Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 19

On January 25 Moscow reacted sharply to an errant U.S. missile attack which resulted in civilian Iraqi casualties. The incident underscored Moscow’s and Washington’s deep differences over policy toward Baghdad. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement–released shortly after Ivanov and Albright gave a joint news conference–expressed both Moscow’s concern about the U.S. bombing attack on the Iraqi city of Basra and condolences for the civilian victims. “Nothing can justify the victims among Iraq’s civilian population, which has already been bled dry by the hardships of many years of blockade,” the statement said (Russian agencies, Reuters, January 26). Russia, which condemned recent U.S. and British air strikes on Iraq, has also repeatedly called for UN sanctions on Iraq to be lifted to ease the plight of the country’s civilian population.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s criticism of the Basra air strike came as Moscow’s UN ambassador was working to bury a report which the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) recently submitted to Security Council members. The 250-page document reportedly spells out in great detail the Iraqi regime’s systematic efforts to obstruct UN disarmament efforts. The document–according to Deputy U.S. Ambassador to NATO Peter Burleigh–also shows that “there are still many outstanding questions regarding the disarmament of Iraq” (AP, January 26).

Russia, however, has apparently spearheaded efforts to ensure that the UNSCOM report is not formally sanctioned by the Security Council. The document has therefore not been circulated officially, but has only been given informally to each of the fifteen council members. On January 22 Russia’s UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, reiterated Moscow’s charge that UNSCOM had lost its credibility. He also suggested that Russia would henceforth not agree to use UNSCOM documents as the basis for the Security Council’s work (AP, January 25).

Lavrov’s remarks are consistent with Moscow’s efforts to dissolve UNSCOM and to fire its head, Australian diplomat Richard Butler. In the wake of the U.S. and British air strikes on Baghdad last month, which led Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to refuse all cooperation with UNSCOM, Russia has joined with several other Security Council members in urging that a new, less intrusive arms monitoring system be established in Iraq. Russia’s efforts to dump UNSCOM have been greatly aided by revelations earlier this month that UNSCOM had cooperated with U.S. intelligence agencies. These recent developments have left the Security Council divided. On one side stand Russia, China and France–who, in one way or another, would like to establish a new arms monitoring system and ease sanctions on Iraq. On the other side stand the United States and Britain–who continue to back UNSCOM and take a harder line on disarmament and sanctions issues.