Perspectives on Geopolitics, History, and Political Economy


Eurasia Research Center, 1998

By Alan F. Fogelquist

Post Doctoral Scholar History Department University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)

Paper Presented April 19, 1995 at the International Conference on Bosnia-Hercegovina Organized by Bilkent University and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey – This paper was written before the massacre at Srebrenica and the Dayton Peace Accords.


Although the present Russian policy towards former Yugoslavia is related to political developments inside Russia and the former Soviet republics, it is also the result of the unsuccessful international policy initiated in 1991 by the United States and Western European governments. Russian policy towards the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina has generally followed in tandem the policies of Western Europe and the United States. If the leaders of these countries had correctly diagnosed the nature of the conflict in former Yugoslavia and acted energetically to stop Serbia’s war of aggression against its neighbors, Russia might have followed suit. At the time of the impending breakup of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, the leaders of the United States and Western Europe failed to understand that the movement towards greater independence by non-Serbian and non-Russian nations had become irreversible.  Instead of acting to encourage a peaceful and democratic separation of the members of the two multi-national states, the United States and European leaders tried to discourage political leaders in both the non-Serbian and non-Russian republics from seeking independence. When Croatian representatives came to the United States in the fall of 1990 to discuss a plan for the peaceful reorganization of Yugoslavia as a confederation, American Secretary of State James Baker and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, told them that the United States was not interested in such a plan. They were told that the Bush Administration favored the preservation of both Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union as unified states, if necessary, by military force.

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA – JULY 01: Daily Life In A Besieged City In Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina In July, 1993 – Arijana Saracevic, reporter for TVBH channel TV and her cameraman. (Photo by Laurent VAN DER STOCKT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

After the Yugoslav Army launched a full-scale invasion of Croatia, the United States, France, and Britain supported a Serbian initiated Security Council resolution to impose an arms embargo on all of the Yugoslav republics which froze in place the Serbian controlled Yugoslav Army’s monopoly on heavy weaponry and air power and prevented the non-Serbian republics from defending themselves adequately against Serbian aggression. United Nations Secratary General Boutros Boutros Ghali oversaw the extension of the embargo to the newly independent non-Serbian republics even after Yugoslavia had ceased to exist as a recognized entity thus preventing Bosnia-Hercegovina’s receiving military aid from a host of countries including the United States.

In the fall of 1991 the European Community and the United Nations began its long and fruitless series of negotiations to end the armed conflicts in former Yugoslavia. All have failed because of the military imbalance locked into place by the UN arms embargo. Serbian forces armed and financed by Milosevic’s Serbia continue their occupation of lands seized by force in both Croatia and Bosnia and to continue their campaigns to seize new territories in Bosnia. Neither efforts to reason with President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and his allies in Serbia’s “near abroad nor economic sanctions imposed on Serbia have induced the Serbian leadership to change its policy. All have  come to a dead end. Serbia still refuses to recognize the independence and territorial integrity of the non-Serbian republics. The Serbs have refused to end their campaign to establish a Greater Serbia by force. Only the will of the Slovenian, Croatian, and Bosnian peoples and efforts of their defense forces though hampered by the embargo, have prevented the Serbians from achieving total military victory over their more poorly armed opponents.[1]

Russia’s Initial Bosnia Policy

At the time the United States, France, Britain, and several other European countries were formulating the basic policies of the international community towards former Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union was in its death agony and Russia was too absorbed in internal power struggles to play a significant role in international policy towards former Yugoslavia. In the first months after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the newly independent Russian government of Boris Yeltsin supported West European and American sponsored proposals for resolving the Yugoslav conflict. After the Serbian led invasion of Bosnia on April 7, 1992, Russian voted in favor of a series of United Nations resolutions identifying the government of Serbia/Yugoslavia and its para-military allies in Bosnia as the aggressors in the conflict. On April 27, 1992 Russia extended diplomatic recognition to Bosnia-Hercegovina and since then has officially supported the territorial integrity of the country, something which Serbian President Milosevic and his Bosnian Serb allies have steadfastly refused to do.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin, right, and his Yugoslav counterpart Slobodan Milosevic, shake hands during their meeting in Moscow's Kremlin, Tuesday, June 16, 1998. Melosevic agreed Tuesday to negotiate peace with Kosovo separatists, Yeltsin told a Russian news agency. An unidentified translator is in the background. (AP Photo/ Pool)

Russian President Boris Yeltsin, right, and his Yugoslav counterpart Slobodan Milosevic, shake hands during their meeting in Moscow’s Kremlin, Tuesday, June 16, 1998. Milosevic agreed Tuesday to negotiate peace with Kosovo separatists, Yeltsin told a Russian news agency. An unidentified translator is in the background. (AP Photo/ Pool)

On May 30, 1992 Russia voted in favor of a United States and European sponsored resolution in the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on rump Yugoslavia or Serbia-Montenegro. The sanctions included a ban on trade, technical cooperation and cultural exchange and sports competition between Yugoslavia and other nations belonging to the UN. The resolution also imposed a freeze on Yugoslav bank deposits abroad. The purpose of the sanctions was to force Serbia-Montenegro to end its military interference and support for ethnic persecution in Bosnia.[2]  The decision of the Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev to vote in favor of sanctions against Serbia immediately drew fire in the Russian press. The Russian government was accused of selling out Russia’s security interests in the Balkans and Russia’s “historic ally Serbia” in order to obtain western dollars.[3]

Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev defended his policy towards former Yugoslavia in an article in Izvestia dated June 8, 1992. In this article Kozyrev indicated that during a recent trip to Sarajevo he had convinced all of the parties to the conflict in Bosnia “to adopt a mutually beneficial plan for putting a cease-fire into effect.” The plan, he said, “was wrecked by the vigorous actions of armed forces controlled by or dependent on Belgrad.” Because of the Serbian refusal to abide by Kozyrev’s cease-fire proposal, Russian President Boris Yeltsin decided to vote in favor of the United Nations sanctions against former Yugoslavia. Kozyrev answered the nationalist and neo-communist opponents who were demanding that Russia support Serbia in the following way: “If the Russian Federation were to recklessly support only the Serbian national-Bolsheviks out of all the South Slavs,” he wrote, “it would be left in isolation in the Balkans, in the CSCE and in the UN. But the fact that Russia itself would be betrayed is no less important. After all, in Moscow today essentially the same forces are consolidating as are doing so in Belgrade. They are trying to push us into the same abyss.”[4]

Events in Russia’s Near Abroad

While Kozyrev was struggling to defend Russia’s policy towards Bosnia-Hercegovina, Russian Army units stationed in Moldova were assisting an armed rebellion of Russian separatists in the Transdniester region against the legally constituted government of that country. The Transdniester rebels obtained weaponry from Russian army sources and the Russian Army units in Moldova prevented the Moldovan police from reestablishing control over rebel areas.

TIRASPOL, MOLDOVA – OCTOBER, 19: A man and his grandson pass a Soviet T-34 tank, commemorating the Soviet victory in World War II on October 19, 2008 in front of the Transnistrian Government building in Tiraspol, Moldova. Tiraspol is the second largest city in Moldova and is the capital and administrative center of the de facto independent Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (Transnistria). The city is located on the eastern bank of the Dniester River. Tiraspol is a regional hub of light industry, such as furniture and electrical goods production. The Trans-Dnistrian Moldavian Republic, locatet in the eastern region of the country, is internationally not acknowledged but does have its own president, currency and army. Transnistria – an internationally unrecognized state is part of Moldavia. The region has been de facto independent since 1991, after making a unilateral declaration of independence from Moldova and successfully defeated Moldavian forces in the war of Transnistria. Since than a ceasefire has held but Transnistria – where the most of the Moldavian Industry is located – is still a ‘frozen conflict’ region. (Photo by Matthias Schumann/Getty Images)

Russian behavior in Moldova was reminiscent of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s policy of promoting armed rebellions of local Serbs, first in Croatia starting in 1990 and later in Bosnia. Moldova had angered Russia by refusing to join the Russian sponsored Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). On June 21, 1992 immediately after his return from a visit to the United States, President Yeltsin indicated that Russia was ready to send troops to Moldova in order “to protect” the Russian minority in that country.  In July 1992, Yeltsin pressured Moldovan President Mircea Snegur into accepting a ceasefire and the stationing of a Russian and Commonwealth peacekeeping force in the Transdniester. Only after the Moldovan government agreed to join the Russian-sponsored Commonwealth in October of 1993 did Russia agree on a plan to withdraw its “peacekeeping” forces from the country.[5]

Abkhazia. Servicemen of the Russian rapid action team participate in a military training during the 1992-1993 Georgian (Photo by TASS via Getty Images)

Russian actions in Moldova were a clear indication that the Yeltsin government was about to adopt some of the policies towards neighboring countries that had been recommended by the “national-Bolsheviks.”In July 1992, the Georgian government gave into Russian pressure and agreed to accept a Russian peacekeeping force in the region of South Ossetia where South Ossetian separatists were engaged in an armed rebellion against the Georgian government. The Russians supported the South Ossetian demand for autonomy and the rebels were able to obtain weaponry from North Ossetia, which was part of the Russian federation.[6]  Through its support of the South Ossetian and later Abkhazian groups rebelling against the Georgian government, Russia was able to exert pressure on Georgia to join the Commonwealth of Independent States and to agree to the continuation of Russian military bases in the country.  In 1992 and 1993, Russia used similar methods in an effort to force Azerbaijan to join the Commonwealth. When the two countries agreed to Russian demands the pressure was reduced.[7]

Guards search a Muslim man at the Pianche border post December, 1992 in Tajikistan. After the fall of Tajikistan’s short-lived Islamic regime in 1992, forces from the Kulyeb region linked to the former Soviet administration waged war against remaining pockets of Islamic resistance and raided villages suspected of collaboration, acts which provoked thousands of refugees to flee across the border to Afghanistan. (Photo by Malcolm Linton/Liaison)

