- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

As President Bush prepares for his upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and St. Petersburg on May 23-25, he must look for ways to encourage Russia to become a full ally in the war on terrorism and a strategic partner in the new global security environment. This will mean encouraging Russia to side with the United States in the effort to make the world safe from Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.

In private interviews in Moscow, Russia's parliamentary leaders and presidential policy advisers indicated that the protection of Russia's multibilliondollar interests in Iraq is a priority, regardless of who is in power in Baghdad. But when asked to choose between Saddam's friendship and America's goodwill, they support the U.S. policy to remove Saddam from power. This is a major shift for many of Moscow's elite. It would entail breaking the friendly ties that Russia had maintained with Baghdad since the 1960s, including under former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, the top Arab affairs expert in Moscow and then chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet's upper house.

America and its allies need Russia's support to change the political landscape in Iraq and to reduce the threat to peace Saddam poses by seeking weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The Bush administration should take this opportunity to get Moscow on the U.S. side in the future confrontation with Iraq by cooperating to shut down Iraq's black market oil sales, expanding security and intelligence cooperation, and securing repayment of Iraq's debt to Russia by the future post-Saddam government.

Moscow already has shown support for the U.S.led war on terrorism. In Afghanistan, it provided U.S. troops with high-quality intelligence and the Northern Alliance with timely arms supplies. It is working with the United States to secure, by May 30, U.N. Security Council approval for a new list of goods restricted for export to Iraq. But much more needs to be done to limit Iraq's threat.

Moscow, long Baghdad's main arms supplier and business partner, began supporting the United States against Iraq after the Soviet Union began imploding. It did so during the Gulf War, despite Mr. Primakov's efforts to protect Saddam. The Iraqi dictator tried to curry diplomatic and economic favor in Moscow throughout the 1990s, by providing preferential treatment for Russian companies in oil drilling and refining and promising billion-dollar contracts to the influential Russian military industrial complex.

According to one of former President Boris Yeltsin's aides, Vyacheslav Kostikov, Saddam has bought the support of several politicians, such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and the anti-American Liberal Democratic Party. He has paid for the lobbying efforts of business tycoons and former senior officials, who make tens of millions of dollars reselling Iraqi oil in the gray market and who supply Iraq with legal and illicit goods, including military equipment banned under U.N. resolutions. Rep. Curt Weldon is among those who have accused Russia, Belarus and Ukraine of supplying Baghdad with ballistic-missile gyroscopes, biological warfare manufacturing equipment, and sophisticated surface-to-air missiles, a financial tie that will require deep determination to break. Others reported that Ukraine sold Baghdad an anti-stealth aircraft radar system called Kol'chuga.

Today, Moscow has important economic assets in Iraq to consider. These include a Soviet-era debt of $7 billion to $8 billion, generated by arms sales to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Adjusted for inflation, that debt is worth from $10 billion to $12 billion today. It also has lucrative contracts to develop giant oil fields and wells in Iraq were signed by Russia's major oil company, LUKoil, and the government-owned Zarubezhneft, and worth as much as $30 billion over 20 years. These include the Western Qurna oil field and wells already developed by Russian oil companies Slavneft and Tatneft. Finally, trade in Russian goods under the U.N.sponsored oil-for-food program are worth between $530 million and $1 billion for the six months ending in December 2001 (the volume of illegal trade between Russia and Iraq is not known).

Such interests pose a significant impediment to Moscow's severing its ties with Iraq. If these issues are not addressed during the upcoming summit, the Bush administration has little chance of bringing Russia into its coalition to remove Saddam from power.

U.S. and Russian policy-makers clearly recognize the growing threat Saddam poses to global security. What is needed is a strategy for removing him from power and ushering in a pro-democracy, pro-market government. Mr. Putin will need to confront the lingering pro-Iraqi sentiment within his Foreign Ministry, the military-industrial complex and the oil lobby. He must be able to demonstrate how Russia's cooperation in a coalition against Saddam would benefit Russia. To secure Mr. Putin's support, the administration should assign a senior administration official to negotiate U.S.Russian understandings on a postSaddam Iraq. This person should be well-versed in Middle East geopolitics, energy economics and finance issues. Mr. Putin should be asked to appoint a similarly qualified high-ranking official for the negotiations.

The Bush administration should also discuss with Russia how it could supply diplomatic, military and intelligence support to oust Saddam. Russia, for example, should agree to share export-licensing data and intelligence on military and dual-use technology transfers from its military-industrial complex, as well as from Ukraine and Belarus, to Iraq.

Mr. Putin is looking for ways to strengthen Russia's strategic relationship with the United States. U.S.Russian cooperation on a regime change in Iraq would be mutually beneficial, weakening criticism of Mr. Putin's support for the Bush plan inside Russia as well as in Western Europe and the Arab world. Such cooperation would lay the foundations for a fruitful partnership in the war against terrorism and in efforts to reduce the threat posed by proliferating weapons of mass destruction.


Ariel Cohen is a research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at the Shelby and Kathryn Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies.


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