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Russian-Iraqi Relations: A Historical and Political Analysis.

RUSSIAN (BETWEEN 1917-1991 SOVIET)-Iraqi relations have been generally part and parcel of their relations with the Third World countries and their national liberation movements, particularly Arab nationalism, which for both historical and geostrategic reasons has been especially important for Moscow. However, at the same time, particularly between 1958 and 1990, Soviet-Iraqi relations were marked by some special features, putting them in contrast with Soviet links with other Afro-Asian nations and even some states of the Arab Middle East.

(1) Iraq was first of all the nearest of all Arab countries to the Soviet borders and because of that proximity the threat of Soviet expansion could have been seen as being much more real by its leaders than by the leaders of the other Arab states. (1)

(2) Different from the other Arab states of al-Mashreq, Iraq, since its very beginning in the 1920s, contained a very substantial (close to 25%) ethnic non-Arab Kurdish minority with specific constitutional rights, which were granted in 1925 as a condition for the incorporation of the largely Kurdish populated Mosul region into its borders. (2) The Kurdish people, other groups of which live in Turkey, Iran and Russia, have never completely submitted to their division and lack of national self-determination, and in Iraq since 1961 have constantly demanded territorial autonomy. Their aspirations towards which the Soviet Union could not remain indifferent, were, however, putting it in the awkward situation of having to make a choice between their recognition and its general support of Arab nationalism and the friendly Iraqi government.

(3) The Iraqi Communist Party, which was formally founded in 1934, was one of the most effective and socially influential Marxist organizations in the region. Although it was never strong enough to take power by itself, it nevertheless represented a by no means negligible political force in the country, being for Moscow after 1958, both a valuable asset and an embarrassment in its deals with the "progressive" but still often viciously anti-communist Iraqi government.

(4) Last but not least, Iraq's economic potential and relative wealth, especially after the 1973 October War and the subsequent rise of the oil prices, made this country a financially attractive partner and customer for Moscow. These economic aspects, which had never been absent in the past, have acquired additional importance since the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of Russia as a separate and pro-capitalist nation.

Post-Soviet Russia, rejecting Marxist ideology and the ideological support of the Communist parties and the national liberation movements of the Third World peoples, is nevertheless still interested in cooperation with Iraq, and since 1994 has been supporting Baghdad politically against the U.S.imposed punitive sanctions. As the authors want to show, the history, geopolitics and economics at both regional and global levels were inextricably interwoven in the process of shaping its attitudes and foreign policy decisions. Although the main focus of the paper is Post-Soviet Russia after December 1991, the Soviet background needs to be taken into account and analyzed in order to find the elements of continuity and change in the present policy.


Russian (Soviet) relations with Iraq have a relatively long and complex history. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established for the first time on 9 September 1944 at the end of World War II. (3) The monarchic regime in Baghdad was nevertheless staunchly anti-communist and established its links with Moscow only because of its dependence on Britain and the British-Soviet alliance during the war. In January 1955 relations were broken off after the Soviets criticized the Iraqi government's decision to join the Baghdad Pact. (4)

When the pro-western monarchy was overthrown by a military coup on 14 July 1958, the new leader of the country, General Abd-al-Karim Quasim immediately re-established diplomatic ties with Moscow and started to buy Soviet arms. (5) Since then, for about forty years until the Gorbachev Perestroika in the late 1980s, Soviet-Iraqi cooperation was both close and multi-faceted, and for most of the period it was even officially called a "strategic partnership". However, this did not mean that during all that time their mutual relations had always been equally friendly and without serious political differences. As an American scholar indicated, because of their support of the national-liberation movements, a number of important Third World countries, including Iraq, "declared their friendship for and improved relations with the USSR and sided with it on a number of international problems". In no instance, however, did their leaders "compromise their own national interests or become Soviet stooges." (6) Baghdad's inte rest in cooperation with Moscow "was based on the need for a powerful patron in its efforts to shed all the remnants of Western colonialism and to establish Iraq as an autonomous member of the world order of nation states." (7) At the same time, however, the Iraqi "ruling elite had shown stubborn resistance towards anything which could be regarded as an intrusion into the country's internal affairs or as an infringement upon Iraq's sovereignty over its international policies." (8)

On 8 February 1963 Quasim's regime was overthrown and the Baath party came to power in Baghdad. Its persecution of the Iraqi Communist party and what the Soviet Union then described as its "policy of genocide towards the Kurds" (9) caused a sharp deterioration in Soviet-Iraqi relations. However, relations improved again after the new military coup on 18 November 1963 and during the ensuing Arif Brothers' rule up to July 1968. The visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Abd-al-Rahman al-Bazzaz to Moscow in July-August 1966 was a "milestone in the process of improving Soviet-Iraqi relations." (10) The Soviet Union welcomed the Iraqi government's statement of 29 June 1966 on the recognition of Kurdish national and linguistic rights, and in July 1967 Iraqi President Abd-al Rahman Arif, together with President Houari Boumedienne of Algeria went to Moscow as representatives of the Cairo Arab summit conference after the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War. (11) The friendly relations and further cooperation in military, economic and p olitical spheres continued and even increased after the Baath party's return to power on 17 July 1968. In retrospect, the 1968-1975 period could be seen as "the high tide of Soviet influence in Iraq." (12) Its culmination was the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the USSR and the Iraqi Republic signed on 9 April 1972. The Treaty, which was concluded as a result of Iraqi initiative, (13) stressed the need for "concerted action in the international field to ensure world peace and security and to develop political cooperation between Iraq and the USSR" (art. 7) (14) Both parties also declared that "it will not enter into any international alliance or grouping or take part in any actions or undertakings directed against the other" (art. 10). (15) However, the treaty did not include any direct military obligations and stopped short of a real military alliance.