At roughly the same time, the 201st Motor Rifle Division of the Russian Army stationed in Tajikistan was assisting an armed rebellion of hard-line Communists against a Tajik coalition government composed of democrats, moderate Islamists, and former Communists. In the last months of 1992, instead of supporting national reconciliation of Tajik political groups, the Russian and Uzbek military units helped hard-line communist forces to reestablish their control of the country.  After the Tajik neo-Communists had driven the democratic and Islamic groups out of the capital city they began a reign of terror under which tens of thousands of civilians were murdered in cold blood, several hundred thousands were driven from their homes and entire regions were laid to waste. Russian air and ground forces participated in the scorched earth campaign against areas controlled by supporters of the former Government of National Reconciliation.[8]  The Russian’s justified their support of the Tajik neo-Communists as necessary to prevent the spread of “Islamic fundamentalism”, to serve as “peacekeepers” in an effort to put an end to “ethnic warfare between Tajiks,” and to prevent arms shipments to Tajik military factions from neighboring Afghanistan.[9]

Internal Events in Russia

In the course of 1992, despite Yeltsin’s foreign policy concessions to hardliners, Yeltsin’s government began to face strong opposition from groups within the Russian parliament or Congress of Peoples’ Deputies which had been elected during the Communist period.  The monetarist inspired “shock therapy” of Yeltsin’s Economics Minister Yegor Gaydar brought spiraling inflation and a loss in income for pensioners and others with fixed incomes. Gaidar’s efforts to marketize, restructure and privatize Russian industry led to a sharp fall in industrial production and unemployment. Private enterprise failed to grow fast enough to absorb the unemployed. Thousands of Russian military men evacuated from Eastern Europe added to the problem of joblessness and unemployment.  Economic hardship and the relaxation of authoritarian controls, and the elimination of restrictions on travel abroad by former Soviet citizens led to an increase in crime, drug and weapons trading, and racketeering.  New violent criminal organizations specializing in extortion, racketeering, and drug and weapons trade developed ties to members of the former nomenklatura and the military.  Thousands of unemployed veterans of the Soviet War in Afghanistan became available for work as mercenaries and weapons traders in the ethnic conflicts and lawlessness resulting from a collapse of government authority in the border regions of the new Russian Federation and the newly independent nations of Central Asia and the Caucasus. Economic hardship and insecurity provided themes for hard-line neo-Communists and nationalists in Russia.[10]

By the beginning of 1992 Alexander Rutskoi, the vice-president chosen personally by Yeltsin and Ruslan Khasbulatov, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, another former supporter of Yeltsin, had emerged as leaders of an opposition movement bitterly opposed to Gaidar’s economic policies and Kozyrev’s western-oriented foreign policy. By the end of 1992, the opposition groups were moving towards a power struggle against the Russian president which reached a climax in late September of 1993 when Rutskoi and Khasbulatov led the parliamentarians in an armed revolt that almost succeeded in overthrowing the government. The rebellion was quelled only after Yeltsin had ordered loyal military forces to storm the Russian parliament building. Yeltsin’s military action inflicted great damage on his political reputation as an authentic democratic leader and henceforth his policies moved closer to those hard-line military leaders whose support he needed to maintain order and remain in power.[11]

Russia New Policy towards Bosnia

Even before the dramatic events of October 1993, changes in the political environment and opposition criticism were having a visible effect on Russian foreign policy. In December of 1992 at a Stockholm meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation for Europe (CSCE), Andrei Kozyrev hinted at the changes that would take place in Russia’s foreign policy doctrine when he stated, “The space of the former Soviet Union cannot be viewed as a zone where the CSCE norms can be applied in full. This is in effect a post-imperial space where Russia has to defend its interests by all available means including military and economic ones. We shall firmly insist that the former republics of the USSR immediately join the new federation or Confederation and this will be discussed in no uncertain terms.” Kozyrev demanded that sanctions against Serbia/Yugoslavia be lifted and accused the NATO countries of interfering in the internal affairs of Bosnia and former Yugoslavia. He stated that “Great Russia” would support the present Serbian government.  Some forty-five minutes later he returned to the podium and told a stunned audience that these statements had come from a list of demands made by members of the moderate opposition and did not reflect his own views or those of President Yeltsin. In reality the views stated by Kozyrev earlier part in the meeting reflected the actual practice of Russian military and diplomatic policy in recent months and were very close to what has actually become Russia’s official geopolitical doctrine.[12]

In 1993 western governments became progressively weaker in their commitment to the defense of Bosnian sovereignty.  Resolutions passed at the end of August 1992 at the London Conference on the Former Yugoslavia which declared Bosnia the victim of Serbian aggression, affirmed Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, called for all foreign forces to withdraw from Bosnia and for the Bosnian Serbs to place all heavy weapons under United Nations control remained unenforced. Serbian military aircraft continued to fly over Bosnia for months in violation of a ban on military flights imposed by the United Nations in September of 1992.

In January 1993, UN special envoy Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen, the representative of the European Community presented a new peace plan calling for the division of Bosnia-Hercegovina into ethnically based provinces. The Russian government officially supported the Vance-Owen initiative, but simultaneously called for the United Nations to reduce the economic and diplomatic sanctions against Serbia as an incentive to induce the Serbs to accept the plan.

