| The Presidents of the United States and Russia spoke
by telephone on Monday night. A Kremlin press release says: "During
an exchange of opinions on the situation related to the Iraq crisis,
the Russian President emphasized the humanitarian consequences of
the military action. After reiterating his previously position on
regulation of the situation in Iraq, President Putin stressed the
need to avert a humanitarian disaster in the region. The heads of
state also discussed a number of current issues in bilateral relations."
These current issues included "the concern of the United
States about Russian companies supplying Iraq with products designated
for military use, including banned equipment," as White House
spokesman Ari Fleischer said at a press conference.
The telephone conversation took place at the initiative of President
Bush; according to Associated Press reports, he "picked up
the phone to rebuke his Russian counterpart for selling arms to
Iraq." Associated Press also described the conversation as
Putin's Press Secretary Alexei Gromov told RIA-Novosti that
the President had described US State Department reports of alleged
military supplies as lacking in evidence. Putin told Bush that
these claims "can damage relations between our two countries".
Gromov noted: "Moreover, in return we asked analogous questions
about the American side. However, no answers have been received
Meanwhile, the Americans are not ready to accept Moscow's verbal
assurances that there has been no cooperation with Iraq in breach
of UN sanctions. Citing an anonymous source, Reuters reported
that the US had gone public with its accusations against Moscow,
after receiving evidence that there were Russian specialists in
Baghdad, who were helping the Iraqis use radio-electronic military
equipment against the Anglo-American coalition. Russian firms
are also accused of supplying night-vision goggles and antitank
Many doubts are being expressed about whether America's true
"concerns" relate to any military equipment deliveries
which may or may not have taken place. What is the real source
of this most recent tension in Russian-US relations, and what
are the implications of the military equipment story for Moscow?
We asked some experts.
Sergei Karaganov, Chairman of the Presidium, The Foreign and
Security Policy Council
This is a display of irritation by the Americans, who had expected
Russia to be more obedient. However, the Americans are even more
irritated by the fact that they are starting to fail everywhere,
in all areas - and because the military operation appears not
to be going according to plan. So the United States is putting
pressure on everyone, trying to ensure for itself the best possible
political backdrop. However, it continues to deteriorate.
This exchange of barbed remarks could indeed lead to a chill
in Russian-US relations. And at that point, the situation gets
out of control, to some extent; even though the Russian government
does not want any kind of chill, as far as I'm aware. On the contrary,
while condemning the current actions of the United States, our
government actually wants to help the Americans end this conflict
in a way that enables them to save face. Even though it's already
apparent that the US has lost the conflict at the media and information
level, and is losing it at the political level. Even a military
victory might not help.
Alexander Ruhr, Director, Russia and CIS Programmes, German
Foreign Policy Council, Berlin.
If Bush goes as far as having such a telephone conversation
with Putin, that means things are serious. According to some reports,
America has been using its channels to put pressure on the Russian
government for the past six months, demanding a halt to certain
sales of weapons to Iraq by Russian private companies.
The fact that Bush has gone public could mean that the Americans
are very nervous, as they are not seeing any major achievements
in terms of moving forward in Iraq. Indeed, as the Russian side
says, Washington may now be seeking a scapegoat. Washington may
find it in Russia today, in Germany tomorrow, and in France the
day after that. On the other hand, we cannot rule out that the
Russian government doesn't know what is going on. Putin himself
understands that everything must be verified. He is not 100% informed
about what private companies are doing, especially in such a complex
sector as arms trade.
Georges Le Guelt, Research Director, the Institute for International
and Strategic Relations (IRIS), Paris
I believe the Americans have a grudge against all nations preventing
them from passing a second resolution on Iraq at the UN Security
Council. Thus, accusations from the American President and media
against certain Russian, Chinese, and French companies are a characteristic
phenomenon. Of course, in my view, this does not justify the actions
of those firms which actually sold forbidden equipment to Iraq.
Characteristically, the accusations were made via the media,
not via diplomatic channels. This is attributable to a need to
show the American people that those three countries (Russia, France,
and China) are unreliable. But I think this is a temporary crisis.
The United States is encountering protests worldwide. Washington
realizes that this "United States versus the rest of the
world" game cannot continue; especially if the US runs into
difficulties in Iraq or even in the whole Middle East.
In any case, it is not in the interests of the United States
to exacerbate differences with Moscow. In the long term, the common
interests between Russia and the US, as well as between France
and the US, will prevail.
Gleb Pavlovsky, Head of the Effective Policy Foundation
This deterioration in relations is localized. Outside this one
issue, there is no deterioration in relations, nor even any fundamental
change in relations. A localized rift between Russia and the US
might have serious consequences only if the ideology of unilateral
changes to the world order is accepted. Currently, this is only
a form of military propaganda. If it disappears with the end of
the war in Iraq, the rift will also disappear. But if Bush goes
further, insisting on his right to redraw the map of the world,
then this problem might be exacerbated, of course.
Deputy Chairman of the Defence Committee of the State Duma of
the Russian Federation
The whole point is that the operation is not going as the Americans
thought it would. In the military sense, it is still hard to say;
but in political terms, this is already obvious. Steadfast resistance
to the Americans in the UN Security Council by Russia and France
deprived the military operation of legitimacy, and thus of broad
international support. Actually, this circumstance v overlooked
by the media, for some reason - is one reason why the Iraqis are
fighting back so fiercely. They know quite well that there is
limited international support for this aggression, which gives
them added strength and determination. If there were a united
international front, as in 1991, everything would be different.
The growing difficulties are making the Americans irritable and
dissatisfied. Consequently they have started looking for someone