A Most Dangerous Game: Russian Gambles, American Distractions

The U.

The U.S. State Department has addressed a protest to Moscow in connection with the alleged discovery that Iraq has received supplies of weapons technology in contravention of UN sanctions.  Washington maintains that it has made representations about this through diplomatic channels over the course of the last several months.  Now, it has finally been decided to give these accusations a public character, through the established system of "leaks" to the press. 

In Moscow, of course, the accusations concerning the sale of weapons to Iraq were categorically denied.  Some experts have not discounted this possibility in principle.  For example, the retired commander of the Air Force, General Anatoly Kornukov, in an interview with the Interfax news agency, did not rule out the possibility that a supply of Russian radio-electronic jamming units could have found its way to Iraq through a third-party country despite a government ban. 

That clouds have begun to form on the horizon of the Russian-American relationship became very clear this past Saturday, when the Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking at the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy  (CDFP) [editor's note: a prestigious organization akin to the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States], immediately took the opportunity to square account by declaring, "We have done nothing illegal in connection with this country [Iraq]."  But then he slipped up, saying, "it is possible that private companies have done this, but this would be the exception."  Interestingly, this little tidbit was not included in the official text that was reproduced the following day on the Foreign Ministry's website. 

It is difficult to say how sure (or not) Moscow is that Russian companies did not deliver completed weapons systems to Iraq.  The country can be compared to a bordello where it is possible to work up deals like this, as it suits people--in principle, anything goes.  "There are many businessmen who would like to warm their hands by selling weapons.  Before, there were facts about illegal attempts to allegedly transfer military hardware to governments in Africa and Asia.  But then, in conjunction with the FSB (the Federal Security Service), we have decisively cut down on this," observed Kornukov. 

However, now there has been a ferocious outcry from Washington.  The Russian president has decided to deliver a blow, guaranteeing to punish any violators of the UN sanctions regime.  If, of course, any can be apprehended.   It didn't bother Putin to speak with President Bush on Tuesday; however, Kremlin sources indicated that Putin struck a "very adversarial note."

Observers in Moscow are united in their belief that the primary reason for the current spat between Russia and the United States is a product of the dissatisfaction of the White House with its relations with Moscow, strengthened by the first military setbacks faced by the coalition in Iraq.  The final straw was its stubborn resistance to the realization of American plans for war with Iraq.  It was not enough that earlier we opposed war; we have decided to continue this into the future.  In particular, Moscow has already promised that it will veto any attempt to legitimize American military action and any of its results in the United Nations. 

In answer to my question, as to how and in what manner this will be carried out, Foreign Minister Ivanov said:  "Russia will be very carefully paying attention to all subsequent resolutions of the UN Security Council concerning Iraq, and will stand against any attempt to directly or tacitly legitimize any military operation or any subsequent steps, which will strengthen a reconstruction of Iraq 'American-style.'" 

In Ivanov's words, Moscow would seek under those circumstances to add a "legitimization" of Russia's economic interests in Iraq into any subsequent resolutions of the UN Security Council.  This means in concrete terms that in the event of "regime change", all contracts concluded under Saddam Hussein would remain in force, as well as a recognition of Iraq's $8 billion debt to Russia. 

And so, Russia refuses to give America the right to legitimize its goals and interests in Iraq.  However, in the event of a change--for instance, the establishment of a pro-American regime in Baghdad--it may be possible to add, through the UN, some guarantees for the consideration of Russian interests. 

It is difficult to say how all of this can be coordinated with international law.  Yet, if a regime is established in Iraq that Russia deems "illegitimate", and moreover, if Russia does everything possible to prevent this from taking place, how is it possible under these conditions to suddenly add such guarantees for itself?  Who, concretely, would  safeguard these guarantees? The UN?  It does not appear that Washington will turn over supreme authority for the reconstruction of Iraq to the UN. 

On the diplomatic front it is already clear that new, heavy battles will be aroused in the Security Council.  It is doubtful whether Moscow's similar approach (as before) would be able to produce mutual understanding between Russia and the United States. 

Washington is irritated by Moscow's confidence that "the Americans will eventually have to come back to the UN", a confidence bolstered by the assumption that there will be no quick "blitzkrieg" in Iraq.  The Russians believe that this first attempt to unilaterally restructure the world "American style", without the mandate and participation of the UN, will fail.