Prague, 13 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- In an unusually harsh public rebuke yesterday in Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev denounced what he called the U.S. "rigid and uncompromising" stand on Iraq. While television cameras rolled, Sergeyev warned his visiting U.S. counterpart William Cohen that air-strikes on Iraq could have what he described as "grave consequences" for military relations between Moscow and Washington. Much Western press commentary this morning focuses on the import of Sergeyev's remarks.
NEW YORK TIMES: Washington often acts arrogantly at Russia's expense
In an editorial today titled "The Faded Romance with Russia," The New York Times says that "management of relations with Russia, once one of (President) Bill Clinton's foreign-policy achievements, has taken a skid lately, with damaging implications for American interests." The paper writes: "The most contentious issue for the moment is Iraq. Boris Yeltsin has warned ominously about the consequences of an American military strike against Iraq, and, on Thursday, his defense minister, Igor Sergeyev, told Defense Secretary William Cohen that Russia was 'deeply concerned' about American plans." The editorial continues: "Kremlin opposition to military action is not likely to escalate beyond symbolic sanctions, like curtailing military cooperation on other matters. But the tensions are a striking contrast to Moscow's tacit support for the American-led coalition during the (1991) Persian Gulf war."
The New York Times goes on to say that "some of the Russian resistance is self-serving. Moscow would like to regain its lost stature as a diplomatic power in the Middle East." But the paper adds: "The differences over Iraq reflect a broader deterioration in relations. NATO's eastward expansion into Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic angers many Russians, and talk of planting the NATO flag still closer to Russia in the future is even more alarming. The expectation that America and Russia would form a new partnership has given way in Russia to a common belief that Washington often acts arrogantly and at Russia's expense."
WALL STREET: Mr. Primakov has indeed become the new Moscow villain
In a news analysis in today's Wall Street Journal Europe, Carla Anne Robbins and Steve Liesman begin by saying that "the face-off with Iraq has been good so far for Russia, and especially for Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov." Writing form Moscow, the two correspondents explain: "After years of watching its global presence and influence wane, Moscow is suddenly back in the big-power game, thanks to Mr. Primakov and his envoys, who shuttle between Baghdad and Europe hoping to head off a new Gulf war." Their analysis continues: "But what Moscow really wants stirs anxiety both inside the Clinton Administration and out. The most benign interpretation has Russia using its historical ties to persuade Iraq to open up to United Nations arms inspectors before there is a military attack. But some fear that Mr. Primakov is mainly trying to get an old Soviet friend off the hook. As an Arabist, diplomat and former Soviet spy-master, Mr. Primakov has spent about 30 years cultivating Saddam Hussein." They conclude: "For many American observers...Mr. Primakov has indeed become the new Moscow villain."
TIMES: Ties between Moscow and Iraq make the Russians implausible mediators
An editorial in today's Times of London also focuses on the role of Primakov, whom the paper calls "the central figure (in Saddam's) having been one step ahead of those (in the UN and the U.S.) attempting to scrutinize and supervise his activities." The Times writes that the "ties between Moscow and Iraq (built up by Primakov) make the Russians implausible mediators (in the current Gulf crisis). Their latest envoy, Viktor Posuvalyuk, has been in Baghdad seeking a diplomatic solution to the current confrontation. It is almost certain there will be another 'Russian Plan' produced at the last minute, designed to defer direct action from the (U.S. and its) allies. It should be treated with extreme skepticism. In the words of Rolf Ekeus, the former chairman of (the UN inspection force in Iraq), 'every (Primakov) proposal has been prepared by (Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister) Tariq (Aziz).'"
The London Times' editorial concludes: "All experience with Saddam demands that the UN inspection effort (be) intensified...until every aspect of (Iraq's) outlawed (arms) arsenal is destroyed. That is the basis for a diplomatic settlement. It is unlikely to be reached by Russia or implemented by Iraq."
DAILY TELEGRAPH: Moscow's defense of Iraq against the UN inspectors looks like an attempt to hide some guilty secrets
A news analysis in Britain's Daily Telegraph today argues that "(Sergeyev's) lecture was clearly aimed at a domestic audience, giving the impression of a great military power calling the Americans to order." Writing respectively from Moscow and Washington, correspondents Alan Philips and Hugh Davies write: "Such a standpoint made sense 10 years ago, but is hardly likely to sway Washington today. It does, however, underline how far Washington and Moscow have drifted apart over the Iraq crisis." Their analysis concludes: "Until Moscow clarifies what it was doing selling suspicious equipment to Saddam, its defense of Iraq against the UN inspectors will look like an attempt to hide some guilty secrets."
FIGARO: Russia's strategic interests coincide conveniently with its appetite for oil
France's Le Figaro asks in its editorial today: "Who still believes that diplomacy is the only thing driving Russian foreign policy?" The paper answers: "Boris Yeltsin and Yevgeny Primakov, especially loud and media-efficient in the Iraq crisis, are far from the only ones advocating a compromise with Saddam Hussein. Behind their broad shoulders, other interests are hiding their weight: the huge Russian oil companies, which have the greatest interest in a swift lifting of the embargo against Iraq. Russia's strategic interests and its desire to provide a counterweight to U.S. interests in the region coincide conveniently with its appetite for oil."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: American diplomacy, too, is aimed above all at instigating confusion
Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung today takes a more neutral view of the U.S.-Russian conflict. Noting that "Washington and Moscow differ on how to impress most emphatically on the regime in Baghdad the necessity of implementing the U.N. resolutions," the paper writes: "While the Russian Defense Minister warns the U.S. against a military attack (on Iraq), his American counterpart...lets him know that nothing is closer to his heart than to forge a strong partnership with Russia. This might be called a realistic policy, because Washington has a large interest in Moscow's (continued upholding of) bilateral agreements on strategic weapons reductions." But the FAZ editorial also says: "On the same day (as Sergeyev's remarks), the claim was spread in Washington that Russia is not adhering to adopted (UN) resolutions, but is collaborating with Baghdad in...spying on the UN inspection team on Saddam Hussein's behalf. (That leads to the suspicion that) American diplomacy, too, is aimed above all at instigating confusion."
CORREIRA DELLA SERA: Three factors have forced America into a defensive role
Commenting on the U.S.-Russia-Iraq triangle, Italy's Correira della Sera editorializes today: "Three factors have (recently) forced America into a defensive role: the danger of a break with Russia, the growing opposition from Congress against Clinton's plan to attack and Iraq's diplomatic campaign....As 'D-Day' approaches, there are signs of the danger of a dead end. Clinton does not want to give the order to bomb without Congress's approval and would prefer not to alienate some of his European and Middle East allies. So far, though, the doubts have not had any impact on military preparations."