The late 1970s and 1980s brought some cooling of mutual relations and a weakening of cooperation. Iraq's growing financial resources after the rise in oil prices in 1973 created the basis for its widening links with the West and the ratio of the Soviet and Eastern European participation in the country's economic boom steadily declined. As a political outcome of that, some of the differences between the parties "resurfaced, producing visible strains in the 'strategic alliance' between Moscow and Baghdad." (16) In the late 1970s, the differences on issues such as the Palestinian question and the Arab-Israeli dispute, where Iraq was questioning Soviet recognition of the State of Israel in the pre-1967 War borders, Iraq's treatment of the I.C.P., the Kurdish national movement and Soviet support for Ethiopia against Somalia and Eritrea further deteriorated after the Iranian revolution and even more so with the Soviet intervention into Afghanistan on 27 December 1979. On 6 January 1980, Saddam Hussein called the So viet intervention "unjustifiable, erroneous behavior that could cause anxiety for all freedom-loving and independent peoples," (17) and Iraq voted for the resolutions condemning Soviet intervention both in the U.N. General Assembly and the Islamabad (Pakistan) Conference of the Islamic States. (18) When on 22 September 1980 Iraq attacked Iran, starting a war which was going to last for almost eight years and which proved to be devastating to both countries, the USSR did not outwardly condemn Iraq's aggression, but immediately stopped its direct military supply to it and adopted a neutral stand. (19) At all stages of the conflict the Soviet leaders described it as "tragically senseless" and directed against "the fundamental national interests of both countries." (20) In a speech on 30 September 1980, Brezhnev called both the states of Iraq and Iran "friendly to the USSR" and stressed that "We are in favor of Iran and Iraq settling their outstanding problems at the negotiating table." (21) From the Soviet point of view, the situation when the two "anti-imperialist regimes . . . were cutting each other's throats" (22) was truly deplorable. In the summer of 1982 war started to be fought on Iraqi territory and on 10 June 1982 Iraq promised to withdraw to the international border, Moscow then renewed the arms supply to Baghdad (23), but it nevertheless still supported all the attempts at mediation among the belligerents. (24) Its balanced and cautious policy resulted in a marked improvement in its relations with Iran, which would be of particular importance for the future. (25)

Despite all these tensions and even serious political disagreements, Soviet-Iraqi relations remained fundamentally friendly for all that period until the end of the 1980s, and mutual cooperation continued without major disturbances. Condemning the Soviet intervention into Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein nevertheless declared that: "Iraq would not change the trends of its general policy in its relations with the Soviets." (26) The Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation of 1972 has never been suspended and by 1990 fifty more specific treaties had been concluded. (27) According to a Russian scholar: "In spite of some problems Soviet-Iraqi relations might have been characterized as very stable and fruitful, opening great prospects for the future." (28) In the late 1970s, Sadat of Egypt turned his country towards an openly pro-American position and the Islamic Revolution in Iran proved to be both anti-Communist and anti-Soviet. Thus, Iraq's importance for the Soviets increased even more. For the USSR it became almost th e only remaining instrument of influence in the region. (29) However, Iraqi leaders were well aware of the Soviet difficulties and in exchange for the political loyalty and anti-colonial ideals as well as even verbal acceptance of the socialist ideas, constantly demanded economic support and arms supply. (30) Iraq was taking about half of all Soviet exports to the region and the total value of Soviet contracts with Iraq amounted to 37.4 billion U.S. dollars. (31) During the thirty years of cooperation, Soviet specialists built about eighty big factories in Iraq, (32) and prior to 2 August 1990, almost 8,000 Soviet citizens worked in Iraq. (33)

Soviet-Iraqi relations started to change from the late 1980s. As a Russian scholar indicates: "The basic changes in Russian foreign policy took place before the Soviet Union's collapse, still under the rule of the Communist party of the USSR with Gorbachev's team coming to power and the so-called 'perestroika', which in its turn brought about a fundamental breakdown of the previous political orientation. (34) Following the so-called "new political thinking" and trying both to bring to an end the Cold War with the American superpower and alleviate Soviet economic problems, Gorbachev and his advisors looked for better Soviet-Israeli relations and limited the previous Soviet support for the more radical Arab regimes including Iraq. All Soviet policy towards the Middle East now became geared towards the major goal of close cooperation with the West - especially the U.S, (35) and the previously defended national interests in the region, which were by and large consistent with the Arab interests, became "blatantly ignored". (36) Although, according to Russian sources, Gorbachev himself originally hesitated and did not want to condemn outright the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and to follow U.S. policy, he changed his mind under pressure from his foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, a Georgian who was staunchly pro-American and pro-Israel and who threatened to cause a scandal and resign. (37) Almost immediately after the invasion on 2 August 1990, what was still the Soviet government issued a statement condemning it as an act of aggression which contradicts the new positive developments in international affairs. The statement also demanded immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwaiti territory" and "the re-establishment of the sovereignty, national independence, and territorial integrity of Kuwait." (38) The next day on 3 August 1990, the meeting between Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze and the U.S. Secretary of State James Baker fully confirmed Soviet support for the U.S. position regardless of the existing Soviet-Iraqi Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation (particularly its article 10), (39) and the multitude of common links and enterprises. (40) The American side was understandably very pleased (41) and the joint Shevardnadze-Baker declaration condemned once more the "rude and illegitimate invasion of Kuwait by the armed forces of Iraq." (42) Although there was no lack of outspoken domestic Soviet opposition to the pro-American and anti-Iraqi policy, (43) Gorbachev's meeting with the U.S. President George Bush in Helsinki on 9 September 1990 demonstrated its further continuity and development. According to a Russian scholar, although "officially there was no change in the positions developed earlier....the political meaning was new" and the meeting "marked a watershed in the policy of the two powers." (44) In spite of all his domestic opponents, Gorbachev decided to support "every crisis-related action of the United States, thus giving Washington a free hand on military matters." (45) The USSR also subsequently voted for the Security Council U.N. resolution 678 of 29 November 1990 which called for "all necessary means" to be used to end the occupation of Kuwait.

