Moscow Soothed by US Deal, At Least Until Details Emerge
Presidential show of friendship subdues anti-West fervor
MOSCOW — THE Russians may no longer be left out of the military lineup in Bosnia. That determination reached by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin on Oct. 23 is the good news for Russian national pride, offended by the NATO bombing of the Serbs.
The hearty, upbeat tone of the Yeltsin-Clinton meeting alone casts some optimism in Russia over an issue that has inflamed public opinion against NATO and the West, and that has further undercut already flagging confidence in the Yeltsin administration.
''It's absolutely positive,'' says Vitaly Sevastianov, a Communist deputy in parliament as well as a nationalist who journeyed to the Balkans during NATO bombings to aid the Serbs. ''It's clear that there is agreement. It's a good path.''
Led by nationalists and communists of various parties, Russian parliamentarians have issued a stream of resolutions and bills this fall denouncing Western policy in Bosnia. Russians hold historic sympathies with the Serbs, and NATO bombings in September became a symbol of Russia's powerlessness in European affairs.
Beyond symbolism, many Russians believe that a meaningful role for Russia in the Balkans would enhance the prospects for peace, since the Serbs would be unlikely to adhere to a deal in which their traditional ally, Russia, did not play a role.
A failure to work out a formula would be ''devastating'' to the peace effort there, says Vladimir Averchev, a moderate, liberal parliament deputy on the foreign-affairs committee.
But working out a Bosnia role for Russia remains problematic in practice. Unless the buoyant chief executives decided much more than they were saying - which is possible - the most difficult problems of how to include Russian troops in the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia remain.
Mr. Yeltsin still insists that Russians will not serve under NATO command. Mr. Clinton still insists that Americans will not serve under United Nations command. The presidents left the details to their defense ministers, Pavel Grachev and William Perry, to resolve.
One possible solution is that NATO and Russian troops serve in different territorial sectors under different command structures.
But this is unlikely to be acceptable to the Muslim-led Bosnian government, notes Mr. Averchev, and could lead to a partitioning of Bosnia with NATO troops on one side and Russians on the other that looks uncomfortably like the postwar division of Germany.
In any case, the Russian troop contingent is not likely to be large for financial reasons, says military analyst Pavel Felgengauer. ''It would be smallish and weakish and mostly symbolic,'' he says.
The symbolic effect in Russian politics would be to take much of the power out of Bosnia as a campaign issue before December parliamentary elections here.
The Russian public has not paid much attention to the former Yugoslavia in comparison with its own serious economic problem, according to pollsters and politicians here.
Strikes against the Russian ego
The increasingly independent role of NATO in cracking down on the Serbs, culminating in September airstrikes, began to make an impression on popular opinion. Yet even at the peak of the bombing, Bosnia did not rank as a major election issue, but more of a reminder of how far Russia's international prestige seemed to have fallen.
''The talk of national pride is the talk of elites,'' says Alexander Oslon, director of the Moscow-based Public Opinion Fund. ''At the mass level, people are more concerned with everyday problems.''
Parliament Deputy Averchev agrees, but adds that some politicians used Bosnia as a way of rousing anti-Western feelings as the Dec. 17 parliamentary elections approach. So the agreement Yeltsin and Clinton are determined to reach is very important to Russian domestic politics, he says.
But he is not optimistic that the practical problems will be solved.
''Our president is an emotional person,'' he says. ''He thinks an agreement was reached, and in a few days when he realizes nothing tangible was agreed upon, his mood may change.''