Date: Wed, 23 Dec 1998 22:34:42 -0600 (CST)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: IRAQ: Russia's Objections Blunted By Dependence on West
Article: 50816
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** ips.english: 521.0 **/
** Topic: POLITICS-IRAQ: Russia's Objections Blunted By Dependence /RELATE/ **
** Written 3:13 PM Dec 22, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Russia's Objections Blunted By Dependence

By Sergei Blagov, Inter Press Service, 19 December 1998

MOSCOW, Dec 19 (IPS)—Russia's angry words of condemnation in the wake of U.S. and British airstrikes on Iraq are likely to fall on deaf ears: the country's economic plight and its dependence on Western support may lead Washington to assume that Moscow's response will be limited.

Yuri Maslyukov, Russia's first deputy prime minister and a former member of the Communist faction in Duma (lower house of parliament), claims that there is no contradiction between Russia's tough response and its attempts to raise food aid and negotiate debt relief with the West.

Russia harvested a net total of 47 million metric tonnes of grain this year, little over half of last year's total of 88.5 million tonnes and the lowest in more than 40 years.

A significant chunk of the country's grain is exported in a bid to raise much needed foreign currency: Russia has already exported nearly 1.5 million tonnes of wheat this year and continues to send thousands more tonnes worth abroad each month.

At the same time, Moscow is negotiating terms on a planned 2.5 million tonnes worth of grain from the over-stuffed granaries of the United States and Europe, paid for from Western aid budgets. Russia can get three times as much per tonne of grain on the international market as it can at home.

So far the European Parliament has approved a planned 500 million dollar food aid package to Russia from the European Union. But a 625 million dollar U.S.-Russian aid deal remains unsigned. Russia has accused Washington of stalling by raising new demands to control its distribution.

Nonetheless, Russia still expects the United States to sign an agreement on deliveries of food and humanitarian aid to Russia by Dec. 25, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Gennady Kulik. Kulik was quoted Friday as saying the talks were set to carry on despite Russia's harsh denunciation of air strikes against Iraq.

Similarly Russia does not expect the condemnations to affect the U.S. position on its attempt to write off more of Moscow's Soviet-era foreign debt.

According to Andrei Kostin, head of state-owned Vneshekonombank, Russia still aims to ask the London and Paris Clubs of commercial and national creditors for debt relief on its international debt. This despite the ill feeling left among foreign markets by Moscow's effective default on domestic treasury bills held by foreign investors in August.

Russia, which owes the world 150 billion dollars in debt held in foreign currency, will go to creditors shortly with the news that it expects to be able to service only half the estimated 17.5 billion dollars foreign debt it is scheduled to repay in 1999.

While this move may succeed, it is far less certain that Moscow will escape U.S. pressure to limit its rhetoric on the airstrikes in return for generosity with grain or borrowed dollars—and even less certain that it will be in a position to resist this pressure.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin said the airstrikes “crudely violated” the United Nations charter and called the military action “unacceptable.”

Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a Middle East expert who has mediated in the past with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, described the strikes as “outrageous”.

According to Russia's foreign minister Ygor Ivanov, airstrikes against Iraq seriously undermine the whole system of international relations.

“These airstrikes are not just against Saddam or Iraq, they are against the public opinion of the whole world,” added Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, on a visit to Moscow, Friday

Even Russian liberal politician and possible presidential candidate Grigory Yavlinsky—seen by many as pro-Western and just back from a trip to the U.S.—expressed his “deep sorrow” over the airstrikes.

The Kremlin also recalled its Washington ambassador Yuli Vorontsov and London ambassador Yuri Fokin, but says it will not cleave diplomatic ties.

The State Duma called for a minute of silence for Iraqis killed in the attacks. It also overwhelmingly approved a resolution accusing the United States and Britain of “international terrorism” with only one deputy voting against it.

“The Duma urges the president to declare without delay that Russia is abandoning sanctions introduced by U.N. against Iraq,” added the resolution. “Now Russia has a moral right to renew arms supplies to Iraq,” said Sergei Baburin, the Duma deputy chairman.

And as far as domestic policy was concerned, said Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, chairing the biggest single party in the chamber, the 1999 national budget should now be reviewed to increase defence spending.

Other deputies said the strikes made it impossible for the Duma to ratify the U.S.-Russian START II strategic arms limitation accord, at least for the foreseeable future.

The 1993 START II accord was supposed to lead to a two-thirds reduction in their nuclear arsenals, but has been consistently opposed by Communist and nationalist deputies who cite it as Russia's only defence against ‘U.S. global expansionism’.

The country's military-industrial complex has been pressing for fresh funds to upgrade their missiles—or failing that, a decision on START II from the Duma that would allow a move towards releasing foreign funds for safe disarmament.