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Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 3, 2003

Instead or After the War

The Iraqi crisis: Russia's interests and strategy by Viktor Sheinis

Viktor Sheinis is a leading researcher of the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, member of the YABLOKO party.

The war of the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein's regime seems to be inevitable. How is Russia supposed to behave in a situation which it hadn't provoked and in which, let's be frank, hardly depends on it? However, Russia does have some concerns of its own in this international crisis, which could have considerable complications. In my opinion, three factors are essential here.

Firstly, the economic climate in Russia, the speed of growth, budget revenues, and social payments ultimately depend on maintenance of relatively high and stable oil prices.

Secondly, Russia is concerned about retaining political stability in a nearby region. Thirdly, implementation of the foreign policy announced after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, which hasn't yet, unfortunately, become irreversible, is the most general concern for our society and state.

Significant, though subordinate interests can replenish this list: recovery of the Iraqi debt, implementation of promising projects in this country. Most often, Iraq's defenders from "American aggression," - the influential forces, which are used to interpret any event in international life through the prism of opposition and rivalry with the United States, are bring these factors to the foreground, by speaking about infringement of Russia's interests.

Meanwhile, the potential capacity of the current Iraqi regime to acquire weapons of mass destruction which do not require complicated delivery systems poses a serious threat to global peace and security, including Russia's security.

We are told that Saddam, who has been chosen for execution, is not the only one of his kind in the world. It appears the "axis of evil" is not a lurid invention of American PR, but a reflection of global realities in the 21st century - when small states headed by irresponsible and unpredictable rulers, or extraterritorial organizations like Al Qaeda or Aum Shinrikyo, which have state-of-the-art destruction weapons, rather than the opposition of two superpowers, pose a real threat to the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The international community is only beginning to realize the scale of the new danger and take countermeasures against these threats.

Undoubtedly, overthrowing Saddam's regime by force will involve substantial cost and danger. The cost of the military operation v in human lives and material destruction - is not known; neither is it known how long it will take. It is hard to predict the echo of the war in neighboring states. In some of them, the medieval forms of social and political organization clash with modernization processes, and under the influence of an external incentive this volatile mixture could have consequences similar to the anti-Shah revolution of late 1970s in Iran. Finally, the consequences for the global economy, the oil market, and our export revenues are unknown. (I'll only note that when they describe how Iraqi oil controlled by the Americans will flood the world market, Russian supporters of Baghdad's regime for some reason do not show any concern about what might happen if the UN lifts its sanctions.)

We have to make our choice anyway. The pacifist position always has some advantages; an endeavor to squeeze out everything possible without a war is discreet - until a certain point, however. It is hard to tell where this boundary lies. However, there's a boundary we should not consciously cross. Using the veto in the UN Security Council if the matter is put to the vote (if war is inevitable, let it begin with UN approval) or insane attempts to create an anti-American coalition with Germany and France (which will eventually reach an agreement with the Americans) are beyond this boundary.


See also:

Situation Around Iraq

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 3, 2003

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