Washington yesterday urged Russia to use "whatever influence it has in Baghdad" to help win a withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kurdish areas in the north. State Department officials told reporters that Moscow had also been informed well in advance of U.S. plans to take action against Iraq, and that a series of telephone conversations between U.S. secretary of state Warren Christopher and Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov had taken place over the weekend on that subject. (UPI, September 3)
But neither the consultations nor the request for aid deterred a broad array of Russian political leaders yesterday from denouncing the U.S. military action. Primakov, speaking to reporters during a visit to Switzerland, summed up the general thrust of Russian criticism, arguing that the missile attack could further destabilize the political situation in the Iraqi north and might complicate efforts at advancing the broader Middle East peace process. He, like other Russian leaders, also suggested that presidential politics had played a large role in the U.S. decision to punish Iraq. A Russian government statement released yesterday called for the cessation of all military action in Iraq, proposed a possible mediation role for Russia in reaching that goal, and warned against any further delays in establishing a post-Gulf War settlement. (Itar-Tass, September 3)
The Kremlin’s objections to the U.S. attack were hardly surprising. Moscow has worked hard in recent years to rebuild relations with Saddam. Billions of dollars in trade deals between the two countries — particularly in the energy sector — await only the lifting of UN sanctions against Iraq. More immediately, the suspension by the UN of an oil-for-food trade deal, announced over the weekend by UN. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, is also likely to be costly for Russian companies. (The New York Times, September 2) The weekend’s events also reprised in a minor key the defeat suffered by Soviet diplomacy in 1990-1991 as Primakov, then an advisor to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was unable to avert the launching of the Gulf War. In the present case a Russian deputy foreign minister was in Iraq, reportedly urging an end to Iraqi’s military actions against the Kurds, when the U.S. attack took place. (Interfax, September 3)
Developments in Iraq, finally, may conjure up for Moscow some parallels with its own war in Chechnya. Russian spokesmen (like world leaders elsewhere who have registered disapproval of the U.S. action) point to the fact that, unlike 1991, Iraqi leaders are acting on their own territory in a manner not inconsistent with international law. Like Baghdad vis-a-vis the Kurds, Moscow has cited as a justification for its military operations in Chechnya the preservation of its national integrity.
Chernomyrdin Says Yeltsin Has Approved Lebed’s Chechen Peace Accord.