Yeltsin Shifts, Serbia Loses Its Last Friend


Serbia lost its last major friend in the world community Saturday when Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin decided that the carnage in Yugoslavia had gone on too long, that Serbian nationalists were to blame and that his country would support heavy international sanctions against it.

Although the change in Russian thinking was a long time in coming, Yeltsin’s decision cleared the way for passage by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia has a veto, of a resolution condemning Serbia and imposing economic sanctions.

“In voting for sanctions, Russia is fulfilling its responsibility as a great power for the maintenance of international law and order,” the government said in a formal statement, which marked a shift not only in Moscow’s attitude toward Serbia and the Yugoslav conflict but in its approach to such crises.

“We believe that the U.N. Security Council should go further and assume responsibility for a settlement . . . of the whole Yugoslav crisis with the use of all measures provided for by the U.N. Charter for the restoration of peace,” it added.


Yeltsin, angered by the almost immediate collapse of a Russian-brokered truce last week in Bosnia-Herzegovina, brushed aside an overnight appeal from Serbia not to support the sanctions as “based on one-sided information.”

“Russia was willing to use its good offices as long as there was the slimmest chance of peace through negotiation,” a senior Russian diplomat commented. “But those guys in Serbia are interested in just one thing--war. They have been taking what they want without the least regard for human life, let alone international law.”

In its message to Yeltsin, Serbia said it was “prepared to cooperate with the U.N. within the framework of a conference on Yugoslavia,” and warned that “restrictive measures against Yugoslavia cannot improve the situation . . . (and) make questionable the mandate of U.N. troops in the region.”

“They were seeking our sympathies as fellow Slavs, and they were appealing to our preference to peaceful resolution,” the diplomat added, “but they were playing us for fools. . . . Yeltsin read the message, talked it out for 10 minutes and said, ‘Go for sanctions, the heavier and harder the better.’ ”


Russia called in its statement for war crimes trials under an international commission that would “identify and punish those specific culprits guilty of the deaths of the civilian population” during the conflict.

And in a recognition of the failure of its own and other diplomatic initiatives through the prolonged Yugoslav crisis, it proposed increased authority for the U.N. secretary general to act “in halting current fratricidal wars and preventing new ones that develop out of inter-ethnic clashes.”

Among other powers, Moscow said that the secretary general should be able to propose sanctions and “other resolute actions” for Security Council consideration against “those who are chiefly to blame for the bloodshed.”

Until the visit last week to all the former Yugoslav republics by Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev, Moscow had remained convinced that it was more effective to keep talking to Serbia than trying to punish it, and its opposition to sanctions had, in fact, discouraged earlier international moves.


“Russia does everything it can to strengthen the traditional ties of friendship and cooperation with the Yugoslav peoples, restore peace to their land and guarantee their freedom and independence,” the government said in its statement.

“Until now, however, the Belgrade government did not heed our good advice and warnings and failed to comply with the demands of the international community, and thereby brought U.N. sanctions upon itself.”

Although Russia sent a battalion of troops as part of the U.N. peacekeeping force to maintain the cease-fire in Croatia, it had opposed sanctions and other international moves against Serbia for fear that such isolation would end all dialogue.

Earlier, the Soviet Union, perhaps fearing its own impending disintegration, was among the last major powers to recognize the independence of Croatia and Slovenia; later, many Russians saw in Serbia’s assertive nationalism a model for their country’s resurgence.


“We are Slavs, the Serbs and us,” a Russian foreign policy commentator said Saturday, “and there is something a bit mystical in that. . . . We wanted to hear them out and to see if things could not be settled peacefully.”

That hope was crushed last week after Kozyrev saw the cease-fire he had negotiated for Bosnia-Herzegovina shattered within a few hours by a Serbian mortar attack that killed 16 people waiting outside a Sarajevo bakery to buy bread.

The dramatic film of the dead and wounded was shown on Russian television, and Yeltsin was described as barely able to contain his personal outrage.

“One regrettably gets the impression that forces that do not understand goodwill and advice are active in the region--they seem only to recognize force,” Kozyrev said on his return from Belgrade. “Our efforts at mediation have reached a dead end.”