THE peaceful rollback of most Serb heavy guns from Sarajevo is due to a Franco-American NATO initiative - the threat of force - followed by a Russian move to make its own presence felt in the European sphere. That the Serbs moved their weapons without airstrikes brings relief to the White House, which has taken the lead on Bosnia diplomacy.
The administration feels the NATO threat and Serb pullback marks a watershed in the Bosnian crisis; the White House now wants to push hard at the negotiating table to find a settlement. United States officials now speak of a ``peace process'' in Bosnia. ``This is an absolutely critical moment,'' said Secretary of State Warren Christopher on Monday, adding, ``I think we are all realistic now.''
Certainly the NATO threat and the Russian response mark a watershed - one perhaps bigger than any side has articulated. The most positive result of the NATO threat, though it is far from being realized on the ground, is a potential rapprochement between the Croats and Muslims in Bosnia. Zagreb, seeing little Western resolve for 22 months, had been sending thousands of troops into Bosnia. A credible Western threat may have changed some minds in Croatia. Real pressure on Serbia, including resolution of the Serb occupation of Croatia, can begin if Muslims and Croats link up.
A scant three days after the Serb pullback, which has not stopped the seige of Sarajevo - only the shelling - it is early to declare any kind of victory. In some ways, the opposite is true. What Secretary Christopher means when he uses the word ``realistic'' is that the White House has decided the war in Bosnia is over, that it will no longer oppose Europe by supporting the principle of a multi-ethnic state there, and that it will no longer even give the appearance of trying to lift the arms embargo on a grievously victimized government it has recognized.
``Realism,'' in this case, means an abandonment of a just settlement, and of ``simplistic'' American notions of right and wrong - including holding parties responsible for genocide and war crimes.
Actually, another kind of realism must be mentioned: The Serbs have not been defeated. There is not a viable Bosnian state that can yet be had. There is not yet the political will in the West to create and police such a state. The entrance of Russian troops, moved unilaterally by Moscow into Sarajevo, not only ratifies Serb gains on the battlefield - but it may begin to institutionalize a dramatic and historic line between the orthodox East and the liberal West. Such a line will be interpreted by many as a victory for ethnic nationalism, and fascism.
We should be realistic about that.