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Russia: Moscow May Be Opting For Pragmatism Toward Bush Doctrine

  • Gregory Feifer

When U.S. President George Bush unveiled his new security doctrine in September, he sealed the victory of a number of conservative hawks who had long pushed for a policy that would seek to ensure global military superiority for the United States. The new preemptive policy sent ripples around the world, not least in former rival superpower Russia, where many see a likely attack on Iraq as a possible first step in Washington's quest for greater world domination. But members of Moscow's foreign-policy establishment are striking a pragmatic chord, saying that if Russia is too weak to deter Washington's aggression, it should at least do everything possible to benefit from the situation.

Moscow, 3 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Russian foreign-policy establishment is striking a pragmatic chord, saying Moscow is too weak to counter Washington's aggressive new security doctrine, which many in Russia see as a plan to attack any rival country, and must instead work to benefit from it.

Moscow has so far resisted U.S. lobbying in the United Nations Security Council for a new weapons-inspections resolution against Iraq that would require Baghdad to allow UN inspectors unrestricted access to search for development of weapons of mass destruction or to face military attack. But the Kremlin's hard line of opposition seems to be giving way to a new prevailing pragmatism.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov reflected this view in remarks yesterday following the conclusion of talks in Vienna between Iraqi officials and UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix. "First, we should hold a [UN] Security Council meeting, listen to the Blix report, and then decide whether there is a need for [a new] resolution or not. If, for the effective work of inspectors, there is a need for additional decisions [by the UN Security Council], we, of course, are ready to consider them," Ivanov said.

The tussle over Iraq is taking place under the shadow of a new U.S. national-security strategy that would stop any rival state from threatening Washington's military superiority. U.S. President George W. Bush declared his uncompromising strategy on 20 September, stating that the United States should adopt a "strike-first" policy against terrorist threats "before they're fully formed."

Following the talks with Blix, Iraq now says it expects an advance party of inspectors in about two weeks. But U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has attacked the announcement, saying inspectors should not resume work in Iraq until a new resolution is adopted.

Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovskii is head of the Foundation for Effective Politics. Speaking yesterday at a conference of analysts and legislators, he said Russia should push its interests by trying to participate in the formulation of a new world order instead of simply showing opposition. "Russia is strategically interested in the process of growing global revisionism. It goes without saying that we're extremely interested in the question of where and on what limits that revision ends. The main thing is that any revision ends with agreements of some kind. Russia's task is to participate in these agreements," Pavlovskii said.

Centrist legislator Konstantin Kosachev, deputy head of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, agrees. He said that despite its perceived power, the United States will still have to contend with the policies of other countries. Russia's task is therefore to formulate a clear strategy of positions and coordinated and predictable responses if it wants its opinion to be taken into account.

Pavlovskii said Moscow should issue its own ultimatum to Iraq or sit back and nod approvingly about a U.S.-led attack on what he says is a terrorist-sponsor state.

But while the official line may be changing, many members of the policy elite still take an unbending hard-line view, saying Iraq is simply the first step in a series of conflicts Washington is planning to ensure its military superiority over every other country.

They cite Bush's new security document, heralded in Washington as ending the Cold War military strategy of deterrence and adopting the preemptive policy that has dominated thinking in the White House since Bush took office in January 2001.

Critics say the Bush administration has become a dangerous bully that tells international organizations to go along with U.S. policy or be relegated to irrelevance.

Speaking at yesterday's foreign-policy conference, television journalist and foreign-policy pundit Aleksei Pushkov said the U.S. intention to attack Iraq is simply part of a powerful tendency of aggression. "If it weren't Iraq, it would be another country," he said. "That's obvious." He added: "Something has to be done about that. Because if today it's Iraq and tomorrow Iran and so on, then we won't have a decade of freedom and democracy but a decade full of war, an obvious increase in the threat of terrorism. Bush either doesn't understand that or he feels there's no other choice. There will be a terrorist response [to U.S. aggression], that is, [there will be] a full destabilization in international relations," Pushkov said.

State Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov, an outspoken member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, said Moscow should counter Washington by flexing its nuclear muscle. "Why can't we help all those countries that just want to possess nuclear weapons as a means of deterrence? Why are we sitting within the strict limits of control over missile technology, control over nuclear weapons, and nonproliferation thinking, which is the foundation for modern politics? It's not a foundation at all! If the Yugoslavs had 15 or 16 warheads, I don't think there would have been a war [with NATO in 1999], or it would have been another war, a war of nerves," Mitrofanov said.

Leonid Ivashov, vice president of Moscow's Academy of Geopolitical Problems and a former colonel general who was head of the Russian Defense Ministry's International Cooperation Department, said Washington's rejection of international agreements is similar to the actions of Nazi Germany before World War II.

Ivashov said Moscow should learn from the mistake of having befriended Hitler before he attacked the Soviet Union. Instead of cooperating with Washington, Moscow should look toward building a new alliance including China, Iran, and other U.S. adversaries -- an idea that has circulated in Russia for many years.

Moscow has often based its opposition to an attack on its economic interests in Iraq. Baghdad reportedly owes Russia at least $7 billion in Soviet-era debt. Foreign-policy guru Vyacheslav Nikonov, director of Moscow's Politika Foundation, said since Russia has little influence over Iraq, it should be protecting its economic interests in the face of an inevitable change of regime in the Middle Eastern state.

Duma Deputy Irina Khakamada, the co-head of the liberal Union of Rightist Forces party, agrees, saying Russia must concentrate on getting "dividends" out of the Iraq situation instead of remaining on the sidelines of the negotiations process. "[The United States] is making two contradictory steps, trying to manipulate everyone and everything and aiming for peace according to that doctrine of [U.S. National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice. They are really, in fact, destabilizing it. But we, as opposed to the [United] States, are pawns and they're kings. So we have to play our own game, which, so far, is a pawn's game. Enough talk about who's an empire and who's not. They'll pay for all their imperial actions. But we have to be gentle junior partners and wrench everything out of the situation that is beneficial for us," Khakamada said.

On the other hand, Khakamada said, Russia "does not need allies like Iraq" and should simply remain neutral in the matter.