As a general understanding it included or even implied the use of military force, although the U.S. agreed not to mention it explicitly in order to enable the Soviet Union to vote for the motion and for China to abstain, rather than using its veto. (46) The Soviet government also let the Americans transfer most of NATO's military might from Europe to the Middle East, thus assuring their easy and painless victory over the Iraqi army. (47)

However, the negative reactions of the various groups in Soviet society, including Muslim circles in the country, against the new Middle Eastern policy (48) did not pass without having an impact. On 20 December 1990, the main representative of the pro-American foreign policy in Gorbachev's team, Shevardnadze, was forced to resign "as a result of extreme pressure" (49) and a mission to save the remnants of the "special relations" with parts of the Arab World including the remnants of the mutual "credit of trust" with Iraq, was committed to a prominent Middle Eastern expert, Evgenii Primakov. Although supportive of the general goals of Gorbachev's Perestroika, nevertheless from November 1990 he opposed Shevardnadze, asking for a more independent policy in the Middle East and protection of Soviet relations with the Arab World. (50)

Moscow was informed of the start of hostilities by the U.S. Secretary of State only one hour before they started on the night of 17 January 1991 (51) and its reaction to them was subsequently largely negative. At the end of January 1991, the new Soviet foreign minister, A. Bessmertnykh "cautioned the Americans against destroying Iraq rather than concentrating on the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait" (52) and the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist party called on Gorbachev to "take the necessary steps" to bring about an end to the bloodshed. (53) On 12 February 1991, Primakov left for Baghdad as a special presidential envoy and as a result of his negotiations a Soviet plan for a cease fire and an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait was submitted. (54) The plan was further elaborated later on in talks with Tariq Aziz in Moscow 21-22 February 1991 and in addition to the full withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, it provided for the lifting of U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq after most Iraqi troops had left Kuwait, and international supervision over its implementation. (55) However, the Soviet diplomatic effort caused an extremely negative American reaction "on a scope unprecedented since Gorbachev's coming to power," (56) and President Bush stated that the Soviet proposal "falls well short of what would be required." (57) With Gorbachev's approval, Primakov submitted a revised proposal which took into account the American objections and Saddam Hussein accepted the revised proposal on 23 February 1991. (58) However, as he did not accept an American ultimatum from 22 February 1991, the U.S.-led land attack then started. According to a Russian scholar: "A last minute agreement reached between Mikhail Gorbachev and Saddam Hussein on Iraqi troop withdrawal from Kuwait was turned down by the U.S., which reciprocated with an ultimatum unacceptable to Iraq." (59)

Facing a fait accompli, the disappointed Gorbachev had to accept the logic of the emerging unipolar world and the collapsing Soviet Union was both too weak and too internally divided to react strongly. (60) In fact it cooperated fully with the U.S. in the following dramatic events and its representative joined with the members of the victorious coalition at the Security Council in dictating the harsh terms of surrender to Baghdad, particularly Resolution 687 of 3 April 1991. (61) In the Sanctions Committee which had been established in order to supervise its implementation, the USSR and later Russia as its legal successor, also became represented. However, its real role was quite negligible and Soviet-Iraqi relations deteriorated even further due to official Iraqi support for the unsuccessful coup in Moscow in August 1991. (62)

The still existing USSR became a co-chairman of the Madrid Peace Conference in November 1991, but its role there was described by the well known Russian journalist, Stanislav Kondrashev as "the last tango". As he then predicted, "Our next dance will be something else. We are no longer partners as we have been recently and no longer rivals as we were for a long period before. To call a spade a spade, the U.S. has become our protector." (63)

Two months after the Madrid Conference, the Soviet Union finally disintegrated and its successor state, Russia, inherited both its close links with the region and most of its political and economic assets, which by then, however, had greatly diminished.


The Kozyrev Period, 1991-1995

Since its inception in December 1991, up to the first months of 2001, post-Soviet Russian foreign policy, including its relations with Iraq, has undergone substantial transformations and some of its goals and directions can now be discerned and analyzed. Compared with the Soviet era, its first and most striking feature is its weakness. At present the country has no material basis to support its international stature and aspirations. Its population is less than 50% of the previous Soviet population and as early as 1995, its GNP was already more than ten times smaller than that of the U.S.A. (64) From the point of view of its foreign policy, at least equally important is the virtual collapse of its military might. Both unsuccessful operations in Chechenya and the submarine Kursk catastrophe bear witness to the very serious shortcomings of the Russian Army and Navy. According to reliable American research, employing virtually every standard used to measure military capabilities, Russia's military is in deep trou ble caused primarily by a sharp decline in defense expenditure, which is down 80% from Soviet levels. (65)

What was also politically important in the 1992-1995 period was that the people who surrounded Yeltsin were mainly of a neo-liberal and an occidentalist orientation. They wanted to reject the Soviet heritage as much as possible, and as the first Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev put it, to join the "civilized world." (66) Avoidance of links with the compromised Iraqi regime was seen by them almost as a test of political correctness and the Iraqi ambassador even complained to the group of Russian Members of Parliament that when he wanted to start talks with the Russian government about the Iraqi debt which amounted to 7 billion U.S. dollars, none of the Russian leaders wanted to receive him. (67) As a result of Russia's participation in the sanctions, its economic relations with Iraq were greatly curtailed and because a number of previous obligations had not been fulfilled, it lost a profit of about 9 billion U.S. dollars. (68)

However, due to a number of international and domestic factors, the above situation started to change quickly from the end of 1993 and the beginning of 1994. (69)

