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#3 - JRL 7040
Russia's Communist leader brands Putin as US lackey over Iraq
January 2 9, 2003

Russian Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov rounded furiously on President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday for his new tough stance towards Iraq, accusing him of abandoning national interests to please Washington.

"Putin has made a sudden shift towards fully supporting the US plans for intervention in Iraq. And this turnaround was completely unexpected," Zyuganov said in a statement released by his party. "The Russian president has shown he is ready to cling blindly onto the coattails of the Bush administration's aggressive policy, ignoring Russia's strategic interests in the Middle East," he charged.

Just hours ahead of US President George W. Bush's State of the Union speech Wednesday, Putin warned Iraq that if it did not improve cooperation with UN weapons inspectors, Russia could back tougher action by the UN Security Council.

Hinting at possible support for US military action on the part of Russia, one of the five veto-wielding permanent council members, Putin said he did not want a confrontation with the United States over Iraq.

"We demand that the Russian president heed the views of tens of millions of Russian voters, expressed in the statements of the State Duma, and that of the world community," Zyuganov said.

"We demand that Russia use its veto against any UN Security Council resolution which gives the United States the right to attack Iraq," he added.

Russia, which has long-standing oil interests in Iraq, a Soviet-era ally, has until now staunchly opposed US plans to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and insisted that UN weapons inspectors be allowed to disarm Baghdad peacefully.

Once parliament's dominant force, the Communists lost control of the State Duma lower chamber to centrist and pro-Putin blocs in the December 1999 elections.

Zyuganov twice finished second in Russian presidential elections, and remains the main challenger to Putin ahead of the March 2004 vote, although Putin is widely expected to win easy re-election.

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