes UN administration for Sarajevo, fearing it will freeze Serbian control of parts of the city and undermine its status as the capital of Bosnia. Washington has been generally supportive of the Bosnian position.
When it comes to the final settlement, the US has backed Bosnia's opposition to the current partition plan, which gives it about a third of the country's territory, with the rest going to the Serbs and Croats. Washington says it is willing to support reasonable changes that would give the Bosnian Muslims coherent territory and secure lines of communication and transportation.
But Moscow backs the Serbian stance that the current partition is enough. ``If NATO wants to restore justice in this part of the world, then it will bring further tragedy,'' comments foreign policy specialist Alexei Pushkov. ``Now the land is already divided and nobody will proceed to redivision of this land.''
Yet the key point of difference lies in the use of the threat of force to bring about peace in Bosnia. While the US claims the NATO ultimatum forced a Serb response, Russia argues that its diplomacy and good offices with the Serbs were the true lever in averting a widening of the war.
``Only Russia could save NATO from itself,'' wrote the Army daily Red Star on Feb. 22. ``NATO had secretly hoped that Russia would intervene resolutely in the conflict, realizing that without its more active contribution, it would be practically impossible to put an end to the critical situation around Sarajevo, as to the Balkan conflict as a whole.''
Moscow has now positioned itself as the primary interlocutor of the Serbs, while it seeks to depict the US in the same position vis-ia-vis the Muslims. ``The threat of force works if Russia negotiates,'' Mr. Pushkov says. ``The Serbs will not go along with America. Russia must be in the game.''
There are indications that, as part of its deal, Moscow has promised to make efforts to remove the UN-imposed sanctions against the former Yugoslavia. ``We did not promise anything to the Serbs,'' Mr. Churkin said in a Feb. 20 television interview. ``We say: If there is a political settlement, sanctions will be gradually lifted in the process of its implementation.''