Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 235

Iraq continued to dominate the headlines in Moscow over the weekend, as Russia welcomed the end of four days of air strikes by U.S. and British forces and girded for what will probably be a series of new diplomatic battles with Washington and London over UN policy toward Baghdad. Russian President Boris Yeltsin released a press statement yesterday which characterized the U.S.-British bombing attacks as a “senseless, unlawful military action” resulting in civilian casualties and further “complicat[ing] efforts to resolve” the Iraqi crisis. Yeltsin also voiced Moscow’s now standard call for a “multipolar” world in which the UN would play the leading role and all countries would observe international law. He repeated Moscow’s admonition that no country has the right to violate the UN charter (Itar-Tass, December 20). In a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on December 18, moreover, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned that continued U.S. bombing of Iraq could result in a serious setback for Russian-U.S. relations (Reuters, December 18).

Moscow has repeatedly opposed threatened air strikes by the United States and Britain on Iraq made without direct authorization of the UN Security Council. It has likewise charged that the latest air attacks on Iraq are a violation of international law and a threat to the international order. The Security Council’s deeply divided membership is expected to resume its discussion today of these and other topics related to the Persian Gulf crisis. Russia, China and France–each of which opposed the strikes–will presumably step up their calls for both a political solution to the crisis in the Gulf and an early end to the sanctions on Iraq. The United States and Britain, on the contrary, have indicated that they will seek to tighten sanctions on Iraq and to maintain pressure on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (Reuters, December 20).

Discussion in the council is also likely to turn to the UN Special Commission for disarming Iraq–UNSCOM–and to its embattled chairman, Australian diplomat Richard Butler. Iraqi officials sent mixed signals over the weekend as to their willingness to allow a resumption of UNSCOM’s inspections. Following talks between Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Iraq’s ambassador to Moscow on December 19, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Baghdad was ready to work with UN weapons inspectors. Iraqi leaders speaking in Baghdad, however, stepped up their criticism of UNSCOM as a tool of American interests and suggested that the inspectors would not be allowed back in Iraq (Reuters, December 19). They also continued to criticize Butler. It would be no surprise if Moscow–which has joined energetically in that criticism–spearheads efforts to have the UNSCOM chief removed.