#19 - JRL 7059
February 12, 2003
RUSSIA: A MONKEY LOOKING DOWN ON FIGHTING TIGERS
An interview with Timofey Bardachev, analyst with the Carnegie Foundation
Author: Olga Redichkina
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
THE PRELIMINARY RESULTS OF PRESIDENT PUTIN'S VISIT TO GERMANY AND FRANCE:
Question: France is greeting Putin with great excitement: garlands of flowers, crowds of rapt Parisians...
Timofey Bardachev: This is characteristic feature of French diplomacy, especially in relation to Putin.
Question: Do they think he is not indifferent to external display?
Bardachev: Paris is creating a conformable atmosphere for him. The French are well aware of the Russian tradition of welcoming "dear guests". That is why the Russian president sees Russian flags, a guard of honor, and veterans of the Normandy-Neman division - all this might bring a tear to his eye.
Question: What's the purpose?
Bardachev: To take the conflict with the US as far as possible, right up to a French veto of the UN Security Council resolution that would permit the use of force against Iraq. In this situation, France needs support - and it seeks that from both Russia and Germany. Germany is in an odd position, as it has no economic interests in Iraq; France does. Besides, unlike Russia, it has no political contacts with the Iraqi regime. In these terms, Germany is an instrument of French foreign policy. It should be noted that France - unlike Germany - has not declared that it will never participate in a military operation. France insists that inspections should be continued, though it does not deny the possibility of military action.
Question: What are the reasons for Germany's "naivete" - why is it pulling somebody else's chestnuts out of the fire?
Bardachev: The point here is that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government is in a stalemate. The foreign policy problem is that Schroeder damaged relations with the US last September. He still has not restored them completely. Currently, Germany is having substantial economic difficulties. It has to pay fines to the European currency system: the scale of Germany's budget deficit exceed the limits set by the European stability treaty, and this threatens the euro. Besides, Schroeder's party lost the state election in Lower Saxony. So Germany's support of the French initiative is an attempt to get out of the trap by showing some activity in foreign affairs.
Question: Putin has said several times lately that he is opposed to a war in Iraq. The joint statement from the presidents is also fairly pacifist: "Both countries support the continuation of inspections and a substantial strengthening of their personnel and technical capacities."
Bardachev: I cannot see anything here which says that Russia is committed to always support France and Germany. No one expects that Russia will use its veto power in the UN Security Council or make any anti-American initiatives.
Question: Does that mean the flags and flowers are all in vain?
Bardachev: Putin is in a very advantageous situation now. Russia is not a formal ally of the US, so it has fewer obligations than France or Germany, which are NATO members. At the same time, Russia is not a EU member. Russia can remain in the position of the monkey that sits on a hill and watches tigers fight. Of course, Putin has to make efforts to retain good relations with both European countries and the US.
Question: Putin is obviously nervous when asked about his actions if the military operation against Iraq starts.
Bardachev: Journalists may demand of him a direct statement of whether Russia supports France or America. Putin is unwilling to make any such statements. Although, from the broader perspective, Russia is not playing for serious stakes in Iraq. The main issue is debt repayments by Iraq's future government.
(Translated by Arina Yevtikhova)