(i) First, the Russian political elite was deeply disappointed by the lack of the expected generous economic help from the U.S. and its allies, and their recognition of Russian interests in the former Soviet bloc area. Feeling rejected by the West -- especially after the unsuccessful effort to block NATO expansion in East-Central Europe, Russian leaders started to look for alternatives to their previous pro-American foreign policy. (70)

(ii) Also "new" Russia did not get any substantial financial help from the wealthy and pro-western Arab oil-producing countries - particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and the return to the "radical" states such as Iraq and Libya, and in the 1990s also Iran, in fact became an economic necessity. (71)

(iii) Iraq's strategic location at the Persian Gulf and its proximity to the former Soviet borders made this country too important to be ignored by any government in Moscow - especially in view of its influence on the new Islamic states in the post-Soviet space and the substantial Muslim population in Russia itself. (72)

(iv) Last but not least, since the end of 1992, domestic opposition to the pro-Atlantist foreign policy, which was symbolized by Andrei Kozyrev, started to be increasingly voiced by the supporters of a Eurasian orientation, nationalists, and communists in the Russian parliament, the Duma and public opinion in general. After the elections won by them in December 1992, even President Yeltsin demanded that a more 'patriotic' foreign policy be conducted. (73)

When on 27 June 1993, the U.S. Air Force bombarded Baghdad, despite the Russian government's official approval, the Russian press was unanimous in its condemnation of the operation. "The most deplorable thing is that American piracy was justified by Russian leaders," wrote the Communist Pravda. (74) The Liberal Izvestia described it as "an act of retribution which looked more like muscle-flexing" and expressed an opinion that "our multi-polar and interdependent world" should not give any state "the unlimited right to act as supreme judge and bearer of the ultimate truth." (75) In a similar vein, Komsomalskaya Pravda suggested that "the White House needs an enemy" and indicated that "had Saddam Hussein been killed the U.S. would have had to find a new villain." (76)

Also in June 1993 there took place in Prague a first official meeting of the deputy foreign ministers of Russia and Iraq. (77) As a practical outcome of this, an agreement was achieved in August 1993 on the continuation by Russia of all work contracts signed during the Soviet period and on further economic cooperation. (78) The next year brought a virtual flurry of mutual visits and high level contacts between the two countries. Iraq's Deputy Foreign Minister, Riyadh al-Qaisi had been in Moscow on 21 February 1994 and twice in August 1994 (9-10 and 29 August). (79) Following in his footsteps between August and December of the same year, Iraq's deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, a man who has been for many years in charge of Iraqi foreign policy and who is a personal confidante of Saddam Hussein went to Russia three times. (80) His December visit was conspicuously simultaneous with a sharp deterioration in Russian-Western relations which took place then. As a Russian journalist noticed: "It was no accident tha t the arrival of the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister took place at a time when there was a cooling down of Russian-U.S. relations (which in this case took the form of open clashes of Russian and American positions at the C.S.C.E. summit in Budapest." (81)

The official Russian position on sanctions against Iraq also began to change. In June and July 1994 its representative in the Security Council, S. Lavrov started to argue that the Security Council should respond adequately to the positive steps which had been undertaken by Iraq and to weaken if not completely abolish the sanctions. (82) Replying to the opposition to his motion by some Western representatives, the Russian Ambassador expressed the opinion that the U.N. resolutions should be complied with not only by the countries which were originally addressed, but also by the members of the Security Council, including the U.S. and the U.K. (83) During the July 1994 U.N. Security Council session, Russia stressed the necessity for parallel and balanced fulfillment of legal obligations by all parties to the Iraq-Kuwait conflict. (84) It also involved recognition by Iraq of independence and the existing borders of Kuwait which official Iraqi propaganda called the 19 provinces of the country. In order to get Iraqi acceptance of those requests and to regain at least some influence in the area, Russian Foreign Minister A. Kozyrev, who just a year earlier had called Saddam Hussein an "international ruffian" (85) visited Baghdad twice in the fall of 1994 (October-November). As a result of his talks with the Iraqi leaders in October 1994, Iraq for the first time officially recognized the international status of Kuwait as a sovereign nation. (86) Kozyrev's diplomatic success was still not well received by the Americans, who saw it as harmful to their interests in the region. They were particularly displeased both because of the possible damage to their propaganda war against Iraq and because of the political success of Russian diplomacy in the region, which was dominated by them. (87) As Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Posuvaliuk stated in his briefing on 1 August 1995, Russia probably did more for the normalization of Iraq-Kuwait relations than any other state and did not want to play one country against the other. (88)

In May 1995, the Russian Parliament-Duma adopted a resolution calling for the removal of the oil embargo against Iraq. (89) However, the resolution was not binding for the Russian authorities and had rather symbolic importance. The Russian leaders generally wanted to preserve a kind of balance in their links with Iraq and Kuwait and the West, and while demanding from Baghdad compliance with the relevant U.N. resolutions, including releasing all Kuwaiti prisoners of war, and compensation for lost or stolen property, (90) nevertheless preserved and further developed cooperation with Iraq. Particularly promising for the Russian side became cooperation in the field of the oil industry. In April 1995 an intergovernmental agreement was concluded which provided for Russian drilling in the oilfields of West Qurna and North Rumaili for a total amount of 15 billion U.S. dollars. (91)

In March 1997 another major contract between the Iraqi company SKOP and a group of Russian companies was signed. It provided for the development of the second stage of the West Qurna oilfields, with extractive deposits of oil amounting to one billion tons. (92) According to the estimations of the Iraqi experts, the profits of the Russian companies might be as high as 70 billion U.S. dollars. (93) However, it is necessary to remember that at least from a legal point of view, all those projects might start only after the end of the U.N.-imposed sanctions on Iraq (94) and that the way to that goal seems still to be quite far and uncertain. For Iraq, at least at present, giving the Russian companies lucrative contracts seems to be a way of stimulating Russia to make more efforts toward the lifting of the sanctions. (95)

