#3 - JRL 7129
Putin: Defeat Of US Not In Russia's Interest - Reports
April 2, 2003
DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
MOSCOW (AP)--Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow, "for political and economic reasons, is not interested in the defeat of the United States" in Iraq, according to news reports.
On a visit to the city of Tambov, about 400 kilometers southeast of Moscow, Putin reiterated Russia's opposition to the U.S.-led war, telling Russian military veterans that Russia would "strive to return the (Iraqi) problem to the United Nations," Russian news agencies reported.
Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin added his criticism of the war on Wednesday, calling it a "very crude political, strategic mistake," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
However, Yeltsin, who is visiting Japan, cautioned against allowing U.S.-Russian relations to slide back into Cold War animosity. "We overcame this with such difficulty, and we can't return to it," Yeltsin said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov lashed out at the U.S. over allegations that Russian companies had provided Iraq with military equipment in violation of U.N. sanctions, according to a news report Wednesday.
Echoing previous official denials, Ivanov dismissed Washington's allegations as "propaganda" intended to distract attention from criticism of its military campaign in Iraq. "Now that it's hot for them, they are raising an outcry. It's not excluded that there will be other groundless accusations," Ivanov was quoted as saying by the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily.
Amid the chill in U.S.-Russian relations, the lower house of parliament last month put off ratification of a nuclear arms reduction treaty signed last May, citing negative feelings over Iraq.
Moderate lawmaker Vladimir Ryzhkov, who is in charge of parliamentary contacts with the U.S. Congress, pointed out Wednesday that Russia needs the arms reduction treaty more than the U.S., because it can't afford large nuclear arsenals.
"It's wrong and simply stupid to use the treaty to blackmail the Americans," Ryzhkov told reporters.
Also Wednesday, Russia's lower house refused to consider a nationalist-sponsored motion to provide massive humanitarian aid to Iraq. Only 105 lawmakers of the 226 necessary to put the draft resolution on the agenda voted to open debate.
Earlier Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry alleged Wednesday that U.S. airstrikes had targeted a residential Baghdad neighborhood where the Russian Embassy is located.
U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow was called to the ministry to hear a protest over the bombing, the ministry said in a press statement.
"The Russian side demanded that the American authorities take urgent and exhaustive measures so that such dangerous and unacceptable incidents are not repeated in the future," the ministry said.
The ministry didn't report any casualties in Wednesday's airstrikes, but said "the security of the Russian diplomatic representation's staff came under direct threat."
Russia's ambassador to Washington, Yuri Ushakov, delivered a similar protest to U.S. officials, it said.
Asked about Vershbow's meeting at the Foreign Ministry, a U.S. Embassy official said U.S. forces were designating only military targets and using only precision-guided weapons in Iraq.
The Russian government has said the "occupying forces" in Iraq should have primary responsibility for the country's civilian population. At the same time, it has sought to ensure that Russian contracts under the U.N.-sponsored oil-for-food humanitarian program are honored.