Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 17

Amid reports that the United States and Britain may be planning military strikes on Iraq, Russian president Boris Yeltsin yesterday dispatched his special Middle East envoy, Viktor Posuvalyuk, to Baghdad. Posuvalyuk will presumably try to convince Iraqi leaders that they are best served by ending the defiance of UN weapons inspectors that has precipitated the latest Persian Gulf crisis. Yeltsin was quoted yesterday by his chief spokesman as having expressed "concern" over the situation in Iraq. Russia’s Foreign Ministry yesterday issued a statement reiterating Moscow’s opposition to any use of force to end the latest stand-off with Iraq. The statement also said that "all additional steps with regard to Iraq should be taken only within the framework of the UN Security Council." (Reuter, Itar-Tass, January 26) Russia has spearheaded opposition on the Council to Washington’s calls for military reprisals against Iraq.

With the dispatch of Posuvalyuk to Iraq, the latest crisis in the Persian Gulf is looking ever more like the standoff over UN weapons inspections that took place last fall. At that time, Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov headed off threats of military strikes against Iraq by convincing leaders in Baghdad to allow a resumption of inspections.

The context of the current crisis is somewhat different, however. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s defiance of the UN on this occasion has been so aggressive that it has eroded sympathy even among some of Iraq’s strongest backers. French leaders, for example, are reportedly more ambivalent this time around (The New York Times, January 26), and a major Russian daily has suggested that the Baghdad authorities have overplayed their hand and put Russian diplomats in a difficult situation. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 20) Concurrently, however, the sex scandal enveloping the White House has hurt efforts by the Clinton Administration to line up support for a stronger international response to Iraqi actions. That development seems likely to embolden the Iraqi leadership further, and could help Moscow in its efforts to protect them from Western reprisals.

Steady Progress in Russian-Japanese Relations.