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#7 - JRL 7169
No. 7
May 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
Interview with Vladimir RYZHKOV by Tamara ZAMYATINA

"We have to swallow a bitter American pill," believes RF State Duma deputy, coordinator of the non-governmental committee "Russia in the United Europe" Vladimir Ryzhkov

Question: How seriously do you think have we damaged our relations with the United States as a result of the war in Iraq?

Answer: I believe nothing dramatic has happened. If we compare the events in Iraq with Yugoslavian crisis of 1999, our discord with the United States this time hasn't reached the same intensity. I remember very well that during the bombardment of Belgrade my colleagues in the State Duma seriously considered supplying the Yugoslavian army with S-300 anti-missile systems. Our reconnaissance ship was sent to the Mediterranean. As to the swift advance of the Russian paratroopers to Pristina -- the administrative center of Kosovo - during the last day of NATO's airborne assault on the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, it certainly shook the entire world, having demonstrated our ambitions to the West.

Compared to the events that happened four years ago, during the recent crisis the Russian president has shown a legalist attitude of an impartial judge, so to speak. Mr. Putin has never called the US-British operation in Iraq a crime or aggression. He simply called it a "mistake", which is the mildest definition in the political lexicon.

It's true; we did exchange the usual harsh remarks with the USA. It accused us of supplying Iraq with weapons. In response, we hinted at the fact that the Americans supplied Hussein's regime with chemical weapons production capacities. Later, an unpleasant incident involving shooting at the Russian diplomatic convoy occurred. Initially, we blamed everything on the American side, but then soothed our position laying the responsibility on certain individuals, who sloppily opened fire at the convoy of vehicles under the Russian flag.

Of course, the relations between Russia and the United Sates have cooled down somewhat. However, neither official Washington, nor the American press and public opinion consider the Russian position as traitorous.

Question: Nevertheless, we have started feeling an arrogant attitude of the victors toward those who didn't support the allied blitzkrieg...

Answer: Yes, it was a successful and swift operation. The number of casualties amounted to 2,500 Iraqi military personnel and 1,300 civilians. That's another reason why the relations between Russia and the United States haven't deteriorated to the point of deep crisis. Therefore, there is hope that all agreements between Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush would remain intact during the summit in St. Petersburg. Those include the nuclear balance, the control over the weapons of mass destruction, the fight against terrorism, and the cooperation in the sphere of energy industry. It's important to notice that each of the above-mentioned points is more important than the dispute over Iraq.

I believe that the upcoming summit during the anniversary celebrations in St. Petersburg will finally normalize the bilateral relations, especially if the issue of the post-war restoration of Iraq would be transferred under the UN Security Council's aegis.

Question: Certainly, in that case, it would be easier for us to pretend that we have withheld our position of principle. Are we still interested in Iraqi oil?

Answer: It's too late to argue this point. We haven't fought in Iraq and, therefore, we don't have the right to make the Americans pull chestnuts out of the fire for us. The United States paid the full price for this war, and it will try alone to make up for the expenses.

Question: Russia, together with Germany and France, has been already asked to write off the Iraqi external debt. How do you think we should react in this sensitive situation?

Answer: In the light of the overall concern about the future of Iraqi debt, which had been clearly expressed by the Russian official circles before the war, I was initially surprised by Putin's eagerness to discuss this issue. However, later on, RF Finance Minister Kudrin was apparently ordered to correct Putin's position. He called for the restructuring of Iraqi debts in the context of the Paris Club agreements.

For example, the amount of Iraqi debt to the United States is several times smaller than that of its debt to Russia. And I think we must insist on the return of the debt, no matter what kind of regime may be established in Iraq.

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