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Advisors urge Moscow to secure UN backing for US attack on Iraq
February 18, 2003

Russia should reverse its stance over Iraq and try to secure UN approval for a possible US war against Baghdad, pro-Kremlin foreign policy experts are urging President Vladimir Putin.

Instead of staying in the peace camp led by Paris and Berlin, Moscow must focus on its economic interests and preserve the authority of the United Nations -- a key instrument for Russia on the world stage, according to the government advisors.

"We should not take too principled a stance. Russian diplomats have a tendency to stress the importance of international law. We have to act in our own interests," Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies, said. "The main thing for us is to preserve international institutions, in particular the United Nations. We have an interest in the UN Security Council because we have a status as a permanent member.

"We must also maintain our relations of trust with the main world powers. Our most important partner is the United States," he told a panel meeting in Moscow.

The United States and Britain are expected soon to put forward a new UN resolution that could pave the way for strikes on Iraq despite insistence by most other Security Council members for UN weapons inspections to continue.

After a surprisingly positive report by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix last week, the European powers opposed to US military action have stepped up their calls for a peaceful disarmament of the Baghdad regime.

France and Russia both have veto power as permanent members of the Security Council.

But Russian former deputy foreign minister, Anatoly Adamishin, dismissed the chances of avoiding conflict and said Moscow must choose sides now.

"I am certain there will be an attack. The Americans cannot go backwards now. It would be better for us to have a UN resolution which would give a sanction to eventual military action against Iraq," he told the conference.

"We could keep our head in the sand, let the Americans do what they want, but a UN resolution would ensure that it stays in the framework of international law," the former senior diplomat added.

Another expert close to government circles said that Russia must show it is a friend of the United States and did not support Saddam Hussein's regime.

"Our national interests are not to enter into confrontation with the United States," said Anatoly Konovalov, head of the Institute for Strategic Assessments.

"The world is changing and we can't close our eyes to that. We are not defenders of Saddam Hussein and we should not act in such a way," he added.

With Russian companies holding huge contracts in oil-rich Iraq and Moscow owed billions of dollars in Soviet-era debts by Baghdad, Russia has an interest in avoiding a rift with the United States.

"We must make sure we don't cut ourselves off from a role in a post-war Iraq," said Adamishin.

According to Markov, however, there is little hope of keeping any share of Iraq's oil riches. What Moscow must do is to try to avoid the United States flooding the markets with Iraqi oil, which would be devastating for Russia, the world's second largest crude exporter.

"(US President George W.) Bush and his friends in the US oil majors will make sure they grab all Russia's oil interests in Iraq, all we may get left with is a few breadcrumbs," said Markov.

"What we can try to influence is the price of oil. OPEC will be the next target. The price of oil will be decided in the White House. We have to enter into negotiations now on a fair price, 19 dollars a barrel," he added.

In a sign that the Russian government is ready to shift stance towards the United States, Mikhail Margelov, a senior foreign policy figure close to Putin, said a new UN resolution on Iraq could be passed.

"The US administration has already virtually taken the decision to attack Iraq, but it is obvious that the United States and the entire international community will do everything to make sure the situation does not get out of UN control," the head of the Federation Council upper house's foreign affairs committee told Moscow Echo radio.

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