MOSCOW -- With President Clinton's plan to bomb the Serb and arm the Bosnian Muslims shelved in the face of European opposition, Russia is trying to fill the policy vacuum, taking its most visible international role since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Russian foreign minister, Andrei V. Kozyrev, after a tour of Europe and the Balkans to try to organize support for a new Russian initiative, will meet Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher today in Washington. Mr. Kozyrev wants to begin carrying out the Vance-Owen peace plan despite the Bosnian Serbs' opposition, an approach that is viewed with skepticism in Washington.
Whether or not the new Russian initiative, strongly supported by Lord Owen, will have any better fate than Mr. Clinton's much-debated and stillborn efforts, the prominence of Moscow's effort is a kind of coming-out party for the new Russian state.
Taken together with Moscow's use of its veto May 11 in the U.N. Security Council on an unrelated matter about peacekeeping on Cyprus, it is a signal to the world that Russia is emerging from its shell-shocked confusion with a new confidence, more willing to defend its status as a world power and less willing to be taken for granted by Western diplomacy.
The spokesman for President Boris N. Yeltsin, Vyacheslav Kostikov, seemed to confirm that this is the attitude at the Kremlin during a talk with reporters yesterday in Moscow.
"I think that Russia will regain its leadership in world politics," Mr. Kostikov said, according to Reuters. "I think that the European Community should participate in this process more actively, since America comes here with its initiatives but then goes away again while Europe remains on the spot."
Washington appears to regard the Vance-Owen peace plan, which it originally backed, as dead after the formal rejection of it by Bosnian Serbs in a vote last weekend. But Mr. Kozyrev has urged attempting the gradual carrying out of the plan anyway. He is proposing an encirclement of the Balkan problem, allowing the United Nations "to extinguish it step by step."
Officials say the Russians are planning a new U.N. resolution that would combine various proposals already on the table but not yet approved, including a French proposal to create "safe areas" for various populations under threat; the sending of peacekeeping troops to adjoining republics like Kosovo and Macedonia, to deter any spread of the war; and the posting of international monitors along the borders of the Vance-Owen map, to try to guarantee the security of the various Bosnian communities against further "ethnic cleansing" campaigns.
That has created a clear distinction from existing U.S. policy. The U.S. position from early February has been to try to press the Serbs into agreement by the use of sanctions and threats.
But Washington has said it will not take part in carrying out any peace plan, including using U.S. troops as peacekeepers, until all sides have formally ratified a deal.
Western diplomats said yesterday that Mr. Kozyrev's proposals were being considered by the Clinton administration.