Russian Action on Bosnia Signals Search for Wider Role on World Stage

Article excerpt

NATO has bared its teeth in what formerly was Yugoslavia, and even taken a bite, if only a little one. This has opened the airport in besieged Tuzla.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic announced the opening only after what were described as extremely difficult discussions at the Russian foreign office.

This conferring with the Russians has alarmed many in the West. Some interpret Russia's decision to send observers to Tuzla - to assure the Serbs that the airport will not be used for military purposes - as another sign that the Serbs are correct in claiming that Russia has all but joined the war on Serbia's side. The Serbs made that claim after the Sarajevo retreat.

The Serbs want to believe that a new Slavic alliance has been created that eventually will cause an iron curtain to re-descend, this time not along an ideological line but on a frontier of "race" and religion - a division between civilizations. Only if there is a new cold war between the West and what both the Serbs and Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington identify as "Slavic Orthodox" civilization could Belgrade consolidate the "greater Serbia" it has conquered in the past two and a half years.

Huntington, the prophet of new world wars between civilizations, advances what seems to me an irresponsible and historically ignorant argument. But it certainly suits Karadzic, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and the Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, all of whom have insisted, with some relish, that NATO military intervention in Yugoslavia would bring "the third world war."

However, Russia's government does not seem to agree. This fact is fundamental to understanding the present situation. Russia endorsed NATO's decision Monday to shoot down the Serbian aircraft that violated the U.N. "no-fly" zone. Russia's special envoy to Yugoslavia and deputy foreign minister, Vitaly Churkin,f

said Russia wishes to join NATO's "Partnership for Peace." He said Russia intends to play a responsible role in the Yugoslav affair - the role, as he put it, "of a great sovereign state."

It is in Russia's interest to do so. …