BELGRADE -- The Russians may have staged a diplomatic coup. But by injecting themselves even more deeply into the Bosnian drama, they have seized a diplomatic position that may complicate relations between Moscow and Washington.
Bosnian Serbs, responding to a direct appeal from Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, have begun withdrawing heavy weapons and placing them under United Nations control by midnight tomorrow. This, Russian diplomats said, makes the threat of NATO air strikes "senseless" because it amounts to their compliance with NATO's ultimatum.
It is now up to Washington, these diplomats said, to use its influence on the Bosnian Muslim authorities to open the way for a negotiated demilitarization of Sarajevo.
Analysts here say that both the United States and Russia may become prisoners of their policy as well as of unpredictable and frequently uncontrollable forces in the Balkans. For the first time since the collapse of communism in Russia, the two countries could be on a diplomatic collision course. It is a delicate situation for both countries that could turn Bosnia into a major factor in Russian-American relations.
"Bosnia has no strategic importance for the United States, and there is little doubt that the White House would like to forget about it," said Predar Simic, director of the Institute of Strategic Studies here.
"But that is not possible because [of] the U.S. media's focus on Sarajevo. Clearly the U.S. administration could have domestic problems if the NATO ultimatum fails to achieve the desired effects.
"Yeltsin is facing a similar situation. He is under great pressure from the Duma [the Russian parliament], especially from its radical nationalist members. He also could face domestic problems if the Bosnian war escalates into a major conflict."
The Russians have stated their opposition to NATO's threat, and Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev reiterated by saying that "NATO's ultimatum is not binding on us."
Partly as a result of the NATO threat, the Bosnian Serbs recently accepted the idea of placing Sarajevo under U.N. administration for a period of up to two years. The idea was advanced more than a year ago by international negotiator Lord Owen.
Diplomats say this could become the focus of political negotiations and a prelude to similar arrangements for other war-torn areas. But much will depend on the nature of cooperation between Washington and Moscow.