Russians are also interested in repayment by Iraq of its debt which (96) amount to about 7 billion U.S. dollars. For neo-capitalist Russia, which for over a decade has been in a dire economic situation, all this money is obviously quite important. However, Minister Posuvalyuk stressed that economic reasons were not the exclusive causes of the Russian involvement. (97) Iraq, he said, is "very geographically close to the former Soviet borders and even Russia itself. It is not a far away country where one can play its political games. The developments there have an impact on the political life in Russia, including its domestic problems." (98) It was to be expected that in June 1995 Minister Kozyrev stated that Moscow and Baghdad had "coordinated a course aimed at ending Iraq's international isolation," still contingent on its compliance with the U.N. Resolutions. (99)

But despite his efforts in the 1994-95 period, Minister Kozyrev was still widely blamed for the negligence of the Middle Eastern goals and interests of the country. (100) According to many Russian scholars and journalists, his policy had caused a noticeable decrease in Russia's prestige and political influence and a loss of the very substantial economic gains. (101) His replacement in December 1995 by Eugenii Primakov, a noted Middle Eastern scholar and a man with a first hand knowledge of the Arab World including Iraq, was thus welcomed by them as a positive turn and a chance for improvement of Russian (102) policy in the region.

The Primakov Period, 1996-1999

Primakov, as Foreign Minister from January 1996 to September 1998 and Prime Minister from then until May 1999, is credited by Russian scholars and journalists with a clear formulation and introduction of new ideas and directions in Russian foreign policy. (103) According to a Russian scholar: "the geostrategic principles which were established by him basically continued after his departure from the Prime Minister's office. In fact there is no alternative to them and they correspond to Russia's geopolitical aspirations and its new political class which became more pragmatic and less pro-western." (104)

Expressing a wide consensus among the Russian political elite and following trends which were already noticeable during the last two years before he came to power, Primakov wanted to stress both the greatness and global interest of Russia. As he stated during his first press conference as Russian Foreign Minister, "Russian foreign policy should correspond to its great power status and be active in all azimuths." (105) This obviously needs to include the Middle East where, as in October 1997 one senior Israeli official said, after his meeting with Primakov, "he made [it] clear that he wants Russia to demonstrate its sense of being a power in the region." (106) For a number of geopolitical and economic reasons, Iraq had to become one of his priorities and in addition, he had long established personal links with that country. Between 1968 and 1970 he worked as a Soviet press correspondent in Baghdad and since then has had friendly relations with Saddam Hussein. (107) As he admitted himself, he even mediated betw een him and the Kurdish nationalists. (108) Primakov's role as Gorbachev's envoy during the Second Gulf War was also well remembered in Iraq and when he assumed the post of Russian Foreign Minister, this was welcomed there with great satisfaction. (109)

The first major test of his relations with Iraq came in the fall of 1996 when on 4 September American cruise missiles were launched against Iraqi territory. The U.S. government claimed that the reason for that was an Iraqi military incursion into the specially protected zone in its northern region which is largely populated by Kurds who want to separate from Baghdad. According to Russian sources, however, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Posuvaliuk had already received guarantees on 2 September from Tariq Aziz that the Iraqi troops who had entered Kurdish territory had been ordered to withdraw on 3-4 September. (110) When on 2 September the Americans indicated to the Russians that "a U.S. strike was inevitable," Moscow opposed, arguing that because of their efforts, the "situation was basically moving towards a denouement." (111) However, that was followed by U.S. and U.K. bombardment which predictably caused a strong Russian reaction. Not only did the Ministry of Foreign Affairs protest, but the govern ment as a whole issued a special statement calling the action both "inadequate and unacceptable." (112) Russian Iraqi political and economic cooperation still further expanded, and in order to stay in touch with Primakov, Tariq Aziz visited Moscow on 11 November 1996, between 4-6 March 1997, and on 9 May 1997. (113) Also, since then Russia, together with some other states, especially France and China, created a kind of "pro-Iraqi lobby" in the U.N. Security Council in order to weaken the sanctions and to constrain U.S. action against that country. (114)

Nevertheless, the Americans successfully frustrated all their efforts. The diplomatic battle in the U.N. Security Council on the report by the U.N. Special Commission and the resolution on Iraq focused on the request by Russia, France and some other states to include in it a clear statement on the many positive steps taken by Iraq and its cooperation with the disarmament program, and on their opposition to the additional sanctions against that country. (115) The final text of Resolution 1134 which was adopted by the majority of Security Council members on 23 October 1997 did not introduce additional sanctions directly, but also did not mention Iraqi positive cooperation. (116) Consequently, Russia considered it to be both "unbalanced and not objective" and together with France, China, Kenya and Egypt, abstained on the motion. (117) The situation was further aggravated when on 29 October 1997 Iraq ordered all American inspectors of the U.N. Special Commission (the UNSCOM) to leave in a week and demanded the ha lt of U.S. air surveillance flights over its territory. Russia, together with France, then issued a statement on 1 November 1997 which condemned Iraqi actions but stressed that all new steps concerning Iraq should be undertaken only with the authorization of the Security Council. (118) The statement also made it clear that the outcome of Iraqi cooperation with the UNSCOM should be "lifting of the oil embargo and full reintegration of Iraq into the international community." (119)

The same goals were reiterated in the Joint Russian-Iraqi statement on 19 November 1997. The statement, which was worked out by Primakov and Tariq Aziz, promised that:

On the basis of Iraq's fulfillment of the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, Russia....will energetically work for the earliest possible lifting of the sanctions against Iraq and, above all, for putting into effect point 22 of Resolution No. 687. ... To this end, active steps will be taken to increase the effectiveness of the Special Commission's work while showing respect for the sovereignty and security of Iraq. (120)

