Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 204

Moscow made clear yesterday that Russian diplomats would do their utmost to block any decision by the UN Security Council authorizing the automatic use of military force to punish Iraq for its latest defiance of UN weapons inspectors. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin yesterday repeated Moscow’s condemnation of the Iraqi actions. He also, however, pointed to what he suggested were a number of peaceful options by which the international community could resolve the latest Persian Gulf crisis.

The same message was conveyed more strongly by unnamed Russian diplomats, who said that Moscow would do everything possible to ensure that the situation in Iraq does not develop into a military confrontation. In an obvious reference to U.S. threats to launch strikes against Baghdad, the Russian sources also warned that “unilateral actions” in Iraq would worsen the situation there. In addition, they emphasized Moscow’s position that strikes against Iraq can be conducted only following authorization by the UN (Russian agencies, November 3).

The remarks by the Russian diplomats (which repeat the argument used by Moscow to oppose NATO strikes on Yugoslavia) came as the UN Security Council began deliberations yesterday on the situation in Iraq. The talks are expected to produce–though not for at least several days–a resolution codifying the Security Council’s October 31 statement condemning Iraq for its decision to halt UN weapons inspections.

The likely delay in reaching agreement on a new resolution is related to the fact that the council’s five permanent members remain divided on how strongly the statement should condemn Iraq and on the question of possible punitive measures. In opposition to the United States and Britain, Russia and China will veto any formulation that authorizes automatic military strikes on Iraq. They are also likely to oppose condemnatory language strong enough to be used as a justification by Washington or London for strikes on Baghdad. French leaders, who have joined Russia and China in urging leniency for Iraq, are said to be angry over Baghdad’s latest defiance of the UN. But that anger is unlikely to translate into support for military strikes on Iraq (Reuters, AP, Washington Post, November 3).

This latest international crisis over Iraq seems likely to develop in much the way as the same situation did in the fall of last year and again this past February. On each of those occasions, Russia spearheaded opposition to threatened punitive strikes against Iraq. It then helped mediate settlements which were accepted only reluctantly by Washington and London and which, while averting military strikes, only set the stage for the next confrontation between Iraq and the UN. In February, Russia was also among the countries pushing hardest for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to involve himself in the crisis. It would be no surprise if Russia looked to the secretary general once again. Given Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s long-standing ties to the Iraqi leadership, neither would it be a surprise if Moscow offered to take up the peacemaker role anew.