| With the United States poised to attack Iraq, the
policy-making elite in Russia is grappling with the dilemma posed
by the Bush administration's unilateralist foreign policy. While
most in Moscow believe that a war with Iraq will seriously damage
Russian interests, a split is developing over how Russia should
respond to the imminent outbreak of war. One side appears ready
to continue opposition to US military action, while the other says
that Russia ought to embrace a realpolitik approach, and cooperate
with the inevitable.
Russia, along with France and Germany, has thus far led the international
opposition to the Bush administration's relentless drive for the
armed ouster of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. This opposition
helped frustrate the US attempt to secure a United Nations Security
Council endorsement for military action in Iraq.
This confrontational Russian stance exposed divisions within
the community on the country's policy. A significant number of
Russian commentators and policymakers opposed the country's Security
Council position, arguing that a head-on collision with the United
States established unacceptable risks for Russia's interests.
For many, however, the desire to maintain cordial relations with
Washington is not rooted in affinity for the United States, but
more out of concern over the Bush administration's perceived arrogant
and arbitrary behaviour.
Russia's dilemma is not a "choice between the US and Iraq,"
Alexander Bovin, a liberal political commentator and Russia's
former ambassador to Israel, wrote in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta
daily. "It is a different choice - one between international
law and international arbitrariness; between the UN Charter that,
whatever its deficiencies, seeks to resolve key international
issues on a collective basis, and the arrogance and hubris of
a power that ignores international public opinion."
Bovin, while perhaps approving of Russia's UN stance as morally
sound, suggested that existing geopolitical conditions required
Moscow to adopt an expedient approach concerning the Iraq crisis.
Quoting the wily French diplomat Talleyrand, Bovin asserted that
politics is the art of cooperating with the inevitable. If diplomatic
means could not deter the Bush administration from war, Moscow
must bow to reality and now seek some sort of accommodation with
Washington. "It is unwise to adopt a noble pose of the defender
of international law," Bovin said. "The political loss
will far exceed the moral gain."
Russia's potential loss, most in Moscow seem to agree, could
be enormous. Alexander Pikayev, a military expert at the Moscow
Carnegie Center, said in a commentary on the Russkii Zhurnal web
site that an Iraq war could seriously damage Russia's economic
development. A prolonged US occupation of Iraq could shut Russian
oil interests out of what is currently a lucrative market for
Moscow. It would also be likely to prompt a significant fall in
global oil prices. Given the Russian budget's dependency on oil
and gas revenues, Pikayev asserted a fall-off in global prices
"will be extremely painful and will adversely affect the
[country's] economic situation."
Russian political analysts are also concerned about the impact
of the likely US occupation of Iraq. Many believe that the US
presence in Iraq will encourage the present trend of destabilization
in the already turbulent Middle East. Potential chaos in a region
not that far removed from Russia's southern borders may cause
a dangerous spillover into the Caucasus and Central Asia.
A more fundamental question for Moscow's policy-making community
is how to contain US unilateralism. The Iraq crisis has dramatically
illustrated the Bush administration's global view: Washington
now considers itself to be in a permanent, legitimate state of
self-defense, and has assumed the right to designate its enemies
and subsequently engage in war. This new reality makes Russian
Fearful of unfettered US might, the Russian Foreign Ministry
has developed a "unity-in-diversity" doctrine, which
is designed to stand in stark contrast with US unilateralism.
"Pluralism is an integral component of democracy," Russian
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in comments published in the
influential business daily Vedomosti. "Each country has a
right to prove its case."
Ivanov's doctrine may not be in Russia's best interests, some
influential policy makers contend. Moscow's diplomatic approach
to the United States should be calibrated to best promote Moscow's
interests, or in the case of an Iraq offensive, to minimize the
fallout, Ivanov critics contend.
Vladimir Lukin, Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, is among the
prominent critics of Russia's current diplomatic position. In
a commentary published in the Moskovskie Novosti weekly, Lukin
cautioned against Russia assuming a leading role in trying to
frustrate US strategic aims. "We might get caught in an old
trap," Lukin said. "When Europe is unhappy with the
United States, they push Russia to the forefront while they stand
behind, quietly settling their differences with the United States
in the background."
Aleksei Arbatov, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Defence Committee,
believes that if Moscow quickly shifts from its confrontational
course, Russia may benefit in unexpected ways from unilateral
American military action. If the war is short, the Bush administration
may be interested in Russia's cooperation in Iraq's post-war stabilization
and economic recovery. If the US military operation encounters
difficulties, "the United States will seek Russia's assistance
even more actively and will be ready to 'pay' in other spheres
of [Russian-American] relations," Arbatov said.