While Bosnian Serb representatives participated in negotiations on the details of the Vance-Owen Plan, Serbian military forces mounted an intensified campaign to seize areas of eastern Bosnia which had been assigned under the plan to provinces with a Bosnian Muslim majority. During the Serbian campaign to conquer eastern Bosnia some four divisions of “Yugoslav” or Serbo-Montenegrin  regular army troops, entered Bosnia from Serbia.[13]

The initial Serbian force of approximately 50,000 had been nearly doubled by spring of this1993 and during this spring campaign Serbian forces were able to overrun completely the Bosnian government areas in eastern Bosnian after cutting them off from food, fuel, and munitions supplies.[14]

Ignoring the Serbian campaign in Eastern Bosnia, the Russian government persisted in its demand that sanctions against Serbia/Yugoslavia be reduced. At the end of January 1993, when Croatian military forces seized some territories illegally occupied by the Krajina Serbs, Russia demanded that the UN Securty Council impose sanctions on Croatia.[15]   There was a reported secret deal signed on January 22, 1992 according to which the Russians agreed to provide Serbian forces in Croatia with tanks and anti-aircraft missiles.[16]

On February 24, 1993, Kozyrev demanded a strengthening of the arms embargo against all of the groups fighting in Bosnia, a measure that would serve to reinforce the Serbian advantage in weaponry. He insisted on Russia’s right to pursue its own policy towards the Balkans. At the same time the Russian Foreign Ministry began to define the Bosnian conflict as an ethnic conflict in which it was “impossible to determine who is right and who is wrong.”[17]

YUGOSLAVIA – JULY 12: The Serbian army of Mladic in Srebrenica, Yugoslavia on July 12, 1995. (Photo by Art ZAMUR/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

The Serbian blockade and bombardment of the eastern Bosnian towns of Zepa, Srebrenica, Cerska, and Gorazde and the threat of mass death through hunger and disease of thousands of civilians in these areas brought new calls for international action to stop the slaughter. In April 1993, the Clinton Administration’s increased pressure on the Serbs to end their bombardment of Bosnian towns and to accept the Vance-Owen Plan. The United States supported a United Nations initiative to introduce new tougher sanctions against Serbia. President Clinton openly announced that the United States was prepared to use air strikes against Serbian positions in Bosnia and called for the lifting of the arms embargo against Bosnia. Milosevic, genuinely frightened by these threats, put pressure on Karadzic and the Bosnian Serbs to sign the Vance-Owen plan,  agreed to United Nations monitoring of Serbia’s borders with Bosnia, and announced that he was cutting off military aid to his clients in Bosnia.

Russia desperately sought to block the United States proposal to use military force against Serbian forces in Bosnia. On April 12,1993, the Russians persuaded the Clinton administration to postpone a proposal to tighten sanctions against Serbia in order not to create embarrassing conditions for Boris Yeltsin in his effort to win a referendum on April 25, 1992.[18]  As a result of new public pressure arising from the Serbs’ blockade and savage bombardment of the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica, the Security Council passed a resolution to tighten trade sanctions against Serbia on April 17, 1993. Russia agreed not to veto the resolution on the condition that its implementation be postponed unitil after Yeltsin’s referendum.

At the beginning of May 1993, President Clinton sent Secretary of State Warren Christopher on a trip to Europe “to consult with our European Allies”. Christopher, an unenthusiastic supporter of the ‘lift and strike” option allowed himself to be talked out of this option.  The British and French governments were adamantly opposed to air strikes or the lifting of the arms embargo fearing for the safety of their peacekeeping contingents in Bosnia.[19]  As soon as the threat of military intervention was removed, the Serbian forces intensified their military campaign against vulnerable Bosnian government controlled enclaves in Eastern Bosnia. It soon became clear that the Serbian government had resumed the supply of fuel, weapons and ammunition to its proxies in Bosnia and Croatia. The Vance-Owen plan collapsed on May 17, 1993 when the unelected “parliament” of the illegal Serbian puppet state the Repuiblika srpska voted to reject the plan and the international community took no action to enforce it. After the failure of the Vance-Owen initiative, the Clinton administration decided to withdraw and allow Russia and Europe to develop an alternate plan.

The Russian government sharply criticized the Bosnian Serbs’ rejection of the Vance-Owen Plan and expressed its support for tightened sanctions against Serbia. On May 19, 1993, Russian Foreign Minister Kozyrev introduced a new plan, elaborated after consultation with western European leaders, to create “safe havens” around Sarajevo and five other cities controlled by the Bosnian government. Kozyrev also announced that Russia was ready to contribute troops to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Bosnia. On June 4, 1993, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution declaring several Bosnian towns and their surrounding areas as “safe havens” which were to receive United Nations military protection.[20]    In the following months Serbian forces continued to bombard all of the “safe havens” with no military response from United Natins forces.  On June 17, 1993 Lord Owen declared the Vance-Owen Plan to be dead.

At the end of June 1993,  Serbian forces supported by helicopter gunships in violation of the ban on military air flights over Bosnia, seized control of Mounts Bjela¹nica and Igman immediately to the southeast of Sarajevo.  Once again the Clinton Administration called for NATO to resort to air strikes if Serbian forces failed to end their assault against Sarajevo. Once again Russia strenuously opposed military action against the Serbs. Supported by Russia, France, and Britain, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali insisted any airstrikes against Serbian positions must have his own seal of approval and that of UNPROFOR commanders in Bosnia. President Clinton and Secretary of State Cristopher acquiesced in the secretary general’s demand thus reducing the probability of effective military action. In agreeing to this demand, the Clinton administration had effectively given the UN Secretary General and UN Peacekeeping Officials veto power over military action against Bosnia, a dangerous precedent for the future of NATO[21].

