#11 - JRL 7172
May 8, 2003
Who'll Poop St. Pete Party?
By Pavel Felgenhauer
In a few weeks, U.S. President George W. Bush and other world leaders will be in St. Petersburg to meet President Vladimir Putin at an informal summit to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city by Peter the Great. Peter made St. Petersburg the capital of Russia in an attempt to link his mostly Asian empire to Europe. But the task of Westernizing Russia has never been completed.
Putin was obviously intending to use the coming summit to demonstrate the exceptional progress that has been achieved under his leadership in finding Russia a place in the Western community of nations. Hundreds of millions of dollars were siphoned out of the federal budget to renovate the streets and old imperial palaces in St. Petersburg to make the summit a success. But the Iraq crisis may have ruined it all.
The short working visit to Moscow by British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week was expected to close the gap between Putin and the Anglo-American coalition. But there was, it seems, no serious progress.
Washington and London want a swift removal of the UN sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990. A removal of sanctions may facilitate a resumption of oil exports at full prewar capacity, an influx of much needed investment, a quick rebuilding of the shattered economy and further oil production growth.
For Russia -- and other oil exporters -- the prospect of fast oil production growth in Iraq is bad news: Not only would world oil prices be depressed, but investment that could go to our oil industry might be diverted. To prevent such a scenario, Putin insisted that sanctions be removed only after UN inspectors, operating in Iraq under the protection of UN peacekeepers and independent of the U.S.-led allies, officially verify the liquidation of all weapons of mass destruction -- a process that may last a year or two.
In the meantime, the UN-controlled oil-for-food program should continue in Iraq. This program provides the population with basic food and medicine, but does not allow any substantial investments in Iraq -- so keeping oil production at a relatively low level. After talks with Blair, Putin told journalists: "Russia is ready to support the UN inspectors in Iraq most actively."
Putin was implying that Moscow is ready to send its soldiers into Iraq to protect the UN inspectors from the U.S. military. The idea of deploying French and Russian troops in Iraq under a UN flag to support inspections and prevent a U.S.-led invasion was seriously discussed in Moscow and Paris before the war. Even after it began, the idea was not abandoned: It was assumed in Moscow that a Russian-led peacekeeping force could help separate the opposing armies and impose a ceasefire when the U.S.-led coalition got bogged down.
Of course, events in Iraq destroyed the anti-U.S. narratives of the Russian elite. But why doesn't Putin change his policies correspondingly?
After the summer of 2001 and especially after Sept. 11, 2001, the Kremlin did not use the term "multipolar world" at all. Now Putin is stating time and again: Russia believes the world should be multipolar.
French President Jacques Chirac has recently also been publicly insisting that a multipolar world with various centers of power that would contain U.S. global hegemony is inevitable. In Moscow, where the former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov first came up with the concept, French support is seen as evidence of an impending collapse of U.S. supremacy.
The Foreign and Defense ministries, and the intelligence community that predicted the United States would get a bloody nose in Iraq, are today trying to cover up their blunder with new predictions that the war in Iraq is only beginning, and that the wicked Americans may still be defeated.
In several weeks, the United States will be ready to resume oil exports from Iraq and will demand that the UN lift sanctions. If Russia, France and others block the sanctions lifting in the Security Council, the oil exports will still go ahead regardless, just as the invasion did in March. Putin will be forced to make a crucial decision: To follow the multipolar dream and face mounting U.S. hostility, or perform a humiliating backtrack and face the hostility of the majority of the Russian elite.
Maybe the St. Petersburg extravaganza will help: Putin would hate to spoil the show in his hometown. The Kremlin may accept the inevitable and hope that a victorious Bush will be merciful.
Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.