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#5 - JRL 7059
The Guardian (UK)
February 11, 2003
Putin supports everyone, but for how long?
Yelena Suponina, Pyotr Rozvalin and Yuri Shpakov
Yelena Suponina, Pyotr Rozvalin and Yuri Shpakov are respectively the foreign editor, Paris correspondent and Berlin correspondent of Vremya Novostei.

Russia has a complex choice. The nebulous suggestion that Moscow will support the German-French plan, if it is approved by the security council, no longer holds good. The question of which draft will the security council vote for now depends primarily on the specific position opted for by Russia. On one side are France and Germany with whose anti-war opinion Russia can more easily identify. On the other there is Britain and, most importantly, the US, the superpower with which the Kremlin would very much like to be on good terms.

The French considered the publication of a joint project with the Germans to be premature. The Elysee Palace wanted first to hammer out the details of old Europe's new initiative with Russia. And the visit of President Vladimir Putin, first to Berlin on Sunday and Paris on Monday, proved to be very timely. In an interview on French TV, Putin made a sharp, but simultaneously vague, statement supporting everyone at once.

"The United Nations charter has nothing that would allow the UN security council to take decisions on changing the political regime in this or that country, whether or not we like that regime," the president said. At the same time, "Russia shares the position of our American partners which is that we must do everything to ensure full Iraqi cooperation with UN inspectors. The difference of approach lies in this: we believe the problem can and must be solved by peaceful political and diplomatic means."

While the Americans are mocking "old Europe" (the implication being that it is decrepit), Paris and Berlin speak squeamishly about the concepts of a "new world" and "new Europe". The French automatically think of the Americans as the new rich, "the new Yankees" and they obviously see the newly minted eastern European allies as devious servants anxious for a handout.

The French position is unchanged: the present world cannot be a unipolar world and the destinies of the planet should not be decided only in the White House and the Pentagon. "Being allies implies dialogue with partners and respect for them," the French defence minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, told a press conference in Munich. "It is not enough to simply say: my plans are the best and everybody who disagrees with me should step aside."

This opinion is shared in Berlin. Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, has tried to sweeten the pill for the Americans: "Actually we are not that far removed from the United States." But the gap between the Atlantic allies is wider than ever before in the "peaceful" postwar period. Unsurprisingly, America threatens to drop Germany and France from the list of their allies. And Berlin was recently bracketed by the US together with Cuba and Libya.

At the Munich security conference, Fischer's voice trembled, but, looking to where the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, sat, he said: "An overwhelming majority of Germans, and not just the federal government, are against the war in Iraq. We have no right to accept the logic of an inevitable military expedition." This was the response to a sinister comment uttered by Rumsfeld a few minutes earlier: "There are no differences between the German and American peoples over Iraq. There are only differences between governments." The message seemed to be that Gerhard Schrders come and go, so, hold on, old Europe. But Bushes also come and go, as Paris and Berlin secretly hope. Let us see who will win. But will the Kremlin be able to guess in advance?

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