Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 31

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov yesterday denied a British press report saying that Russia had signed a deal worth more than US$160 million to reinforce Iraq’s air defenses and upgrade its MiG-23 and MiG-29 fighters. Quoting unidentified diplomatic sources, London’s “Sunday Telegraph” claimed that the arms agreements were signed in Moscow on January 13-14 during a visit to Russia by Iraq’s Transport and Communications Minister. The British newspaper also said that the decision to grant Iraq military help–which would violate the UN arms embargo on Iraq–was approved by Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov on December 7. The newspaper portrayed the arms deal as a potentially serious threat to U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the “no-fly” zones in Iraq.

Speaking during talks in Paris devoted to the crisis in Kosovo, Ivanov said yesterday that Moscow has upheld its commitments to UN resolutions concerning Iraq–and that such resolutions do not provide for the supply of armaments to Baghdad. MiG officials also denied the “Sunday Telegraph” report and reportedly said to Russian TV that they “knew nothing” about the deal (AP, Itar-Tass, February 14).

Moscow has been Baghdad’s most steadfast supporter on the UN Security Council and has repeatedly criticized the United States and Britain for their air strikes on Iraq. Russian diplomats have also called for a quick lifting of the UN sanctions imposed on Iraq following the 1990 Kuwait invasion. Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, moreover, is an Arabist with long ties to the current regime in Baghdad. He sees close relations with Iraq as one way to reassert Russian influence in the Middle East.

While the Russian government has said in its public statements that it will observe the UN sanctions on Iraq, a number of public figures–specifically, several Russian lawmakers–have called for the Kremlin to resume military ties to Iraq. Russian companies, meanwhile, have signed what are said to be billions of dollars in contracts with the Iraqi government–contracts which can only be activated once sanctions on Iraq are lifted.