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Financial Times (UK), March 6, 2003

Russia should join a cold war on Iraq

By Grigory Yavlinsky

The writer is leader of Russia's liberal Yabloko party

In the manner of Andrei Gromyko, his Soviet predecessor, Igor Ivanov, Russia's foreign minister, now repeatedly suggests that Moscow might veto a second United Nations resolution on Iraq. Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin has maintained a protracted silence. According to today's Kremlinologists, this role-play can mean only two things: either Russia's position has not yet been decided; or, as in previous crises, Mr Putin has formulated it himself but is waiting for the appropriate moment to announce it to the world.

Sensing an opportunity either way, a host of political and commercial representatives have rushed to the Kremlin clutching their price lists to lobby the president. In essence, they are urging Moscow to sell its consent to war in exchange for guarantees of Iraq's $8bn Russian debt, for participation in the economic and commercial development of postwar Iraq and for access to Iraqi oil reserves for Russian oligarchs.

If the Americans say Yes to such a deal, Russia should keep quiet and avert its gaze, say these lobbyists. It is precisely this mercantilist attitude that preoccupies western analysts and journalists writing about Russia.

In fact, Russian national interests lie elsewhere. Mr Putin rightly rejected the policy of support at a price in September 2001. That was the moment when Russia at last realised that its true national interests lay not in western hand-outs but in much closer co-operation with the west and above all with the US, in international security and the war against terrorism.

In regard to Iraq, Russia's vital interests lie neither in setting a price for its support for America nor in propping up the oil price. They lie in guaranteeing the security of Russian citizens and the stability of neighbouring regions. Our neighbours must adhere strictly and transparently to non-proliferation and to total and irreversible destruction of biological and chemical weapons. From this viewpoint, the need to disarm Iraq is absolutely indisputable. As a goal for the international community, it is beyond question.

Besides, if Russia wants at least to be called a democratic country, it cannot be indifferent to the existence of the Baghdad regime, with its politically motivated persecution, mass repression, torture and executions. That dictatorship must be consigned to the past. Russia also has a duty to strengthen the international coalition against terrorism, to enhance United Nations authority and the effectiveness of Security Council decisions.

But does that mean war against Iraq is inevitable? No, it is still possible to avoid war - but only if there is a compromise between the supporters of war and its opponents that preserves the unity of the international community and its capacity to act decisively.

That compromise could involve the long-term deployment of a powerful international armed force along Iraq's borders. It is already obvious to everybody that only the presence of an armed contingent would allow UN inspectors to do their job effectively and demonstrate to Saddam Hussein that the time for playing one member of the international community off against another has long passed.

Of course, this plan is already being implemented. It is precisely the threat of force from the US that has forced the Iraqi leader into co-operating with UN weapons inspectors. Over time, it should bring about full Iraqi disarmament and regime change. History proves that such regimes, like the Soviet Union, are gradually worn down when subjected to constant pressure.

What we need is the modern equivalent of the cold war, not a hot war against Mr Hussein. After all, the combination of constant political pressure and the threat of military force have already proved effective in containing Iraq. Why abandon it now? This approach could also be used to deal with other dictatorships searching for weapons of mass destruction. North Korea has resumed its nuclear programme, provoking a second crisis for the international community. And Kim Jong-il is not the last in the line of unpredictable dictators.

Russia should support the containment and erosion of the Iraqi regime but resist a precipitous Anglo-American war. Instead it should attempt to reassemble an international coalition in a new cold war against rogue states seeking weapons of mass destruction. That could be acceptable to the US, Britain, France and Germany. But Moscow will not succeed through either the posturing of Mr Ivanov or the deliberate ambiguity of Mr Putin.


See also:

the original at

Situation Around Iraq

Financial Times (UK), March 6, 2003

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