At Geneva peace talks, which resumed in August 1993, Lord Owen and the new United Nations Envoy Thorvald Stoltenberg introduced a new plan for the partition of Bosnia into three ethnically homogeneous mini-states which were to be loosely associated in a Union of Republics of Bosnia Hercegovina. If accepted, depending on how it was interpreted and implemented, the plan could serve to ratify most of the Serbian territorial conquests and lead to Bosnia’s demise as a unified multi-ethnic democracy.[22]

According to this plan, the Serbian dominated republic would receive 42 percent of the territory of Bosnia-Hercegovina; the Bosnian “Muslim” reppublic, 31 percent; and the Croatian republic 17 percent.[23]  This plan has remained the world community’s basic formula for resolution of the Bosnian conflict despite some minor modifications introduced in June 1994 by the Contact Group which includes representatives of the United Nations, and the United States, Russian, French, British, and German governments.

The Russian government has officially supported the Owen-Stoltenberg proposal since the introduction in August 1993, but has repeatedly opposed efforts to use military force either to impose the plan on Serbia or to stop renewed Serbian offensives against Bosnian cities. After the Russian elections of December 1993 and the electoral success of the Russian ultra-nationalists led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the strong showing of the neo-communists, Russian policy became even more openly pro-Serbian. The Russians either opposed or raised serious reservations against the use of UN or NATO forces when the Serbs carried out assaults on the “safe havens” of Sarajevo in February of 1994, on Gorazde in April of 1994, on Tuzla in the summer of 1994, and on Bihac in december of 1995.

On February 5, 1994 when mortar fire attributed to Bosnian Serb forces killed dozens of innocent civilians at the Sarajevo marketplace, this massacre elicited a new outcry in the press and new demands for stiffer measures against  the Serbs.  On February 9, when NATO threatened airstrikes against Serbian positions unless the Serbs agreed to end the siege of Sarajevo, Russia stepped in to provide Serbian forces attacking Sarajevo with a face saving way to escape military action. The Russians persuaded the Serbs to agree to the basic conditions of a United Nations ultimatum in return for the introduction of Russian peacekeeping forces in the Sarajevo area. On February 21, 1994 UN envoy Yashushi Akashi announced that the Serbs had agreed to withdraw their heavy weaponry from a twenty kilometer perimeter around Sarajevo.[24]  It was undoubtedly the threat of NATO airstrikes under the umbrella of the United Nations more than Russian mediation which produced those concessions.

Ever since the Bosnian Serbs voted to reject the revised Owen-Stoltenberg or Contact Group Plan in a referendum held on August 27 and 28, 1994, they have continued their military campaign against the forces of the Bosnian Croat-Muslim Federation.[25]

Under Russian pressure, Milosevic announced that he was discontinuing any assistance to the Bosnian Serbs that he would close Serbia’s borders with Bosnia, and he agreed to allow United Nations civilian monitors to oversee the blockade. On the recommendation of Russia, the United Nations Security Council voted on October 5, 1994 to reward Serbia/Yugoslavia by removing bans on international air flights and ferry traffic by Yugoslav planes and ships as well as the ban on Yugoslavia’s participation in international sports and cultural events.[26]  In late September 1994, a German Intelligence official reported that Russian made arms such as 100 mm anti-tank guns and 120mm mortars had been transferred to Serbia.[27]

It soon became apparent that the border blockade was a complete farce. Serbia did not wait long before the resumption of military and fuel supplies to the Bosnian Serbs thus countering the modest improvements in weapons supplies to the Bosnian Muslims and Croatians, who remained severely hampered by the continued UN arms embargo. In November 1994, with fuel, food, and ammunition across the poorly monitored frontier with Serbia and Serbian controlled areas of Croatia,  the Bosnian and Croatian Serbs began a concentrated counter-attack against the Bosnian Army in the Bihac enclave. Fikret Abdic’s troops, which had taken refuge in Serbian controlled areas of the “Serbian Republic of the Krajina” in Croatia joined the Serbian assault. Within a few weeks, Serbian forces regained all areas lost in the previous Bosnian offensive and were at the doorsteps of the city of Bihac.

Throughout the Serbian assault on Bihac, Russia officials repeatedly expressed their opposition to air strikes and the lifting of the arms embargo against Bosnia. For the first two weeks of December 1994, Serbian forces in the Bihaæ area surrounded, blockaded and bombarded some 1,200 Bangladeshis belonging to the UN peace keeping contingent in the region. One wounded Bangladeshi died for lack of medical treatment. On December 13, the Serbians fired anti-tank missiles at a Bangladeshi armored personnel carrier and continued bombarding the UN “safe zone” of Bihac.[28]  Not only were Bosnian and Croatian Serbs attacking a UN declared “safe zone”, but there was increasing evidence of the Milo¹eviæ regime’s direct military support to them.  The pilot of a Croatian Serb helicopter which crashed over Bihac was found to be a native and citizen of Serbia.  Members of a paramilitary group which beat two international newsmen wore the insignia of an elite military unit from Serbia and identified themselves as Serbian. Bosnian Serb forces were found to be using SA-3 and SA-6 surface-to air missiles capable of shooting down NATO aircraft patrolling Bosnia.

