Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 235

Despite all the heated rhetoric which has come out of Moscow in recent days, there were indications over the weekend that Russian leaders do not want to push their criticism of Washington and London to the point that it threatens rupturing relations. Several Russian newspapers noted, for example, that Moscow had moved to smooth relations with Britain and the United States following the unexpected recall of its ambassadors from those countries. “Having made a decisive gesture,” the newspaper “Kommersant” said, “Russia was in a hurry to soften its position.” “Moskovsky komsomolets” quoted analysts as saying that, for Russia, the main thing now “is not to overdo things and not to turn this point of conflict with the West into a full-scale war.” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitri Yakushkin said that the Kremlin believes that “under no circumstances should [Russia] slide towards confrontation with the West” (Reuters, AP, December 19).

Such points of view appeared to reflect the fact that the rage felt in Moscow in recent days was due as much to the recognition by Russia’s elite of their diplomatic impotence as to their indignation over what has happened in the Persian Gulf. As if to underscore that point, senior Russian officials reportedly indicated over the weekend that Moscow still wants Western food aid as well as financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund. None of that is possible without Washington’s support (Reuters, AP, December 19). Washington and London, meanwhile, were happy to play along. Officials in each country hastened to make clear that bilateral cooperation with Moscow would continue, despite the recall of the ambassadors and sharp differences over policy and actions relating to Iraq (International agencies, December 18).

There were, nevertheless, some sharp words from the Russian Defense Ministry, even though military officials appeared to downplay earlier reports that Russian forces had been put on heightened alert in response to developments in the Gulf. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, for example, said that the U.S. and British strikes had “flagrantly violated norms of international law and openly ignored the world community’s efforts” to settle the Iraqi conflict peacefully. Sergeev added that relations between Russia and NATO were likely to be adversely affected (AP, Russian agencies, December 18).

Stronger stuff came from Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the Defense Ministry’s chief for international military cooperation and, seemingly, the defense establishment’s designated bulldog during conflicts with the West. Ivashov told reporters that Russia would “without a doubt” reconsider its schedule of military contacts with the United States because of the air strikes on Iraq. He also suggested vaguely that the U.S.-British actions in the Gulf would compel Moscow to reexamine its approach to a range of international security issues. Ivashov intimated, finally, that Moscow would look into the creation of “alternative security structures, not only in Europe, but in the world as a whole.” He was apparently suggesting that Moscow was considering the creation of a Russian-led military bloc–or blocs–which would counter the influence of the United States and NATO around the world (Russian agencies, December 18).

The Russian State Duma, meanwhile, voted overwhelmingly on December 18 to approve a recommendation urging the Russian government to “take all necessary measures to resume as soon as possible large-scale economic and military cooperation between Russia and Iraq.” The nonbinding vote suggested that U.S. and British “aggression” in Iraq freed Moscow from the need to observe international sanctions on Baghdad (Itar-Tass, December 18).