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From: Nikolai Zlobin (nzlobin@cdi.org)
Sent: Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Subject: Washington Profile: A View from the Kremlin

Washington Profile, an international Russian-language news & analysis agency, is announcing a new project titled "A View from the Kremlin". The project's goal is to present on regular basis analysis by experts close to the Russian government and Kremlin insiders on Russian foreign and domestic policy and Russian-American relations. These materials, intended for an English-language audience, will also be placed on the Center for Defense Information website at www.cdi.org

The project will be headed by well-known Russian journalist Tatiana Malkina. We welcome any comments or suggestions, which may be sent to tmalkina@cdi.org.

Dr. Nikolai Zlobin,
Director and Editor in Chief, Washington Profile

Washington Profile: A View from the Kremlin
February 12, 2003
Alexander Budberg:
"Russia's Role in Iraq: Consequences and Expectations"

To figure out Russia's link to the conflict in Iraq, it is necessary to first break down the problem into its basic components and try to understand their relationship with each other.

When talking about the moral and ideological components of the issue, Russia is surprisingly united in its distaste for war. Saddam doesn't have anyone's sympathy, but that doesn't justify the American stance in the eyes of either the regular citizen or the political elite. To Russians, the approach taken by the US appears hypocritical. And for a good reason: there has been no direct evidence to show that Baghdad has weapons of mass destruction. The numerous declarations by members of the Bush Administration that they have evidence but cannot show it for fear of revealing their sources are only fit for a laugh.

Perhaps the epitome of the problematic PR campaign by the US was a statement by Defense Minister Rusmfeld, who said: "I don't understand the fuss about presence or lack of proof. That's not what this is about!" Powell's report to the UN was watched with great interest in Russia, and the response has been rather positive. But he alone could not cancel out the informational gaps and defects of the American government during the past year and a half.

Another questions has remained unanswered - what, besides their own military strength, gives Americans the right to determine who is right and who is wrong? Why are they ready to storm into a sovereign nation, kill thousands of people, and twist the arm of the international community? What are their goals?

An understanding of the goals of America's foreign policy is the second important element of Russia's link to the Iraq problem. Russia has never fully understood the complex combination of Theodore Roosevelt's pragmatism and Wilsonian idealism, endemic components of America's foreign policy. In general, America's purest "ideological" motivations are usually seen by Moscow as the most cynical.

If public opinion believes that the US needs the war with Iraq to "capture all the oil, lower prices on hydrocarbon resources and live comfortably at the expense of the rest of the world," then in the elite the views are more refined. The view most favorable to the White House is that the Middle East in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, are the cradle of a new, possibly global, terrorist war. And when the regime in Riyadh will inevitably fall in a few years, the situation will become completely uncontrollable. The US, then, is already trying to counteract this tendency, to establish a beachhead for Western civilization in the Middle East. They are forced, therefore, to do the dirty work on behalf of the whole of humanity.

Such a romanticized view of the US role obviously doesn't apply to the highest levels of the Russian ruling elite. It appears that the Putin administration is convinced that America's main motivation is its internal problems, that expansion in the Middle East, in the minds of Bush's advisors, can help the economy from its slump. This view of the Iraqi-American relationship defines the Kremlin's position, whose basic elements come down to this - it's not our war. Moreover, Russia is much more defenseless in the face of Muslim extremism than the US. Traditionally friendly relations with Arab counties allow Russia, with her large Muslim population and dilapidated army, to decrease the level of threats.

But neither does Moscow want to get into a fight with the US over Iraq. Kremlin would like to have a "special relationship" with Washington. This is important for countering Europe's "hard line" and for counterbalancing China's rapid growth. Moreover, liberals in the Russian political elite are convinced that the only obstacle to establishing this mutually beneficial "special relationship" is the sluggishness and bias of the American ruling elite.

That's why it's important for Russia to declare a united front with the UN. That's why in the Security Council vote, France's and China's positions will be very important for Russia.

The UN factor is also important for Moscow because XXX is unsure of the accuracy of Rumsfeld's, Cheney's and Rice's forecasts. By ignoring the UN, the Americans are dismantling the old security system. And it is unclear what will take its place. This uncertainty worries Putin and his team. First, Russia has inherited from the USSR an important role in the current system, and it could hardly expect to retain such a role in the new arrangements. Second, Putin does not like to take actions that do not have calculated outcomes. And ignoring the UN is exactly such an action. That's why Russia will continue to strive for keeping the UN involved in the conflict. This is a strategic position, but it doesn't eliminate the possibility of "separate agreements" between Russian and the US.

It is well-known that Russian companies have significant interests in Iraq. These interests have been maintained by those in power in Baghdad. But to say that business is the defining factor in determining the Russian position is incorrect, although this factor cannot be ignored altogether. In Moscow, the American view is seen as something like, "We, Americans, cannot guarantee Russian companies anything after the war. We have democracy and free markets, so all we can promise is a non-discriminatory approach and XX with all the other global players." This stance annoys Russia. It's curious how our partners sometimes harp on "freedom, democracy, markets" and sometimes ignore them completely, depending on the situation.

Russia has had a negative experience of cooperating with the US in Afghanistan. As soon as the post-fighting rebuilding began, America pressured the pro-Russian Northern Alliance out of power. This has happened even though the situation along the Afghani-Pakistani border is completely unregulated. Washington is seemingly unsure of what it should do with the Taliban members. Pushing the Northern Alliance out of power will lead to a civil war on the other side of the border. After that, the situation may become totally unmanageable. And Washington, using the ideological clichs of the past, actively plays into the "anti-Russian" line, which is objectively unfavorable to its interests. In Iraq, Russian leverage with the US is much weaker than in Afghanistan. And based experience, declarations of "equal treatment" for Russian and American business causes distrust.

Moscow is not fighting specifically for an "Iraqi piece of the pie". Show us another place where Russian armies could earn the same money. If you can't guarantee comfortable conditions for business in the Middle East, let Russian companies into the American markets - here the possibilities for the White House are plentiful.

Negotiations, in the opinion of Russian businessmen, are possible only before the war. Therefore, if Washington wants to neutralize Moscow's "pro-Iraq economic love", it should propose agreements today, not tomorrow.

The same goes for political concessions. Although here, it seems, Washington has already done all it can. During Richard Armitage's visit to Moscow, he openly let it be understood that the US would not protest a Russian pre-emptive attack on Chechen bases in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. Moreover, the State Department announced that three Chechen groups would officially be classified as terrorist organizations. It is unlikely that the White House can do offer Putin anything more.

Separate negotiations with Moscow are important because the "post-Gorbachev syndrome" is still very strong in the Kremlin. There is a feeling that Gorbachev "capitulated unilaterally", having bought into "Western demagoguery". Now the other extreme is popular - if you want something from Russia, offer something more than human values.

Regardless of the importance of short-term tactical interests, the maintenance of the strategic status-quo, including the role of the UN, is more important for Russia. That's why, to get Moscow on its side, the White House will have to devise a structure that will allow all the key players, including Paris and Peking, to save face.

Translated by Seva Gunitsky

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