The war in Bosnia continues unabated today. A Bosnian ceasefire negotiated by former United States President Jimmy Carter has collapsed and fighting is now taking place all over Bosnia.  Western and Russian policy towards Bosnia remains unchanged. On April 12, 1995, the United Nations fired Major General Alexander Pereljakin, the commander of Russian peacekeeping forces in eastern Croatia for aiding armed Serbian guerrillas opposing the legitimate Croatian government. The previous commander of Russian peacekeepers in eastern Croatia had formed a trading company with a Serbian guerrilla leader suspected of war crimes.[29]

Western Acquiescence to Russian Pressure

Current Russian attitudes have now become a convenient excuse used by of a United States and European for their failure to address the root cause of the Balkan conflict, Serbian aggression and Serbia’s unchallenged military superiority in the region. The failure of the international community to confront Serbian aggression in the Balkans has, moreover  encouraged hard-line elements in the Russian military, intelligence and political establishment to emulate Serbian policies in Russia’s near abroad. One of the results is the war in Chechnya.

While Russia continues to oppose any effective measure to stop  Serbian aggression in the Balkans, Russian policy towards its own neighbors has become more aggressive and potentially more dangerous to world security. While Serbian forces were attacking Bihac, the Yeltsin government began its military campaign to crush the Chechen movement for independence. Far from acting to protect the lives of Russians living in Chechnya, Russian forces conducted weeks of artillery and aerial bombardment against Grozny the Chechen capital, destroying residential neighborhoods and killing many Russian speaking residents of the city. Russia has continued to intervene in the affairs of neighboring countries. Under Russian pressure Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova agreed to join the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russian military forces in Tajikistan were increased and continued to carry out a destructive war against armed groups belonging to the opposition to Tajikistan’s neo-Communist government. Russia continues to postpone completing the withdrawal of its military forces from the Baltic states. None of the countries neighboring Russia is secure.


The NATO countries should not allow their policies towards former Yugoslavia and the newly independent countries of the former Soviet Union to be held hostage to the wishes of Russian or Serbian ultra-nationalists. Far from containing the conflict, failure to halt Serbian aggression in Bosnia is likely to encourage Serbian attacks on other regions and serve as a model for extreme nationalist groups in Russia and the former Soviet Union.  Lack of western resolve with respect to former Yugoslavia will only encourage the hardliners in Moscow to continue the brutal policies they have already applied to Tajikistan and Chechnya. The United States, Turkey and other countries must refuse to accept  the new Russian geopolitical claims that Russia has the right to intervene militarily at any time in the newly independent nations which formerly belonged to the Soviet empire. Appeasement of Russian ultra-nationalism and militarism will not help genuine Russian democrats and may lead to larger wars that will directly involve NATO countries. If the United States and other NATO countries fail to act soon to assist Bosnia and to oppose Russian intervention against neighboring countries, they will lose political support and make new enemies throughout much of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Islamic world. Belief in democracy and the rule of law will be undermined and chaos and disorder will spread to new regions. The only alternative appears to be a repetition of past failed policies and a continuation of the war with no end in sight.


© Copyright 1995 Alan F. Fogelquist, Ph. D.



[1]For background on the breakup of Yugoslavia and the outbreak of war in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia see Mark Almond, Europe’s Backyard War (London: Heinemann, 1994); Bogdan Denitch, Ethnic Nationalism: The Tragic Death of Yugoslavia  (Minneapolis, Universith of Minnestota Press, 1994); Alan Fogelquist, Handbook of Facts on: the Break-up of Yugoslavia, International Policy, and the War in Bosnia Hercegovina (Ann Arbor: AEIOU Publishing, 1993); Branka Magas, The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracing the Breakup 1980-92 (London: Verso, 1993); and Noel Malcolm, Bosnia: A Short History (London: Macmillan, 1994).


[2]Izvestia,(1 June 1992), pp. 1,4. and United Nations Department of Public Information, The United Nations and the Situation in the Former Yugoslavia , Reference Paper 7 May 1993 (New York: United Nations, 1993), pp. 55-60.


[3]Pravda, (2 June 1992), p. 3 and Izvestia (4 June 1992), p. 6.


[4]Izvestia, (8 June 1992), pp. 1, 4.


[5]William Crather, ‘Moldova After Independence,” Current History 93, No. 585, pp. 342-347; “Violence flares in Azerbaijan and Moldova,” Los Angeles Times (31 March 1992), p. A-6; “Russia Threatens Use of Military in Ethnic Conflicts,” Los Angeles Times (22 June 1992), p. A-1;  “End to Moldova Fighting Seen,” Los Angeles Times (4 July 1992), p. A-4; “Ex-Soviets Will Form Peacekeeping Force,” Los Angeles Times (7 July 1992), p. A-18; and “Russia, Moldova Agree on Troop Withdrawal,” (11 August 1994), p. A-12.


