Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 124

Suggestions that Russia and the United States may have narrowed their differences regarding UN policy toward Iraq, and that the two countries might be prepared to pool their energies in an effort to end the UN Security Council’s long impasse over Iraq, have been proven spectacularly wrong over the past several days–less than a month after Russia threw in its lot with other Security Council members to approve unanimously a resolution extending by thirty days the existing Iraq humanitarian aid program. That vote was significant not only for its unanimity, but for the fact that it appeared to signal Moscow’s willingness to engage in further negotiations over a British-U.S. draft resolution aimed at transforming the sanctions regime imposed on Baghdad. Indeed, Moscow reportedly surprised other council members on May 31 when it actually introduced the extension resolution, which London had drafted (see the Monitor, June 5). Some observers saw the hint of a tentative effort at Russian-U.S. cooperation on Iraq as a possible result of the Bush administration’s more recent moves to unfreeze relations with Moscow and of the warming in ties which has followed. The June 16 Russian-U.S. summit meeting in Slovenia, at which Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin appeared to hit it off so well, might have been expected to boost this cooperation and to help ease several years of sharp confrontations between Moscow and Washington on the subject of Iraq.

That, however, has proven not to be the case. The Russian government reportedly first indicated its renewed opposition to the British-U.S. draft resolution on Iraq–the so-called “smart sanctions” proposal–in a letter received by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell this past weekend from Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. The letter reportedly stated that Russia would not support the new sanctions proposal and, according to a Washington Post report, included a threat to use Moscow’s veto to defeat the measure. “We see in this new scheme a major threat to Russian trade and economic interests in Iraq,” Ivanov was quoted as saying. We cannot allow this to pass.” Moscow followed that warning with criticism of the British-U.S. plan during a heated Security Council discussion of the resolution on June 26. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, led off the debate by outlining what he said were the major flaws in the British-U.S. proposal. Lavrov reportedly emphasized Moscow’s dissatisfaction with the long list of prohibited military goods contained in the proposal, and complained because no mention was made in it of investment or infrastructure projects in Iraq. “The deeper we get into the details” of the British-U.S. plan, he said, “the more our doubts grow about the feasibility of that draft.” Lavrov followed these complaints, moreover, with the introduction of a Russian-drafted resolution aimed at providing an alternative resolution to the impasse over Iraq. The Russian plan reportedly aims at restructuring the December 1999 UN Security Council resolution that defines how sanctions against Baghdad would be suspended provided Iraq allows UN arms inspectors back into the country. The new Russian plan, which may reprise parts of an initiative offered by Moscow earlier this year, would require UN inspectors to draw up a list within sixty days of resuming work in Iraq. The list would be a compilation of the key remaining disarmament tasks faced by Iraq, and would include precise details as what is required of Baghdad to complete each one, so that sanctions could be lifted. It would also transfer funds from the UN’s escrow account to the Iraqi government, a measure that that is opposed by both Britain and the United States.

Back in Moscow, meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ordzhonikidze appeared yesterday to highlight what is apparently one of his country’s bottom line concerns about the British-U.S. smart sanctions plan–namely, that it could in fact open the way toward extending the sanctions regime on Iraq indefinitely. “In essence,” Ordzhonikidze said, the British-U.S. draft “freezes the current state of affairs, maintaining sanctions with unacceptable consequences for Iraq’s people and economy in the absence of any progress on disarmament.”

But Moscow’s concerns clearly extend beyond the humanitarian. As was suggested in Ivanov’s letter to Powell, the Russian government also sees in the British-U.S. plan a threat to the lucrative trade relations that have developed between Moscow and Baghdad in the implementation of the UN’s oil-for-food program, and that are likely to grow more profitable once the sanctions are finally lifted. Financial concerns of this sort were the basis of an appeal sent by Russian lawmakers and representatives of major oil companies to President Vladimir Putin on June 25. The appeal, which was signed by the Russian oil companies Lukoil, Slavneft and Transneft, reportedly claimed that the British-U.S. draft plan would “seriously harm Russian economic interests” and would compel Russian companies “to totally end their activities on the Iraq market.”

Not surprisingly, the Russian threat to veto the British-U.S. plan was applauded warmly in Baghdad, where state authorities have repeatedly denounced the plan. Iraqi officials welcomed what they said would likely be a new deadlock on the Security Council because to the Russian move, and a senior Iraqi parliamentarian was quoted as saying that Russian success in blocking the British-U.S. plan “will be highly appreciated by the Iraqi leadership.” Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan praised Russia for “standing with its friends against imperialist schemes.” Earlier this week Iraq’s ambassador to Moscow said that Baghdad would favor Russian firms doing business in Iraq in return for Moscow’s opposition to the British-U.S. resolution.

The sudden Russian move to block the British-U.S. proposal, meanwhile, drew critical comment from officials in Washington and London. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher indirectly slammed both Russia and China (which has reportedly joined Moscow in opposing the British-U.S. plan), arguing that a failure to revise sanctions on Iraq by a July 3 deadline would leave the existing sanctions regime in place. This is the same sanctions regime that has been denounced repeatedly by Moscow and Beijing. The British and U.S. ambassadors to the UN also criticized the newly introduced Russian draft resolution on Iraq. The British envoy, Jeremy Greenstock, described it as “quite a disturbing text,” while U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham agreed that the Russian proposal “has very serious problems” (AP, Washington Post, June 26; DPA, June 27; Reuters, June 26-27; AFP, June 26-27; The Guardian, June 28; Itar-Tass, June 25).