In another step back from its one-time Serbian allies, Russia agreed Friday to exchange diplomatic representatives with Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslim-led government.
Foreign Minister Andrei D. Kozyrev, who announced the move, said Russia will keep pressing the Bosnian Serbs with "every means and every lever" to end nearly three years of ethnic warfare against the Bosnian government.Kozyrev met here with Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic and agreed to exchange representatives as a step toward full diplomatic relations. Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, who also received him, said the new ties will lead to Russian sales of badly needed natural gas to Bosnia.
Moscow recognized the Bosnian government in Sarajevo in 1992 and has voiced support for its equality with other parts of the former Yugoslavia. So far that support has been merely symbolic.
Until last year, Russia often used its diplomatic weight to oppose Western moves to isolate the Bosnian Serbs and the Serbian government in Belgrade, which refuse to recognize Bosnia within its current borders. And Russian peacekeeping troops under U.N. command in Bosnia have shown favoritism to the Serbs, historical allies with whom the Russians share Slavic heritage and Orthodox Christian faith.
The level of distrust was underscored in Sarajevo this week when Bosnian Muslim soldiers boarded a U.N. peacekeeping truck and beat several Russian officers with their rifles. They accused the Russians of taking unauthorized photographs.
Russia, however, is now backing a peace plan that would reverse the Serbs' military gains by giving 51 percent of Bosnia to a federation of Muslims and Croats and the rest to the Serbs. The plan is endorsed by the five-nation Contact Group - Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
Bosnia's government has accepted the plan; the Serbs, who have seized about 70 percent of Bosnia in the war, have rejected it. Talks between the warring sides have broken off, imperiling a four-month cease-fire due to expire April 30.
"We now have three more months to achieve a political settlement and, primarily, the adoption of the Contact Group plan by the Bosnian Serbs," Kozyrev said. "Every means and every lever available to the international community, both positive and negative, should be used."
Under questioning by reporters, Kozyrev took no position on France's call for a summit of major powers and belligerent parties to rescue the peace process. Silajdzic said Bosnian leaders believe such a meeting might alter the peace proposal in the Serbs' favor.