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Russia: Diplomats Seek To Reassert Moscow's International Standing

Washington, 21 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Two leading U.S. scholars say Russia's attempts to bring a diplomatic resolution to the current crisis with Iraq is a bid to reassert Moscow as a major player in the international arena.

Richard Pipes, retired professor of history at Harvard University, told RFE/RL that he believes Russia is brokering the deal between Iraq and the U.N. in order to prove it can again be a major contributor in matters of world diplomacy.

Says Pipes: "For many years now, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians really had very little to say in international affairs. On most issues, like Bosnia and so on, they followed the Western lead. But here they can emerge as real power brokers and a power to be reckoned with."

Pipes says that in addition, Russia was motivated to negotiate the deal in order to protect its economic interests in the region.

According to Pipes, the Russians are maneuvering to play a major role in the development and sale of Iraqi oil once the U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq are lifted. He says Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov is in an excellent position to exert a large amount of pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein because Russia is the only source of foreign support for Iraq.

Pipes says: "Russia is about the only power on which Saddam Hussein can lean because he is rejected and despised in the West, and viewed with great suspicion by the other Arab countries. Moscow is his chief supporter now, and has been."

Pipes says he doesn't go so far as to believe speculation that Iraq and Russia actually engineered the crisis in order to suit their purposes. He does say, however, that he wouldn't be surprised to discover that Saddam Hussein's defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions was due to the fact that the Russians had secretly informed him in advance that they would veto any U.N. resolution calling for military action against him.

Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington, agrees with Pipes. He says he believes Russia's diplomatic efforts are aimed at improving its international reputation. But he adds that it is also a way for Russia to distance itself from the West and enhance its standing among other Arab nations.

Sonnenfeldt, a former member of the National Security Council under U.S. President Richard Nixon, told RFE/RL that the Russians, and especially Primakov, are still upset that Russia was not able to prevent NATO from expanding and inviting Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to join the alliance.

Says Sonnenfeldt: "The Russians, and Primakov personally, have been looking for ways to sort of disassociate themselves from the U.S. from time to time to show that they don't always knuckle under so easily."

Sonnenfeldt says he thinks the Russians expect to be rewarded for the diplomatic deal both by the West and by Iraq, although exactly how remains to be seen.

Sonnenfeldt says the Russians have clearly committed themselves in some way to the Iraqis by working toward setting a final date for lifting the U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq and establishing themselves as the only major power on which Saddam Hussein can rely.

But Susan Eisenhower, chairwoman of the Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington, told RFE/RL that she fundamentally disagrees with claims that Russia is only trying to broker a deal in order to maneuver itself back on the stage of international affairs.

Says Eisenhower: "Russia has always been a major player. The reason it has been less obvious lately is because they have been in general agreement with U.S. policy."

Eisenhower says it was natural for Russia to try diplomatic efforts with Iraq, especially since Primakov is a Middle East expert and has known Saddam Hussein for years. This long-time connection, says Eisenhower, provided some legitimate advantages for Russia to seek a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.

Eisenhower says that if Primakov has managed to broker a peaceful resolution to the current crisis, than the U.S. should be "grateful" for his efforts.

Eisenhower says she does not believe that the Russians and Iraqis manufactured the crisis in order to benefit from it.

Says Eisenhower: "I have been involved in a lot of issues related to the international community and the post-Cold War era and there are a tremendous number of Cold War assumptions that are at play here. Certainly it is not surprising that Russia wants to consider itself a world power. Why shouldn't it? If we had been through a vast change in this country, we would want to be considered a world power, too."

Eisenhower says it is in America's best interest to consider Russia a major international player and ensure that Russian influence in the world is pro-Western.