Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 27

A delegation of Russian lawmakers, attempting to fly to Iraq with humanitarian supplies, remained grounded in Armenia yesterday. The group of forty-eight parliamentarians is headed by ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and is accompanied by over 100 journalists. The chartered Ilyushin-86 is said to be carrying twelve tons of relief supplies. It remained unclear yesterday precisely why the plane has been held up. A Russian deputy foreign minister suggested that the delay has been caused by the inordinately large number of people on board the aircraft (said to total 207) and the need to process paperwork for them. Russian Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev told reporters that the UN Security Council’s sanctions committee, which oversees such matters, had requested a list of the passengers aboard the aircraft in order to give it clearance. A number of Russian sources, however, accused the United States of working behind the scenes to halt the plane’s flight to Iraq. (UPI, Russian agencies, February 9) Zhirinovsky had earlier ordered the deputies to stay on board the aircraft and threatened to launch a hunger strike if the plane’s clearance was not approved.

The plane’s relatively light cargo of supplies and its heavy complement of journalists seem to corroborate the view that the flight is being undertaken primarily for political rather than humanitarian reasons. Zhirinovsky has long been among the loudest of the many political leaders in Russia who have urged the Kremlin to build closer relations with Iraq, even at the risk of violating international sanctions on Baghdad. Zhirinovsky has himself visited Iraq on several occasions, and in late December organized a similar flight to Baghdad for the delivery of humanitarian goods. (Russian and International agencies, December 25-26, 1997)

Lebed Campaign Gets off the Ground.