Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 233

Russian diplomats last night harshly criticized yesterday’s launching of air attacks on Iraq by U.S. and British forces. In a statement issued by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov during a visit to Madrid, Moscow condemned the air strikes as a breach of the UN charter and called for the military actions to be terminated immediately. “No one has a right to act independently on behalf of the United Nations, still less to assume the functions of a judge of the world,” Ivanov was quoted as saying. “We shall demand an immediate termination of the military action, which would make it possible to resume the political process to bring about a settlement of the Iraq crisis.” Ivanov’s statement also warned of the gravest consequences should Russian nationals currently in Baghdad be harmed by the air strikes. Ivanov broke off his visit to Spain yesterday in order to return to Moscow for consultations with the government (Itar-Tass, December 16).

The angry Russian reaction to yesterday’s air strikes came at the end of a day during which UN Security Council members met in an emergency session to discuss the latest crisis in Iraq. It was the third time that the council had met for that reason in the past fourteen months. Yesterday’s meeting was occasioned by a report delivered to council members on Tuesday night by UNSCOM chief Richard Butler. Butler’s report, which formed the basis for the decision by Washington and London yesterday to go forward with the attacks, bluntly accused Baghdad of having failed to honor a pledge given last month that it would cooperate fully with UN weapons inspectors. Yesterday Butler ordered UNSCOM personnel out of Iraq in anticipation of the U.S. and British military actions (International agencies, December 16).

Russia, which has long made clear its sympathy for Iraqi denunciations of the UNSCOM chief, yesterday criticized Butler harshly both for the substance of his report and for his decision to withdraw UN personnel from Iraq. In New York, Russia’s UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, reportedly led a “line by line attack” on Butler’s report during yesterday’s UN Security Council meeting. Lavrov was said to have accused Butler of lying. He said that the UNSCOM chief had presented a far more positive picture of Iraqi cooperation with UN inspectors during a visit to Moscow by Butler on December 4 (International agencies, December 16; Washington Post, December 17). Foreign Minister Ivanov had expressed optimism after that meeting that sanctions against Iraq might soon be lifted (see the Monitor, December 8).

Ivanov, meanwhile, suggested yesterday that Butler himself had been at least partly responsible for any Iraqi failures to cooperate with the UN. The Russian foreign minister accused Butler of “rudely exceeding his powers” in Iraq and of having conducted himself in a way that served “to aggravate the situation and fan up tension over Iraq.” Ivanov said that Butler had exceeded his authority on previous occasions as well, and urged the UNSCOM chief to resign from his post if, in Ivanov’s words, he was not up to the demands of the job (Washington Post, December 17).

Russia was joined yesterday in its condemnation of the U.S. and British air strikes by China and France. The three countries have consistently been the Security Council’s most forceful advocates for an easing of sanctions on Iraq. Russia and France, not coincidentally, stand to profit handsomely from a number of major business deals with Iraq which can be implemented only after the lifting of sanctions. Meanwhile, yesterday’s air strikes won support across the political spectrum in Britain but not in the United States, where several congressional Republican leaders accused the Clinton administration of acting to divert an impending impeachment vote. Canada and Germany voiced their support for yesterday’s military actions (International agencies, December 16).