As political leaders raced to defuse the Persian Gulf crisis diplomatically, a group of hard-line Russian deputies said yesterday that they would remain in Iraq to serve as a "human shield" against U.S. and British air strikes. According to Aleksei Mitrofanov, a leading member of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party, several members of the delegation intended to remain behind when Zhirinovsky and the remainder of the group returned to Moscow last night. It was unclear whether Zhirinovsky intended to return to Baghdad at a later date. Mitrofanov did say that deputies would be rotated into and out of Iraq in order to maintain a Russian presence in the capital so long as U.S. air strikes remained a threat. (AP, Russian agencies, February 16)
The Russian delegation flew into Baghdad on February 11 along with a modest cargo of humanitarian goods in a well-publicized demonstration of support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. (See Monitor, February 10, 12) The group was headed by Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party. During his stay in Baghdad the bombastic Russian politician called, among other things, for Russia to send a naval force into the Persian Gulf to counter mounting U.S. military strength. In the event of U.S. military attacks on Iraq, Zhirinovsky said that Russia should respond with similar attacks on the U.S. (Xinhua, February 14)
While Zhirinovsky’s antics have exhibited their usual element of buffoonery, his strident criticism of U.S. policy toward Iraq has been reflective of broader popular sentiment in Russia. For all of that, Duma Chairman Gennady Seleznev yesterday called for the entire Russian delegation to return home. He also said that the Duma’s Committee on International Affairs would be consulting with the U.S. ambassador to Moscow. The talks will reportedly focus on organizing a meeting of Russian and U.S. lawmakers in order to discuss Iraq. Seleznev spoke in favor of a joint trip to Baghdad by Russian and U.S. lawmakers. (Russian news agencies, February 16)
Poland to Act as Lithuania’s Advocate.