With that statement in his hand, Primakov called to Geneva on 20 November 1997 those representatives of the five countries that are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and persuaded them to accept the arrangement prepared by him. (121) After the talks ended, he concluded with understandable satisfaction: "this is a great success for Russian diplomacy, one that is recognized by absolutely everyone. ... It was achieved without the use of force and without a show of force; it was achieved through diplomatic means." (122) His satisfaction was shared by virtually all Russian scholars and journalists, who indicated that this success was "the first of its kind in the past few years" and that "this time Moscow ... played the role of a world power that averted what at first had seemed to be an inevitable war in the Persian Gulf." (123)

Due to Russian mediation in November 1997, the new outbreak of violence was avoided, but the underlying conflict was not solved. In fact it soon reignited again and it focused both on the dispute over the UNSCOM's inspectors' access to presidential palace sites and the widely held allegations that the Americans and the Israelis used UNSCOM as a shield for their own intelligence penetration. (124) On 11 January 1998, Baghdad blocked inspections by the UNSCOM team led by American Scott Ritter, who indeed later admitted his cooperation with the Israeli agencies. (125) Iraq argued that the Special Commission had too many American members and did not work "sharing respect for the sovereignty and security of Iraq," as had been agreed upon before. When the Americans and their British allies wanted to use their military might, Russia once again argued that a diplomatic solution in the framework of the U.N. system should be found. The Russian position was by and large in line with the opinions of the Arab World, Franc e, China and the great majority of the other U.N. members. As in February 1998 the Russian Minister of Defense Igor Sergeyev indicated to his American counterpart William Cohen, during his visit to Russia, that Moscow believed that the Iraqi crisis represented a threat to vital Russian national interests and it could not be approached only in the context of American-Iraqi relations. (126) With the very few exceptions of "radical democrats" who have always been pro-American, (127) Russian public opinion thought that in a war against Iraq, the U.S. "would be pursuing purely hegemonistic aims" and that although "one can condemn Hussein's totalitarian regime, and demands that Iraq destroy its weapons of mass destruction ... one cannot hold hostage to American interests the entire long suffering Iraqi people ... who will be the first casualties of American bombing." (128)

On 3 February 1998, Minister of Foreign Affairs E. Primakov approved the draft of a resolution on the Iraqi crisis which was adopted next day by the Duma. The resolution condemned the trend towards the use of force against Iraq and emphasized the need to resolve the crisis by peaceful means. It also particularly stressed that it was not permissible to use tactical nuclear weapons, which the Americans then prepared to use in their planned operation. (129) The same day, President Yeltsin warned U.S. President Clinton that by his threats of military action against Iraq he "might run right into a new world war." (130)

Russia had again been actively mediating in the new round of crises and Deputy Foreign Minister V. Posuvalyuk had shuttled between Moscow and Baghdad. However, in view of the very serious situation which was dangerous for regional peace, on 13 February 1998 Primakov concluded that "the time has come for a visit to Baghdad by the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan." (130) As he then asserted, "one cannot talk about failed diplomatic efforts or reach a verdict before Annan goes to Baghdad." (131)

His mission there, which took place later in February 1998, was strongly supported by Russian diplomacy. It was none other than Primakov who at Kofi Annan's request had persuaded Saddam Hussein to back down from insisting on a time limit for inspection of his presidential sites. (132) The Memorandum on Mutual Understanding between the U.N. and Iraq, which was signed by Kofi Annan with the Iraqi authorities on 23 February 1998, provided for unhindered work by the UNSCOM inspectors in exchange for recognition of Iraqi sovereignty and a comprehensive review of sanctions. The Memorandum was hailed by the Russian government and was unanimously approved by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1154 on 2 March 1998. (133) However, the Resolution also included a clause threatening the "severest consequences" if Iraq reneged on the agreement. (134) Nevertheless, according to its Russian interpretation, it did not authorize use of force without the previous approval of the Security Council. (135)

The problem of interpretation of the clause became very controversial when on 5 August 1998 Iraq suspended its cooperation with the UNSCOM. Baghdad argued that its inspectors had intentionally delayed completion of their task in order to continue the sanctions, and that the Security Council could not have obtained an adequate picture of the situation from them. (136) In view of the new round of crises, Russia reiterated its position, according to which Iraq should fulfil all its obligations which were imposed by the Security Council and cooperate in a constructive way with the UNSCOM. As a result, the Iraqi disarmament file would be closed and, according to point 22, Resolution 687, the Security Council would be able to remove the oil embargo. (137) At that particular time, the most important thing was preservation of restraint by all parties in order to avoid further deterioration of the difficult situation. (138) The crisis was then temporarily solved and the UNSCOM restarted its work in September. After th e new short conflict, Baghdad gave its solemn promise to stop obstructing the Special Commission's work in the future. (139) The Russian position and Russian-Iraqi cooperation were confirmed again by Edward Primakov, who was then Prime Minister of the country during Tariq Aziz's visit to Moscow on 7 December 1998. (140)

Both Russian intentions and Iraqi expectations, however, became frustrated when on 17 December 1998 the U.S. and the U.K. started to bombard Iraqi territory. According to Russian sources, this time the attack was not provoked by any Iraqi actions and took place exactly at the time when an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council which was convened at Russia's request, discussed the tensions between Baghdad and UNSCOM. (141) The attack was preceded by the provocative actions of the U.N. Special Commission head Robert Butler who, during the last week before the events, deliberately became confrontational with the Iraqi authorities. On 15 December 1998 he submitted a quite biased report to the U.N. Security Council and immediately ordered his staff to leave Baghdad. As the Russian press indicated, "only about 24 hours passed between Butler's report and the first strike." (142)

