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The Moscow Times, March. 20, 2003

Kremlin Silent as Deadline Passes

By Simon Saradzhyan and Nabi Abdullaev

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov made an 11th-hour appeal against war at the UN Security Council on Wednesday, while the Kremlin was conspicuously silent in a clear signal that Russia didn't want to burn any bridges with U.S. or European partners.

President Vladimir Putin used his single television appearance Wednesday to speak about military reforms. On Tuesday, he expressed regret about U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to try to topple Saddam Hussein's regime without the UN's blessing.

Ivanov, however, has adopted more hawkish rhetoric, and on Wednesday he forcefully criticized Washington's actions at the United Nations meeting.

Ivanov said the UN has never passed a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq and reiterated that an attack would undermine the international war on terrorism.

"Not one of these decisions gives the right to use force against Iraq outside the UN Charter," Ivanov said of the Iraq resolutions that the UN has passed over the past decade.

"Not one of them authorizes the violent overthrow of the leadership of a sovereign state," he said.

Ivanov said there remained no evidence that Iraq poses a direct threat to the security of the United States.

If there were "indisputable facts," he said, "then Russia, without any hesitation, would use any means available under the UN Charter to eliminate such a threat."

The council meeting was called to hear a report by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, who expressed disappointment that his work had been curtailed after only 3 1/2 months.

Ivanov joined the French and German foreign ministers and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara in a call for inspectors to finish their job and for the Security Council to endorse Blix's work program.

However, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said, "The fact of the matter is that the situation on the ground will change, and so will the nature of the remaining disarmament tasks. Considering a work program at this time is quite simply out of touch with the reality that we confront."

Earlier Wednesday, State Duma deputies fired a volley of verbal shots at the United States, and one lawmaker went as far as to call Bush a terrorist.

The Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party, or LDPR, twice appealed for a one-hour discussion on Bush's ultimatum, but the chamber voted the motion down both times.

Communist Deputy Sergei Reshulsky then called for a walkout, saying those who disagreed with "state terrorist Bush, who is in fact beginning World War III" should leave the Duma building to stage a protest at the U.S. Embassy.

Dozens of deputies left the building, and some of them later joined a rally of about 50 people at the embassy. An anti-war demonstration also was held at the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg.

Communist Deputy Nikolai Bindyukov said he was resigning from a Duma group that acts as a liaison with U.S. Congress.

LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said the lawmakers were "cowards" who did not want to stand up to the Bush administration, even though the Duma previously decided to dedicate Thursday's session to the Iraqi crisis.

"It is a crying shame," Zhirinovsky shouted, in footage shown on television.

The Duma has decided to set aside all bills scheduled for Thursday to pass a resolution protesting the war, should it begin.

In another acknowledgement of a looming war, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday that humanitarian aid was being collected for Iraqi refugees.

The Duma decided Tuesday to indefinitely postpone a vote on the ratification of a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction treaty to protest Bush's ultimatum. However, the pro-Kremlin Unity faction now intends to push for the treaty to be considered Friday as originally planned, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The Moscow Treaty, which was ratified by U.S. Congress earlier this month, requires Russia and the United States to cut their strategic nuclear arsenals by about two-thirds.

The anti-American sentiment that flared up in the Duma on Wednesday is merely a reflection of wider public opinion, Reshulsky said.

"The Russian people are afraid of military encroachments by the United States," Reshulsky said in a telephone interview.

According to a recent survey by leading pollster VTsIOM, 71 percent of the population views the United States as a threat to peace, while 45 percent see Iraq as the threat. The figures overlap with one another because many of the 1,600 respondents said both countries pose a threat. The early March poll also found that anti-American sentiment is running as high as it did during the U.S.-led strikes in Yugoslavia in 1999. The poll's margin of error was 3.4 percent.

Yet the Kremlin has chosen not to strain its relationship with the United States -- in a sign that Putin's foreign policy is based more on shrewd pragmatic calculations than that of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, political analysts said Wednesday.

The Kremlin is also less sensitive to public opinion and those in the Defense Ministry and intelligence agencies who have had reservations about its efforts to forge a strategic partnership with Washington, said Alexei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies and Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center.

That does not mean that the Kremlin should call off its verbal opposition to war while refraining from acting as a spoiler to U.S. efforts to unseat Hussein, said Ivan Safranchuk of the Moscow office of the Center for Defense Information.

"By making this stand at the Security Council [on Wednesday], Russia should be able to say that it has done everything that it can, and it should continue to stick to its position," Safranchuk said.

He noted that Putin has never publicly indicated that Russia might reverse its opposition to war and, thus, has not misled Bush, who often relies on his personal opinion of world leaders in his dealings with them.

As such, Ivanov's criticism alone "will do no major harm" unless Russia decides to increase the stakes further and condemn the ouster of Hussein, rather than only denounce the unauthorized use of force, Safranchuk said.

Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky said public opposition to war is high because the Kremlin never has made any effort to spell out the Iraq crisis. He said the public does not know how "repressive" Hussein's regime is, what Russia's true interests in Iraq are and what the United States is trying to achieve.

"Under this circumstances, the conservative forces with the old Soviet mentality that still constitute the Russian political establishment have dominated in shaping out Russia's position on Iraq," Yavlinsky said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

See also:

the original at

Situation Around Iraq

The Moscow Times, March. 20, 2003

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