Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 40

In a move that U.S. officials called "premature," Russian president Boris Yeltsin issued a decree February 23 lifting UN sanctions on the Bosnian Serbs. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s UN envoy, said that Russia had informed the UN Security Council of Moscow’s intentions that same day. "We announced in the council that since the conditions for suspending the sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs… had been fulfilled some time ago… this meant that sanctions had automatically been suspended," Lavrov was quoted as saying. U.S. mission spokesman, James Rubin, described Moscow’s action as more a "technical" matter than a "major substantive problem."

Diplomats said differing interpretations by Moscow and Washington of the term "zones of separation," contained in Security Council Resolution 1022, had led to the disagreement. The resolution was adopted late last November and allows the automatic lifting of sanctions if Bosnian Serbs abide by the terms of the Dayton Accord. U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith, IFOR commander in Bosnia, had recommended February 22 that the lifting of sanctions be deferred until the Serbs meet their obligations to rejoin military meetings. Washington, citing similar concern over the willingness of Bosnian Serb leaders to cooperate with NATO peace efforts, reported that it had not yet made a decision on whether or not to support the lifting of sanctions. (8)

A Russian Foreign Ministry official in Moscow denied that Russian actions signified a split in the UN Security Council or in the Contact Group. He added that Russia had repeatedly told its partners that it would "drop sanctions once the resolution has been carried out in full." Yeltsin’s decree states that Russian state and commercial organizations should proceed from the assumption that all measures against the Bosnian Serbs "are being suspended until special notice." (9)

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