Russian politicians of all orientations reacted to the events with harsh condemnation and protests. According to President Yeltsin's statement, the U.N. Security Council resolutions did not provide any authorization for such actions. (143) Yeltsin considered it to be "a gross violation of the U.N. Charter and universally accepted principles of international law" and called for its immediate end. (144) Primakov stressed that the bombardment was not provoked by Iraq this time and that the sole responsibility rested on the U.S. administration which acted against Russia's warnings and advice. He characterized UNSCOM chief Richard Butler's behaviour as scandalous and announced that Russia would call an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council. (145) On 18 December 1998 the Russian parliament-Duma asked President Yeltsin to:

(1) get Russia out of participation in the sanctions against Iraq imposed by the U.N. Security Council Resolutions as all of them "have been trampled upon by the recent aggression." And to

(2) take all necessary means in order to re-establish fully normal economic and military-technological relations with Iraq. (146)

Russian politicians were particularly concerned that, as President Yeltsin indicated, they were "essentially dealing with an action that undermines the entire international security system," (147) and that the voice of Russia was apparently neglected. Expressing those fears, powerful Russian businessman and C.I.S. Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky openly admitted that "a new page was opened in a world order in which the dominant role of the U.S. is absolute," (148) and that "Russia joined a number of countries that don't have to be reckoned with." (149)

In addition to the concern about the shape of the international system and the place of their country in it, Russian politicians also defended Iraq because of the more direct economic interests. According to some Russian diplomats, "Iraq is virtually the only place on earth where the interests of Russia and the U.S. are not simply at cross purposes, but essentially in rigid opposition to each other." (150) A struggle is going on between Russian and American oil companies for prospects of exploitation of Iraq's natural resources and for investment in that country. (151) Due to hostility between the U.S. and the Baghdad regime, American companies had found themselves at a disadvantage and Russian companies strongly supported by Russian diplomacy had won many lucrative contracts. (152) Since Resolution 986 of 14 April 1995 had allowed Iraq to sell $2 billion worth of oil over a period of six months in order to pay for the civil imports which were necessary for the population ("oil for food" program), Russian com panies in fact got the most favorable treatment by the Iraqi authorities. (153) Their share in exporting Iraqi oil during the first six stages of the "oil for food" program, amounted to about 40% of the total volume of Iraqi oil exports. (154) Between 1998 and 1999, Russian companies also won first place due to the high volume of civil goods delivered to Iraq (about $500 million U.S.) (155) and in 2000 all Iraq's orders to Russia exceeded $20 billion U.S. (155) Consequently, since the mid 1990s, the Russians have believed that exactly because of their economic success and even better prospects for the future profit, "Washington will now do everything in its power to prevent an easing of the embargo." (156) Because of the Iraqi government's guarantees to pay the debt it owed to Russia as its first priority, (157) Moscow was additionally interested in the prevention of war and further destruction and in the end of the sanctions.

When the American and British bombardment ended on 20 December 1998, President Yeltsin hailed an end to "senseless, unlawful action" and called for "extensive aid in the form of food, medicine and all the other things which are needed to lead a peaceful existence" for the "Iraqi people, the victims of the bombing." (158)

And yet on all these occasions there were some clear limits to the level of Russia's independent action and to its denial of American pressures. Despite all its efforts towards the lifting of sanctions against Iraq, the Russian government did not follow the call of the Russian parliament, the Duma, and did not abolish them unilaterally, and while trying to protect Iraq against new American military interventions, Russia at the same time stressed that Iraq should comply fully with all relevant U.N. resolutions and submit to further UNSCOM disarmament inspections. (159) In spite of all the harsh protests against the U.S. and U.K. air strikes against Iraq, an "informed source in Russian diplomatic circles" told the press on 19 December 1998 that "a return to confrontation [with the U.S.] is not worth it for the very reason that it is not in our interests. (160) Even earlier, on December 18, President Yeltsin's spokesman, Dimitry Yakushkin stated to the media that "There can be no talk of a rift between Russia an d the U.S. and Britain ... we mustn't slip into the rhetoric of confrontation," (161) and Boris Berezovski called for "separation of our emotions from a rational assessment of events." (162)

On 12 May 1999, Primakov was forced to leave the Prime Minister's office, but even after his dismissal, Russian policy toward Iraq, although without his undoubted personal involvement and expertise, has remained basically unchanged. On 1 June 1999, the Director of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Press Office, V.O. Rahmanin, again mentioned "the persistent and continuous efforts of Russian diplomacy" to achieve "a political solution to the Iraqi problem" on the basis of "lifting sanctions from Iraq." (163) In their search for that, in April 1999 Russia, China and France submitted a draft of the Security Council's resolution which proposed replacing "Butler's Special Commission which compromised itself" by a new system of international monitoring over the Iraqi military potential with simultaneous lifting of most of the economic sanctions. (164) According to it, the oil embargo and the ban on civil imports into the country would come to an end, although the ban on all kinds of military cooperation and strict control over the delivery of double purpose goods would persist. (165) The proposals were opposed by the U.S. which instead supported a draft resolution which was submitted at the same time by the U.K. and the Netherlands, and which wanted to preserve the Special Commission and the regime of sanctions basically intact. (166) According to Russian sources, despite the differences between the two positions, Russian diplomacy aimed to avoid an open clash between them and looked for a compromise. (167) After a prolonged stalemate, on 17 December 1999 the Security Council adopted Resolution 1284 which provided for some improvement of the humanitarian conditions in Iraq, but according to Moscow still contained "ambiguous wording" which allowed postponing of the lifting of sanctions. (168) As a result of that, Russia, China, France and Malaysia, the latter then being a non-permanent Security Council member, abstained from voting, (169) and the Russian representative indicated that the effectiveness of the reso lution would be shown when it is put into practice. (170) Even earlier, on 28 September 1999, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister V.O. Sredin reiterated the Russian position on Iraq, calling for a more rapid lifting of the sanctions on the basis of Iraqi fulfillment of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. (171) He characterized the American and British bombardment of Iraq in December 1998 as "absolutely illegal" and made them responsible for the "destruction of the unique mechanism of international control" over the Iraqi military potential. In October 1999, the Russian Minister of Trade and Energy, Victor Kaluzhnyu went to Baghdad and passed a personal letter to Saddam Hussein from Yeltsin, in which he declared himself to be in favor of an end to the embargo. (172)

President Yeltsin resigned in the New Year of 2000 and his place was taken by Vladimir Putin, who started a new period in Russian post-Soviet history.

