PROMPTED by the threat of renewed NATO airstrikes against Bosnian Serb positions around the besieged town of Gorazde, Russian diplomats worked over the weekend to try to broker a new peace deal.
The efforts of Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, who rushed to Belgrade on Saturday, appeared to be successful when he prompted Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to back a Russian plan for a cease-fire and eventual demilitarization of Gorazde.
But the Bosnian Serbs had broken their cease-fire agreement within an hour of its announcement by a United Nations spokesman yesterday. Serb tanks renewed their bombardment of the UN-protected ``safe haven'' for Muslims and were advancing into the city limits.
At press time, the Russian Foreign Ministry had offered no official reaction to the apparent Serb betrayal. But it augers poorly for Russian-Western relations, following a week-long row over NATO airstrikes on Bosnian forces surrounding Gorazde.
Moscow complained bitterly early last week that it had not been consulted in advance when NATO carried out airstrikes against Serb positions. Russian officials argue that they could have averted the escalation of the conflict through diplomacy and that the use of force would only aggravate the situation.
The NATO strikes prompted strong opposition from within the Russian parliament and government to plans to go ahead this week with Russia signing on to NATO's Partnership for Peace (PFP), a program of cooperation between the 16-nation NATO alliance and the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
``The latest events in Bosnia-Herzegovina have shown that for now, this conception exists only in words,'' Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev told reporters on April 15, referring to the unannounced NATO airstrikes. ``I do not like it when they tell me one thing and behind my back do something else.''
Echoing Mr. Kozyrev, the defense chief said Moscow would now reexamine the program before making a final decision on whether to join.
Suspicion of Western motives and policies, in Bosnia and more broadly, has now become a constant theme of Russian foreign policy.
``Certain circles in the West unfortunately demonstrate ... a foolhardy behavior,'' Kozyrev told Interfax news agency before his departure for Yugoslavia on Saturday. ``The supporters of war prefer to sit somewhere and press the button. They think of terrific flights and strikes, but they disregard the logic of war.''
Meanwhile, Russia was making efforts to settle conflicts closer to home, within the former Soviet Union. On Friday, at a summit meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which groups 12 former Soviet republics, Russia claimed to have made some progress in resolving conflicts with neighboring Ukraine and in promoting settlement of ongoing wars in Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Russian officials claimed to have gained implicit endorsement of their role as a regional peacekeeper within the former Soviet Union. But other participants disputed that interpretation. According to Reuters news agency, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk said the question was not discussed apart from specific steps to resolve the Karabakh conflict.
The CIS leaders did sign a memorandum of joint participation in protection of the ``outer borders'' of the Commonwealth in Central Asia, an endorsement of an ongoing ``peacekeeping'' operation in Tajikistan, where Russian and other Central Asian troops are battling Islamic guerrillas based in Afghanistan. But a similar memorandum on protection of the borders of Ukraine and Belarus was not signed, Russian President Boris Yeltsin told reporters after the meeting. Moldova has also refused to join any such military arrangement.
Beyond pronouncements, little seemed to have been actually accomplished. Mr. Yeltsin and Ukrainian leader Kravchuk did announce a new deal on splitting the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet, an issue that has been the source of constant tensions including near armed clashes in the past two weeks between Ukrainian and Russian naval forces.
But as has been the case with four previous agreements reached between the two leaders on the same issue, within hours the two sides openly quarreled about the terms of the settlement. Under the agreement, the Black Sea Fleet would be divided, with the two navies stationed separately in Ukraine. Ukraine would retain 15-20 percent of the ships and the specific terms of the division would be worked out within 10 days.
Kravchuk and Ukrainian Defense Minister Vitaly Radetsky immediately made it clear they understood this to mean that the fleet would be divided on a 50-50 basis, as was agreed in earlier deals, with Ukraine selling that portion of its half it did not need to Russia.
Ukrainian officials also stated later in Kiev that they would provide one base - presumably the Sevastopol fleet headquarters in Crimea - to Russia but only on a lease for up to five years.
General Grachev opined on Friday that given that Russia is financing the Fleet in its entirety, ``the fleet is Russia's,'' and there is no basis for talking about giving part of it to Ukraine. Russian presidential spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov on Saturday fired his own salvo, accusing Ukraine of making ``unilateral interpretations of the agreement.''
Yeltsin also failed to make any headway in getting the leaders of warring Azerbaijan and Armenia to sit down together. Azeri leader Gaidar Aliyev denounced Armenia for carrying out a recent offensive in the battle over the status of the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Mr. Aliyev apparently is turning a cold shoulder to yet another Russian-drafted peace plan that does not meet Azeri demands to link withdrawal of Armenian forces from territory seized during the conflict to any cease-fire.
Settlement of the war between Georgia and secessionists in Abkhazia is also stalled. Russian and UN-mediated talks ended another round in Geneva on Friday with no progress on a key issue of whether a proposed UN-peacekeeping force would be stationed only along a border river, as the Abkhazians want, or throughout the region, as Georgia wants. The CIS meeting offered to send their own peacekeepers if the UN balks but offered no indication of how that would take place without resolving this dispute.