Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 130

Russia and Iraq continued to strengthen bilateral ties yesterday, as a protocol on cooperation between the parliaments of the two countries was signed in Moscow and the leaders of Russia’s two houses of parliament underlined Moscow’s long-standing desire for the lifting of UN sanctions against Baghdad. Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroyev was the blunter of the two, saying that he favored ending the oil embargo against Iraq, while Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev was quoted as restating Russia’s "economic interest in restoring ties with Iraq" and emphasizing the readiness of "Russian businessmen to work with their Iraqi colleagues." (Russian agencies, July 2)

The Russian government has long promoted political and economic ties with Iraq, and has been a strong supporter of the Baghdad regime at the UN and in other international fora. But the Russian parliament has outstripped the Kremlin in the ardor with which it has courted Iraq, going so far as to approve overwhelmingly on June 4 a bill calling for the resumption of commercial relations with Iraq — including the purchase of oil and petroleum products. That action was denounced by the Foreign Ministry as a violation of Russia’s international obligations. A ministry spokesman urged the Federation Council to reject the bill, and warned that Boris Yeltsin would veto it if the upper house failed to do so. (Russian agencies, June 4) Only days later, however, a source in Russia’s Fuel and Energy Ministry said that Moscow would seek to increase the amount of oil that Russian companies are importing from Iraq under a UN-Iraqi "oil for food" deal that permits Baghdad to sell limited amounts of oil in order to purchase humanitarian goods for its population.

During his own meeting with the Iraqi delegation yesterday, Russian first deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov appeared to reflect the Kremlin’s fine line of backing international sanctions while simultaneously promoting Russian business dealings with Iraq. Nemtsov said that a speedy lifting of the oil embargo and a restoration of trade with Iraq are in Russia’s national interests, and he pledged that Russia would raise the question of lifting sanctions at a regular UN meeting on Iraq scheduled for October. But Nemtsov also urged the Iraqi leadership to cooperate with the UN. (Russian agencies, July 2) The sanctions issue is not merely a political one for Moscow. Iraq is estimated to owe Moscow some $7 billion in Soviet-era debts, and the two countries are reported to have signed deals worth over $10 billion (though some in Moscow have scoffed at this figure) whose implementation awaits the lifting of sanctions.

During the recent G-7 summit in Denver, Russian president Boris Yeltsin agreed to a compromise with the U.S. on a UN resolution that could lead to the leveling of additional sanctions against Iraq. That action came in the wake of new efforts by the regime in Baghdad’s to obstruct the operations of UN weapons inspectors. But since that time Russian officials have downplayed both Iraq’s defiance and the possibility of new sanctions being enacted, and have instead suggested that the UN resolution could lead to a lifting of sanctions against Iraq come October — so long as Baghdad cooperates henceforth with the UN weapons inspection team. (Russian agencies, June 24)

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