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Russia's strident anti-war stance over Iraq a "mistake": analysts
March 31, 2003

Russia is making a major mistake by furiously opposing the US-led invasion of Iraq, throwing away any chance to influence the post-war situation and further marginalising the United Nations, analysts say.

President Vladimir Putin should resist the wave of anti-American feeling in Russia and try to reach a consensus with Washington, London, Paris and Berlin on the future for Iraq, a round-table of foreign policy experts urged Monday.

"Russia is continuing to push for the withdrawal of allied troops and the resumption of political efforts. This is a mistaken policy," deputy director of the Institute for Applied International Studies, Andrei Zagorsky, said.

"The main task today is to restore the unity of the five (UN Security Council) powers that split over Iraq and to agree on the basic principles for the post-war scenario, in Iraq and the region as a whole," he added.

Russia, which along with fellow council members France and Germany, led efforts to prevent a US and British attack on Iraq and pursue UN weapons inspections, has toughened its rhetoric in recent days.

Putin warned Friday that the US-led war in Iraq threatened to destabilize international relations to a low not seen since the Cold War and demanded an immediate halt to hostilities.

Instead of asking the United Nations to rule on the legality of the US invasion, as Moscow has threatened to do, Russia should back British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his bid to establish a key UN role in post-war Iraq, the forum said.

"We should support Blair's initiative to involve the United Nations not just in a humanitarian role but in the administration of post-war Iraq," said Vladimir Ryzhkov, a prominent independent lawmaker.

Furious after weeks of diplomatic wrangling in the UN Security Council failed to secure a resolution approving military action against Iraq, US President George W. Bush wants to limit the UN role despite pleas from Blair, his closest ally.

"Russia must do everything it can to save the United Nations. It could gradually fall apart and with it traditional security mechanisms, which would have unpredictable consequences," warned Andrei Kortunov from the EuroAsia Foundation.

"The alternative is a downgrading of the United Nations into a provider of humanitarian aid in post-conflict situations. We have to avoid that at all costs," he added.

With opinion polls showing that three out of four Russians hope for a US failure in the Iraq war, the risk is that Moscow will do irreparable damage to its strategic ties with Washington forged since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"We should not get swept away by this wave of anti-Americanism, because we can suffer severe consequences if we ignore our national interests and destroy our strategic partnership with the United States," Zagorsky said.

Another analyst, Andrei Piontkovsky from the Center for Strategic Studies, pointed out that Russia and the United States shared vital common aims in fighting terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

"No one is forcing us to love the United States, or approve of what they are doing, but our own sense of self-preservation should alert us to our geo-political priorities," he said.

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