#18 - JRL 7059
February 12, 2003
Russia Aims for Role as Broker Between U.S., Europe
By Sharon LaFraniere
Washington Post Foreign Service
MOSCOW, Feb. 11 -- With a critical report from U.N. weapons inspectors in Baghdad due in just three days, Russian political analysts said today that President Vladimir Putin was trying to position his country as an honest broker between the United States and its strongest European critics over the justification for launching military action against Iraq.
Putin's strategy is to work with European critics of U.S. policy while holding out the option of siding with the United States in the end rather than risk damaging Russian-American relations. In the last two weeks, Putin has visited or spoken with President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. He also hosted the leaders of Pakistan and Italy in Moscow and spoke by phone with the prime ministers of India and Turkey.
Putin today reiterated his call for action against Iraq under the umbrella of the United Nations. In an interview on French television, he defended the diplomatic initiative by France, Russia and Germany for strengthened U.N. weapons inspections aimed at disarming President Saddam Hussein peacefully. "We are trying to find a peaceful solution to a grave international crisis and, I repeat, we will be heard," he said, speaking through an interpreter. Without specifically naming the United States, he said, "I am convinced that it would be a grave error to be drawn into unilateral action, outside of international law."
Vladimir Lukin, deputy speaker of the lower house of Russia's legislature, the State Duma, and a former ambassador to the United States, described the Russian goal as that of a go-between between the United States and countries in Western Europe and elsewhere that oppose war. He said that Russia agrees with the United States and Britain that the Iraqi threat is severe but it concurs with France and Germany that war should be put off. "Russia is in an excellent position," Lukin said. "England tried to play the role of a go-between . . . but it has failed lately. This has created a vacuum."
The Bush administration has been mild in response to Putin's stance on the Iraq issue, while harshly criticizing Chirac and Schroeder for their opposition to U.S. policy. Putin hinted this month that he would yield to the U.S. position if Hussein failed to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspections and ultimate disarmament.
Sergei Karaganov, head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and an informal Kremlin adviser, said Putin wants to work out a solution that is acceptable to the Bush administration. "We want to keep our relations with the United States," he said. "Give Saddam Hussein until September 15th and we will go there together," he said. "A war after two months of inspections is one thing. A war after nine months of inspections is another."
If the United States succeeds in promoting a new U.N. resolution on military action against Iraq, Karaganov predicted that Russia would abstain rather than wield its veto power as a permanent Security Council member. Russia does not want to risk damaging the role and power of the Security Council, said a senior U.S. diplomat. "The Security Council is critically important for them to continue to play a global role. They don't want to see that in any way undermined," the official said.