Moscow Seeks Boost At Home From Diplomatic Moves
Yugoslav, Mideast steps aim at shoring up democratization, global role
SOVIET initiatives to bring peace to Yugoslavia and the Middle East are aimed not only at shoring up the Soviet Union as a global power, but also at strengthening the democratization process at home.President Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts to end the bloodshed in Yugoslavia appear to have borne some fruit, despite continued fighting. Following a joint meeting in Moscow Tuesday, Mr. Gorbachev, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, and his Croatian counterpart, Franjo Tudjman, issued a statement calling for an immediate cease-fire and the start of peace talks within a month. Long-standing Soviet ties to the Serbian leaders are said here to give some hope that this agreement has greater chance for success than previous attempts. Meanwhile, Soviet Foreign Minister Boris Pankin was scheduled to start a four-nation Middle East tour Thursday in support of the US-sponsored regional peace conference, tentatively scheduled to take place in late October. The trip also could pave the way for the renewal of diplomatic ties between the Soviet Union and Israel, severed during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The diplomatic moves come at a time when the Soviet Union's domestic affairs are still unsettled following the failed August coup. With winter fast approaching and a possible food shortage looming, the Soviet Union is racing to calm its internal situation before it can proceed with political and economic changes. "Participation in world politics and the world economy, as well as an intention to increase cooperation step by step with the West is a key to the democratization process in the Soviet Union," says Sergei Blagovolin, a political scientist at Moscow's Institute of World Economy and International Relations. Like the rest of Soviet society, however, the foreign policy-making apparatus finds itself caught in a transitional phase at a time when quick action is needed. The Foreign Ministry is faced with adjusting its policy to the new internal situation - in which 12 remaining republics have a larger voice - while still maintaining overall consistency. The failure to adapt quickly enough could have disastrous consequences, Mr. Blagovolin warns. If the Soviet Union drifts out of the diplomatic mainstream "it would lead to complete economic and political chaos" in the country that could endanger world stability, he says. The progress in the Yugoslav mediation initiative should give Soviet foreign policy makers much needed confidence. It could also help Moscow's efforts to win Western aid needed to help bail the country out of its economic crisis, observers say. More than 1,000 people have died in the Yugoslav civil war, which began after declarations of independence by Croatia and neighboring Slovenia in June. Repeated attempts by the European Community to stop the fighting have proved unsuccessful. But Moscow's historically close ties to Yugoslavia, especially the Slavic republic of Serbia, may make this peace effort more effective. Most Western countries have tended to side with Croatia in the civil war, says Vladimir Baranovsky, a political analyst at the World Institute for the Economy and International Relations. Moscow, on the other hand, can exert influence on Serbia, which effectively controls the Yugoslav federal army. At a Moscow news conference, Mr. Milosevic said that Gorbachev had a better grasp of the Yugoslav problem than other European leaders. "The mediator function of Moscow from this point of view can have a better chance of success than previous efforts by the European Community," Mr. Baranovsky suggests. That Gorbachev was able to get Serbian President Milosevic and Croatian leader Tudjman to agree on peace talks shows Soviet foreign policy so far has been able to adapt to post-coup conditions, Baranovsky says. Before the coup, the Soviet stance on Yugoslavia was "quite centralized, because Yugoslavia was a model for what could happen in our country," Baranovsky says, referring to ethnic strife in several Soviet regions and the desire of republics to break away. "Now, the Soviet position is not based on the idea of preserving territorial integrity at all costs," he adds. "It calls for a dialogue to settle disputes peacefully." Regarding the Middle East, Mr. Pankin is scheduled to meet United States Secretary of State James Baker III in Jerusalem Friday. Moscow and the US have been working closely on the peace conference, but Moscow's lack of diplomatic links Israel have prevented it from playing a larger role. Some political observers have said full Soviet-Israeli ties could be restored Friday. But Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Belonogov could not confirm such reports, the Interfax news agency said. Foreign Ministry spokesmen Vitaly Churkin said ties likely would be reestablished on the eve of the conference. Soviet foreign policy has become more inwardly focused in the wake of the coup, says Baranovsky. No longer will the Soviet Union have global political designs, he continued, but it still can make a contribution to the Middle East peace process.