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The Moscow Times, March 21, 2003

Putin Calls the Attack a Big Political Mistake

By Simon Saradzhyan and Oksana Yablokova

Itar-Tass / AP
Putin delivering his toughly worded speech on Iraq on Thursday.
President Vladimir Putin on Thursday demanded an immediate end to the U.S.-led military action against Iraq, denouncing it as a "big political mistake" that threatens the existing international security system and could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe in the region.

"This military action cannot be justified," a stern-looking Putin said in his toughest statement to date on Washington's plans to forcefully remove Saddam Hussein's regime.

"If we allow international law to be replaced by the law of the fist, under which the strong is always right and is unlimited in the choice of means to achieve his goals, then one of the basic principles of international law, the principle of the inviolability of the sovereignty of states, will be put into question," he said.

Once this principle is ignored, "no country in the world will feel safe, and the vast hotbed of instability that has appeared today will grow and prompt negative consequences in other regions of the world.

"For precisely these reasons, Russia demands the swiftest end to the military action," he said, speaking at a Kremlin meeting of top government officials.

Putin previously had offered only modest criticism of a U.S.-led war on Iraq, but on Thursday he went further than outspoken opponents such as French President Jacques Chirac. On Thursday, Chirac said only that he regretted the war. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder said the war was "the wrong decision."

The three leaders have led an effort to block attempts by the United States and Britain to pass a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Together with China's Hu Jintao, they have maintained that it is up to the United Nations alone to verify whether Iraq has any weapons of mass destruction -- as Washington has claimed -- and to dispose of them.

"There was no need for military action to answer the main question posed by the international community: Does Iraq have weapons of mass destruction and, if it does, what must be done -- and in what time frame -- to liquidate them?" Putin said Thursday.

He warned that the military campaign could lead to an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe in the entire region but stressed he was "no less" concerned that the war threatens "the disintegration of the existing system of international security."

Putin said the war violates the UN Charter and argued that the UN Security Council, where Russia holds a permanent seat and has the right of veto, should lead efforts to solve the Iraq crisis.

"Russia intends to pursue an effort to put the situation back on a peaceful course and achieve a real solution in Iraq based on UN Security Council resolutions," he said.

Putin's critical remarks were echoed by his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. They described the military action a mistake and called for it to end.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II condemned the war and said he was praying for an end to bloodshed, Interfax reported.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who has been lambasting Washington for weeks over its plans, toned down his criticism Thursday. He said Russia should "continue its dialogue" with the United States in an attempt to convince it to revive efforts to "solve the Iraq problem by political means."

He also said there were no immediate plans to evacuate remaining diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Baghdad.

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the Emergency Situations Ministry would send humanitarian aid to the region and contribute to any relief operation conducted under the aegis of the UN.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Kasyanov instructed Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu to deploy personnel and equipment to Iran to accommodate Iraqi refugees.

Four Il-76 transport planes carrying tents, blankets, beds and stoves will be sent to the Iranian city of Kermanshah shortly, Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Yury Brazhnikov said.

Brazhnikov said the supplies will help Kermanshah assist an expected influx of refugees from across the border.

The State Duma, the lower house of parliament, was more outspoken than Putin on Thursday, and some deputies called for military aid to be sent to Iraq.

The Duma, which previously postponed all other activities in anticipation of an attack, passed a resolution condemning the war and giving preliminary approval to an appeal for a special UN General Assembly session devoted to Iraq.

Deputies rejected an alternative Communist resolution calling for Russia to stop supporting the UN sanctions placed on Iraq after its 1991 invasion of Kuwait and start a boycott of U.S. goods and movies.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Duma's committee on international affairs and a member of the pro-government People's Deputy faction, said the Communists' proposal was an attempt to pull Russia into the war on Iraq's side.

"We must not participate in this venture in any way," said Rogozin, who led efforts to derail the hard-line resolution and pass the more modest one he helped draft.

Liberal deputies expressed confidence that Putin's tough rhetoric would not undermine Russia's relations with the United States.

"It does not mean that Russia's relations with U.S. and European partners will get worse," said Sergei Ivanenko, deputy head of Yabloko.

"Putin's statement was harsh, but it was a continuation of his earlier line and does not close the door to attempts to put the situation back on a peaceful track," Ivanenko said.

He added: "There has been a crack in relations between Russia and the U.S. over Iraq as of late, but it is a crack, not an abyss."

The upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, decided not to convene a special session. The chairman of its international affairs committee suggested that lawmakers from both chambers, government agencies and the business community team up to establish a special taskforce to formulate what Russia's policy in a post-war Iraq should be.


See also:

the original at

Situation Around Iraq

The Moscow Times, March 21, 2003

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