The crisis in Iraq was occasion for a tumultuous day in Moscow yesterday. Government spokesman reiterated that the Russian diplomatic mission to Baghdad is producing results. Russian lawmakers rallied to back the Kremlin’s line on Iraq. The government statements — issued by spokesmen from both the Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin — came a day after Iraqi authorities had embarrassed Moscow by flatly denying Russian claims of having brokered a compromise agreement between Iraq and the UN. (See yesterday’s Monitor) Russian spokesmen yesterday dismissed the Iraqi denial as having been intended for domestic consumption. They also insisted that the Russian mission to Iraq, headed by special envoy Viktor Posuvalyuk, "is continuing and is bringing positive results." The Foreign Ministry indicated that Posuvalyuk will remain in Baghdad for as long as necessary to work out an agreement.
Although it remains unclear whether Posuvalyuk is accomplishing anything in Baghdad, there was clearly no shortage of energy expended in Moscow yesterday on the subject of proposed U.S. military strikes on Iraq. The country’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, issued a statement expressing its opposition to any use of force to resolve the standoff in Iraq. The lower house, the State Duma, convened in an extraordinary session later in the day that was addressed by Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. It gave preliminary approval to a resolution denouncing the use of force in Iraq and calling for concerted actions to ensure that the Persian Gulf crisis is settled peacefully by diplomatic means. A final version of the resolution is to be considered today. (Russian and Western news agencies, February 3)
Equally noteworthy was the rhetoric of the parliamentarians. The leader of the Communist party faction, Gennady Zyuganov, condemned what he called U.S. efforts to intimidate the Iraqi people. He warned that military strikes could aggravate tensions throughout the entire Arab world. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party, accused the United States of gangsterism and said that Washington is trying to break Iraq by force. (Itar-Tass, February 3) Aleksandr Shokhin, of the pro-government Russia is Our Home faction, warned that the Duma could link U.S. air strikes on Iraq to ratification of the START II nuclear arms treaty. (Russian agencies, February 3)
Primakov, meanwhile, was said to have conferred again by telephone with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine. A French envoy was due to arrive in Baghdad yesterday. Primakov and Vedrine reportedly agreed to coordinate the efforts of their respective missions in Iraq. Although France has joined with Washington in condemning Iraq’s defiance of the UN, Paris and Moscow have spearheaded the effort to ensure a diplomatic solution to the current crisis. Both countries have traditional ties to Baghdad and have also concluded lucrative trade deals with Iraqi government agencies–especially in the energy sector–that can be activated only after sanctions on Iraq lifted.