[6]John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Ethnic Conflict Project, typescript of forthcoming publication (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1994), pp. 45- 48 and Elizabeth Shogren, Georgian Region Gets Peacekeepers,” Los Angeles Times (15 July 1995), p. A-4.


[7]Thomas Goltz, “The Hidden Russian Hand,” Foreign Policy, No. 92 (Fall 1993), pp 92-116; and Harvard University Ethnic Conflict Project, pp. 45-61


[8]Harvard University Ethnic Conflict Project, pp. 40-45; Helsinki Watch, Human Rights in Tajikistan: In the Wake of Civil War (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993, pp. xv-xxiii; Shodmon Yusof, Tajikestan Beha-ye Azadi (Tehran: Nashr-e Farhang-e Eslami, 1994), pp. 345-306; and “Tadzhikskaia tragediya den’ za dnem,” Charoghi Ruz No. 1 (1994), pp. 10-11


[9]Some after the fact justifications for the blatant Russian intervention in the affairs of Tajikistan appear in Andrei Kozyrev’s recent book Preobrazhenie (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnaia otnoshenia, 1994), pp. 190-193.


[10]Marshal Goldman, Lost Opportunity: Why Economic Reforms in Russia Have Not Worked (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1994); Michael McFaul, “Russian Politics: The Calm Before the Storm?” Current History 93, No. 585 (October 1994), pp. 313-319; Lilia Shevtsova, “Russia’s Post-communist Politics: Revolution or Continuity,” in The New Russia: Troubled Transformation, ed. Gail W. Lapidus, (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1995), pp. 5-36; and Claire Sterling, Thieves World: The Threat of the New Global Network of Organized Crime (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1994), pp. 35-113 and 159-225; and Georgii Vachnadze, Goryackkie Tochki Rosii (Moscow: Kniga, 1993).


[11]See Ruslan Khasbulatov, Velika Rosiiskaya Tragedia, Vol I (Moscow: TOO Sims, 1994); Aleksandr Rutskoi, Lefortovskie Protokoly (Moscow: Palea, 1994); Mc Faul, pp. 313-314; Shevtsova, pp. 15-24; Steven White, “Russia: Yeltsin’s Kingdom or Parliamentary Playground,” Current History 92, No. 596, pp. 309-313; and Boris Yeltsin, Boris Yeltsin: The Struggle for Russia, Trans. Cathrine A. Fitzpatrick, (New York: Random House, 1994)


[12]Andrei Pushkov, “Andrei Kozyrev Stuns his Colleagues in Stockholm,” Moscow News 20-27 December 1992, p. 13.


[13]See Stanley Meisler and Laura Silber,  “Serbs Overrun Muslim Enclave; Airdrop on Hold,” Los Angeles Times (4 March 1993), p. A1 and p. A18; John F. Burns, “Serbs Intensify Sarajevo Attack; UN Fears A Final All-Out Push,” New York Times (23 March 1993), p. A1;   Carol J. Williams, “Diplomats Report All-Out Serb Offensive in East Bosnia,” Los Angeles Times (17 March 1993), p. A4;  John F. Burns, “Ethnic Cleansing Infects New Areas of Bosnia,” New York Times 21 April 1993, p. A6; Stephen Kinzler, “Serbs Reject Bosnia pact Defying Friends and Foes and Insist on Referendum,” New York Times, p. A5; John Pomfret, “Bosnian Serbs Demands Now Include Expelling Thousands of Muslims,” p. A21; “U.S., Europe Follow Russian Lead Toward a Balkan Strategy,” The Boston Globe (21 May 1993), p. 5; John Lancaster, “NATO Unable to Agree on How to Protect Bosnian Muslims,” Washington Post (26 May 1993, p. A21; Chuck Sudetic, “Serbian Forces Said to Overrun Muslim Villages,” New York Times (3 June 1993), p. A7.


[14]See ” Milo¹eviæev embargo za braæu naoru¾anu do zuba,” Nedjeljna Dalmacija (12 May 1993), pp. 7-8; “Srpski General Mladic dobitce cin vojvode!” Globus (18 June 1994), pp. 9-10; Dr. Milan Vego, “Federal Army Deployments in Bosnia and Hercegovina,” Jane’s Intelligence Review October 1992, pp. 445-449.


[15]Izvestia (26 January 1993), p. 3.


[16]Sabrina Petra Ramet, “The Bosnian War and the Diplomacy of Accommodation,” Current History 93, No. 586


[17]Michael Dobbs, “Russia Unveils Plan to end Bosnia War,” Washington Post (25 February 1993), p. a14.


[18]John M. Goshko and Julia Preston, “U.S. Agrees to a Delay on Balkans Russia Is Pressing U.N. to Postpone Serbia Sanctions,” Washington Post (13 April 1993) p. a1.


