Two Russian generals were photographed receiving awards from Saddam Hussein’s government for helping Iraqi military forces less than 10 days before the U.S.-led invasion.
The two retired officers were identified by the newspaper Gazeta.ru as Col. Gen. Vladimir Achalov and Col. Gen. Igor Maltsev, both former high-ranking officers involved in Soviet rapid-reaction and air defense forces.
Both generals were photographed receiving awards from Iraqi Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed in early March 2003, only days before the war began on March 20, 2003. The photographs were taken in a building that was bombed by U.S. cruise missiles during the first air raids on Baghdad, the newspaper stated.
The mission and the reason the generals received the awards were not disclosed in the April 2, 2003, report. However, Gen. Achalov told the newspaper that he “didn’t fly to Baghdad to drink coffee.”
The comment bolsters the claims of Pentagon officials who say Russian military advisers and special forces units were helping Iraq’s military and intelligence services before the Iraq war.
The Pentagon has identified Russia as Iraq’s top arms supplier, along with France and China. U.S. military officials have said Russian military suppliers sold Iraq special electronic jammers that were designed to thwart attacks by U.S. satellite-guided joint direct attack munitions, or JDAMs.
The jammers were bombed by the JDAMs, after the global positioning systems satellites signals used to guide them were boosted.
John A. Shaw, deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, said this week that two European intelligence services have obtained documentary evidence indicating Russian spetsnaz, or special forces, troops were involved in a covert program to shred documents on Russian arms sales to Iraq, and to move weapons out of the country to Syria, Lebanon and possibly Iran.
The Russians were hired by the Iraqis to protect special Russian weapons and to organize the removal of arms through truck convoys. The Russian special forces troops were working for the GRU military intelligence service and wore civilian clothes, defense officials said.
The Russian Embassy yesterday denied that the country’s special forces took part in moving Saddam’s weapons.
“This is completely far-fetched,” said Yuri Ushakov, the Russian ambassador, who dismissed Mr. Shaw’s statements as false. “To try to scapegoat Russia for such shortfalls is utterly unfair.”
Mr. Ushakov said statements by other U.S. officials “devalidate” Mr. Shaw’s remarks about the Russian arms-dispersal program in Iraq.
The Gazeta.ru stated that it obtained the photographs of the generals from an unidentified source but confirmed their authenticity with Gen. Achalov.
Gen. Achalov was a former Soviet deputy defense minister and airborne troops commander and chief of the rapid-reaction forces. Gen. Maltsev was chief of the Soviet air defense forces. Both backed the aborted coup against Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 and were sacked afterward.
A third photograph shows the two generals with the head of the Iraqi chief of the general staff, Gen. Izzat Ibrahim.
Asked about the award, Gen. Achalov said the award ceremony took place “even less than 10 days before the war.”
The generals had made some 20 visits to Iraq in the past five or six years and appeared to be playing a role in preparing the Iraqi military for conflict, the newspaper stated.
“Given such a schedule — three to four trips a year — it is almost beyond doubt that Achalov and Maltsev, as well as, possibly, other retired Soviet and highly placed Russian military personnel were giving advice to Iraq as it prepared its army for imminent war,” the newspaper said.