In this piece, CBS News Deputy Foreign Editor Chris Hulme analyzes Russian reluctance to support the use of force against Iraq.
The dying embers of cold war politics were played out in Madrid, Friday, as Secretary of State Albright met her Russian counterpart, Yevgeny Primakov, for talks on mounting tensions with Iraq. Though Russia is now a democracy with its missiles pointing away from American cities, the Gulf crisis presents a rare chance for the former superpower to return to the world diplomatic stage. As Secretary Albright insisted that diplomatic options were running out and military action was drawing near, Mr. Primakov counseled patience. Meanwhile, Russia's Prime Minister Chernomydin sounded a clear warning against any bombardment. Russia and the U.S. were once again at loggerheads, but this time there were smiles for the camera; both sides knew that America will do what it wants and Russia can't do anything about it. So why do the Russians insist on doing all they can to spare Saddam Hussein?
Russia's motives lie in old ties and influence in the Middle East. Though the Russians were co-sponsors of the Middle East peace accord in Oslo, when was the last time Netanyahu and Arafat went to Moscow to discuss an impasse in the peace process? With Saddam as the Gulf's bete noire, Russia feels its sway with the Iraqi ruler gives them clout.
The other reason for Russia's interest is money -- and lots of it. United Nations sanctions have blocked the world from making lucrative oil and technology deals with Baghdad, which means the Russians can't collect any of the cash Iraq owes from the Soviet-era. The $7 billion total isn't chump change for anyone, but Russia's precarious economic situation makes it even harder for Moscow to swallow. Therefore, it's safe to expect Russia will seek every possible way to avoid destructive blows to the Iraqi infrastructure that might require "their" rubles to be spent on rebuilding the country yet again - especially with no end to the sanctions in sight.
Written by CBS News Deputy Foreign Editor Chris Hulme.
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