[19]The entire debacle of international policy towards Bosnia and the collapse of the Vance Owen Plan can be seen the headlines of the New York Times and other leading newspapers. See John F. Burns, “Ethnic Cleansing Infects New Areas of Bosnia,” New York Times 21 April 1993, p. A6; Ray Cohen, “U.S. and Allies Split on Bosnia Arms,” New York Times (22 April 1993), p. A8; Gwenn Ifill, “Clinton Considers Bosnia Air Strikes: Sees Allied Accord,” New York Times (24 April, 1993), Part 1, p. 1 and 4; John Darton, “Bosnian Serbs Set to Reject Peace Plan,” New York Times (26 April 1993), p. A1 and A4; R.W. Apple, “Clinton Says U.S. Must Harden Line Towards Serbs,” New York Times (27 April 1993), p. A1 and p. A6; R W. Apple, “Top Bosnian Serb Facing U.S. Action Signs A Peace Plan,” New York Times (3 May 1993), p. A1 and A4;  Elaine Sciolino, “Christopher Seeks Backing on Bosnia,” New York Times (3 May 1993), p. A4; Elaine Sciolino, “Allies Still Resist Arms for Bosnia”, New York Times (4 May 1993), p. A6; Ian Mather and Dusko Doder, “NATO Plans New Havens for All Sides,”  The European (30 April to 6 May 1993), Part 1, p. 1: Stephen Kinzler, “Serbs Reject Bosnia pact Defying Friends and Foes and Insist on Referendum,” New York Times, p. A5; Jimm Mann, “U. S. Renews Efforts for Allied Action on Bosnia,” Los Angeles Times (10 May 1993), p. A1 and A6; Paul Lewis, “U.N. Near Accord to Watch Serbian Frontier,” 13 May 1993, p. A1 and A6; John F. Burns, “Nationalist Serbs Rejection of Pact Means the End of Bosnia,” New York Times (17 May 1993), p. A1 and A6; Stephen Kinzer New York Times (17 May 1993), 1993, p. A6; Daniel Williams and Eugene Robinson, “Clinton Yields to Europe on Balkan Moves: U.S. Proposals to Use Force Put Aside, at Least for Now,” Washington Post ( 18 May, 1993), p. A1 and p. A17; John Pomfret, “Bosnian Serbs Demands Now Include Expelling Thousands of Muslims,” p. A21; “U.S., Europe Follow Russian Lead Toward a Balkan Strategy,” The Boston Globe (21 May 1993), p. 5; John Lancaster, “NATO Unable to Agree on How to Protect Bosnian Muslims,” Washington Post (26 May 1993, p. A21; Chuck Sudetic, “Serbian Forces Said to Overrun Muslim Villages,” New York Times (3 June 1993), p. A7.


[20]Security Council Resolution 827 (1993), 25 May 1993.


[21]For a detailed accounts  of the Serbian campaign to take Mounts Igman and Bjela¹nica see Interview with Zaim Backoviæ Bagi, member of Supreme Command of the Armija BiH, “Mi branimo sve narode,” Oslobodjenje (17 December 1993), p. 8; Interview with General Rasim Deliæ, Supreme Commander of the Armija BiH, Ljiljan (22-29 September 1993), pp. 6-7.  See Brian Love, “U.S. Says Air Strike Threat to Serbs Very Real,” Reuter (3 August 1993); Peter Holmes, “Fighting Flares As Bosnia Peace Talks Falter,” Reuter (3 August 1993); “Bartholomw spells out NATO threat to Serbs,” Reuter (4 August 1993); Robert Evans, “Time-out in Bosnia Talks as Serbs and Croats Leave,” Reuter (4 August 1993);  Jeanne Kirkpatrick, “Our First Post-Cold War Failure,” Washington Post (9 August 1993); “Sarajevo Quiet But War Continues in Ex-Yugoslavia,” (9 August 1993); “Muslim Radio Says Serbs Leaving Mount Igman,” Reuter (9 August 1993); Nesho Djuric, “U.N. Troops Replacing Serbs on Mountains Around Sarajevo,” UPI (15 August 1993); “Bosnian Serb Leader Says Sarajevo Not Under Seige,” Reuter (15 August 1993); and Cristopher Hitchens, “Betrayal Becomes Farce: In Bosnia the Final Act Is Our Own Pathetic Complicity,” Washington Post (15 August 1993).


[22]United Nations Security Council, S/267337/Add.1 Constitutional Agreement of the Union of Republics of Bosnia and Hercegovina and other constitutional papers.


[23]See John F. Burns, “Bosnia Legislators Reject Peace Plan in a Lopsided Vote,” New York Times (30 September 1993), p. A1 and p. A7.


[24]RFE/RL Daily Report, no. 35, 21 February 22, 1994;  no. 36 22 February 1994; no. 38, 24 February 1994; and no. 40, 28 February 1994.


[25]RFE/RL Daily Report, no. 145, 2 August 1994; no. 146 3 August 1994; no. 148, 5 August 1994; no. 154 16 August 1994; no. 159 23 August 1994; no. 163 29 August 1994.


[26]RFE/RL Daily Report, no. 189, 5 October 1994.


[27]RFL/RE Daily Report, No. 183, 26 September 1994.


[28]RFE/RL Daily Report, no. 228, 5 December 1994; no. 229, 6 December 1994; no. 230, 7 December 1994; and no. 234 13 December 1994.


[29] Los Angeles Times (12 April 1995), p. A-10.