| 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
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
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,"
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.
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