Russia's Role in the Former Yugoslavia
In Russia's debate over its national interests and in Yeltsin's power struggle with hard-liners, a major issue was the appropriate attitude toward Serbia, a long-time ally whose aggression against several other republics of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, most notably Bosnia and Herzegovina, had made it an international pariah. The key question was how to cooperate with Western efforts to end the crisis in the former Yugoslavia while preserving Russia's traditional support of Serbia.
After the Serbian government expressed support for the August 1991 coup in Moscow, the Yeltsin government of the Russian Republic condemned the Serbian attacks of late 1991 on Croatia, one of the two initial breakaway republics from the Yugoslav federation. Russia supported efforts in the UN to compel Serbia to accept a negotiated settlement of the conflict with Croatia. This relatively low-key involvement shifted to a more active policy in 1993.
The 1993 foreign policy concept's language on the former Yugoslavia was rather neutral; it simply called for Russia to cooperate with the UN, the CSCE, and other parties in peacemaking efforts and to use its influence in the former Yugoslavia to encourage a peaceful settlement. As it began to speak more specifically for Serbian interests later in 1993, Russia hoped at the same time to maintain its image with the West as a useful mediator of a thoroughly frustrating conflict. However, this approach caused some tensions with the United States and its Western allies, who had hoped for straightforward Russian support of UN-sanctioned military actions against Serbian aggression. Russian hard-liners, meanwhile, urged that Russia give priority to defying what they called a "Western drive for hegemony" over the former Yugoslavia and to otherwise protecting Russian and Serbian geopolitical interests.
Hard-liners in Russia and Serbia espoused a so-called pan-Slavic solidarity that emphasizes ethnic, religious, and historical ties. Its adherents shared a frustration at diminished geopolitical dominance (in Serbia's case, the loss of influence over other parts of the former Yugoslavia, and in Russia's case the loss of control over the near abroad). Perceived threats to Serbs and Russians now outside the redrawn borders of their respective states aggravated this frustration. However, the rocky, thirty-five-year relationship between the Soviet Union and Tito's Yugoslavia disproved the natural affinity of the two nations.
Russia launched a more assertive phase of involvement in the former Yugoslavia when it opposed NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb forces around Sarajevo in 1994 and 1995. Russia argued that there should be no air strikes until peace negotiations had been exhausted. Russia also demanded a larger role as a superpower in decision making on UN, NATO, and other international actions involving the former Yugoslavia.
In August 1995, Yeltsin and the Russian parliament harshly criticized intensified NATO air strikes on Bosnian Serb military targets. When mediation efforts finally led to a cease-fire in Bosnia in October 1995, Russia agreed to provide troops for a NATO-sponsored peacekeeping force. After some rearrangement of lines of command to avoid direct NATO command of Russian forces, Russian troops joined the peacekeepers in January 1996. Although it cooperated with IFOR, Russia asserted its views on other aspects of the Bosnia situation. In February 1996, Russia withdrew unilaterally from UN-imposed economic sanctions on Bosnian Serbs, arguing that the Serbs had met the conditions for withdrawing the sanctions.