Russian President Boris Yeltsin returned to Moscow yesterday following several days of talks with Italian leaders in Rome. (See yesterday’s Monitor) On February 10, Yeltsin and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi issued a joint statement that appealed for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Iraq. The two leaders said they would send a joint message to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein urging him to be more responsive to UN demands and to open all sites to weapons inspections. They also urged greater involvement by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in efforts to resolve the crisis. (UPI, Itar-Tass, February 10)
In Moscow on February 10, Russian officials escalated their rhetoric over the dangers of U.S. military strikes on Iraq. Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Tarasov cautioned that the possible consequences of a massive attack on Iraqi weapons depots are unknown, and that casualties among the civilian population could be high. On the same day, several Russian experts warned that air strikes on Iraqi chemical weapons storage facilities could produce dangerous clouds. Depending on weather conditions, they said, parts of the South Caucasus or Central Asia could be adversely affected. (UPI, Russian agencies, February 10)
Meanwhile, on February 10, the recently named commander-in-chief of the Russian air force, General Anatoly Kornukov, warned that Iraqi air defense forces are capable of inflicting considerable losses on U.S. aircraft in the event that air strikes are launched. (Russian agencies, February 10) Kornukov is the former commander of the Moscow Military District’s Air Defense Troops. Russian military leaders were embarrassed during the 1991 Gulf War by the dismal performance of the Iraqi troops, who were equipped primarily with Soviet weaponry. Moscow attributed Iraq’s performance to poor military training, command and organization.
Russian "Force Ministries" Criticized for Ineffectiveness in North Caucasus.