Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 25

The public rhetoric that has accompanied the diplomatic face-off between Russia and the United States over Iraq sharpened over the past two days as Russian President Boris Yeltsin twice warned Washington that its proposed military strikes on Iraq could start a new world war. Yeltsin’s initial comments on the subject followed a meeting with government ministers on February 4, after which he accused U.S. President Clinton of acting with uncharacteristic heavy-handedness toward Iraq. The strong words from the Russian president briefly roiled international financial markets, but appeared to have little impact on U.S. policy. Within hours of Yeltsin’s remarks, a White House press spokesman reiterated U.S. warnings that time is running out for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in the Persian Gulf. Clinton made the point himself in a speech later in the day. (Reuter, AP, Itar-Tass, February 4)

Yeltsin’s off-the-cuff foreign policy statements have gotten him into trouble several times in the past. On February 4, the Kremlin’s chief spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, did in fact scramble to "clarify" Yeltsin’s latest effort. According to Yastrzhembsky, U.S. reporters had misinterpreted the Russian president. (Reuter, February 4) Yeltsin himself appeared to contradict that explanation yesterday, however, when he announced that Russia would not permit a U.S. strike on Iraq and warned again that military actions in the Persian Gulf could trigger another world war. (Itar-Tass, February 5)

Meanwhile, also on February 4, the Russian Duma overwhelmingly adopted a resolution related to Iraq. The document urges Yeltsin to instruct the country’s Foreign Ministry: "to study, within the framework of international law, whether it is advisable to maintain the regime of sanctions" against Iraq "in the event of the use of force against that country without the approval of the UN Security Council."

Lawmakers apparently weakened the language contained in a draft resolution that they had approved on February 3. That document called for Russia to ignore UN sanctions against Baghdad in the event of military strikes on Iraq. The draft resolution was rejected by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. He held that the Duma has no authority to pass such a document and that the government would not implement it. He also questioned why Moscow would consider violating the UN imposed sanctions on Iraq. The February 3 resolution is, in any event, nonbinding. (Russian agencies, February 3-4) But the strong support for it among lawmakers underscores the degree to which Moscow’s aggressive stand against U.S. strikes on Iraq has united groups across Russia’s political spectrum.

Chechnya Offers to Mediate in Iraq Crisis.