RUSSIAN Defense Minister Pavel Grachev yesterday blamed both Bosnian Serb and Muslim forces for the bloodbath in Gorazde, and said the threat of NATO airstrikes would only worsen the situation and should be abandoned.
In comments that directly contradicted statements by Russia's Foreign Ministry, General Grachev said he was against the NATO raids and that he wanted to increase the number of Russian peacekeeping contingents in the besieged Muslim enclave.
``There are provocations from both sides, but they unfortunately have been caused by not entirely well-thought-out actions taken by the leadership of the United Nations and NATO when they decided to carry out airstrikes against Serb positions,'' Grachev said at a news conference. ``The history of Yugoslavia, especially in World War II, has shown us that it is impossible to achieve a victory using such methods.''
Grachev's comments came the day after Serb militants pulled back their heavy weapons outside a two-mile radius encircling Gorazde. The action was in response to an ultimatum issued by NATO allies on April 22, warning the Serbs to halt shelling or face immediate airstrikes.
Wearing a starched, pea-green uniform, Grachev proposed a four-pronged program to help solve the Bosnian crisis. Along with renouncing airstrikes, it calls for reinforcing peacekeeping contingents in Gorazde, sending humanitarian aid to all Bosnian Muslim enclaves, and holding a US-Russian-European summit on ex-Yugoslavia, as proposed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
Russia, which has strong Orthodox ethnic ties to Serbia and has seen itself as Serbia's protector, has waffled back and forth on its policy toward Bosnia after Bosnian Serb troops intensified attacks on Gorazde.
Yuli Vorontsov, Moscow's Ambassador to the UN, told reporters in New York Saturday that Russia would back NATO's decision, but he protested its decision to extend strikes to ``safe areas.''
Similarly, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, who is scheduled to meet today with US Secretary of State Warren Christopher for talks in Geneva, said in an Interfax interview published Sunday that NATO's threat was an ``adequate response'' to Bosnian Serb aggression, and that Serb targeting of the civilian population was ``inadmissible.''
``Artillery attacks on the six safe havens are carried out in disregard of all standing commitments and civilized norms,'' he said. ``This way, the Serb militants will reap what they sow.''
But Grachev, who has denied disagreements with the Foreign Ministry, said he receives information about Bosnia ``every two hours'' and implied he knew better. ``It is one thing to look at the situation in Gorazde from the point of view of high diplomacy,'' he said. ``It is another when you get a report directly from areas of direct contact.''
He also spoke disparagingly about Russia's joining NATO's Partnership for Peace program, which gives former Warsaw Pact members limited membership in the Western military alliance. Angry that NATO launched airstrikes on Gorazde earlier this month without consulting Moscow first, a miffed Russia angrily called off plans to join the program.
``More than anything, a partnership is when people don't deceive others, when people can trust each other, when they take the interests of their partners into account and not only their own,'' Grachev said.
But in Moscow yesterday, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Gebhardt von Moltke promised that in the future, NATO would work closely with Moscow on the Balkan crisis. ``It is absolutely clear that it is impossible to ensure security in Europe and in the world without Russia - a major Eurasian power,'' he said.
Grachev also said that Russia and Ukraine's thorny dispute over the Black Sea Fleet could be solved as late as 1995 instead of later this month, as planned.
The latest round of talks broke up on Friday after Russia rejected Ukraine's proposals to allocate the bases. The two sides had agreed that Ukraine would be allocated only 20 percent of the vessels and sell the remaining share of its 50 percent back to Moscow. But questions still remain over the fleet's port of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula, which once belonged to Russia but was transferred to Ukraine by former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954.