The Putin Period

Primakov's Iraqi politics, like his foreign policy in general, was characterized by an effort toward self-assertiveness, a continuity of the country's old traditions, and considerable self-restraint caused by its present weakness and general crisis. Under somewhat different circumstances, President Putin and his Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's present Russian policy toward Iraq is largely following the same direction, though perhaps in an even more cautious and circumspect way. In addition to the still increasing general weakness of the country and the fact that neither Putin nor his Foreign Minister Ivanov has any personal knowledge of and links with Iraq and the Middle East as a whole, there are two more important political factors which undoubtedly cannot be without impact on their policy toward Iraq.

(1) In marked contrast to the Soviet era and to a certain point even the post-Soviet Primakov period, Israel is a truly desired strategically in the Middle East for the present Russian ruling elite. (173) According to A. Malygin, who teaches at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are no objectively contradictory interests between Russia and Israel, and their cooperation will be further promoted by the Russian language diaspora in Israel and the common threat of Islamic extremism. (174) In addition, cooperation with Israel seems more profitable to the Russians than cooperation with any other country in the Middle East. Only Israel has such access to modern Western technology and both the Israeli and the world Jewish diaspora international influences are incomparably stronger than those of any other state in the region. (175)

(2) Another important factor is the new and much better Russian relations with two of Iraq's neighbors: Iran and Turkey, when compared with the past. On 1 December 2000, under Putin's leadership, Moscow repudiated the Gore-Chernomyrdin Agreement of 30 June 1995 and decided to resume arms sales to Iran. (176) It was not only repudiation of the agreement itself, but also a sign of intent to reconsider the basic tenets of Russian foreign policy of the mid l990s, when that policy was led by Yeltsin, Chernomyrdin and Kozyrev. (177) As the Russian press indicated: "within Moscow political circles, both Indian and Iranian experiences have helped shape the conviction that never again should relations with any of Moscow's partners serve as a bargaining chip for trade with the U.S. or any other country." (178) The geopolitical goal in the case of success is "an informal Indian-Iranian-Russian alliance, one that will make the vulnerable 'soft underbelly' of the CIS a firm foundation for the post-Soviet space." (179) Alt hough there are still a number of outstanding political problems between Russia and Turkey, (180) from the economic viewpoint, Turkey is still the most important Russian partner in the region and both countries already have advanced cooperation in the fields of security and the struggle against terrorism. (181) In view of all these developments, Iraq's strategic value for Russia, which was so important for it in the past, has now apparently declined. (182)

It does not necessarily mean that Iraq has now become unimportant to Russia and that Putin's administration has not paid much attention to that country. Speaking to the press on the 10th anniversary of the Second Gulf War, Sergei Zhiravlev, the head of the Russian Society for Friendship with Iraq, expressed the opinion that when Mikhail Gorbachev had failed to defend Russia's national interests at the time of the Second Gulf War, the current Russian government appears to be taking a different stand. (183) Although obviously optimistic, his view was nevertheless not quite inaccurate. For a number of political and economic reasons, the Iraqi case probably represents one of the few issues on which present Russian leaders are willing to openly and persistently disagree with the U.S. and its allies. (184) During his first visit to Moscow since Putin came to power in June 2000, Tariq Aziz was told by the Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei V. Ivanov that: "Russia continues to apply maximum pressure for the qu ickest end, and then the permanent lifting of international sanctions against Iraq." (185) The Russian side also stressed the importance of the reinstallation of international monitoring over Iraqi military programs which were forbidden after the Second Gulf War and the need for its full cooperation with the new organ of supervision: The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). (186) However, in the Russian view, UNMOVIC should be strictly controlled by the U.N. Security Council in order to avoid the fate of its discredited predecessor, UNSCOM, which was headed by R. Butler, and no external forces should interfere in Iraq's domestic problems. (187)

During his next visit to Moscow in November 2000, Tareq Aziz had long and reportedly difficult talks with the Russian leaders, but Russian-Iraqi friendship was not put into question. (188) Before his departure, he said on Russian National T.V.:

For the last 10 years, some people have held jobs in the Russian government without knowing the country's history of relations with its Soviet-era friends. ... Russian authorities can feel the traditions extending over the centuries of good relations with the East, with Iraq, the Arab World, India and China. (189)

Last February, when the American and British air forces bombarded Iraq again, President Putin stated that such "unprovoked actions do not help settle the situation regarding Iraq,, (190) and immediately called the French President, Jacques Chirac regarding the "impermissibility" of the actions. (191) The Russian Foreign Ministry issued an official statement criticizing the recent military intervention (192) and Dimitrii Rogozin, the Chairman of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, went as far as to announce that he will ask the Duma to pass a resolution calling on President Putin to unilaterally lift the sanctions on Iraq in response to the bombardment. (193)

In the final outcome, however, the Duma on 22 February 2001 approved by a vote of 359 to 2 a resolution calling on President Putin just to seek a U.N. decision to lift the sanctions regime against Iraq and it rejected Rogozin's original proposal. (194) Two days earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko admitted that it is "'virtually impossible' for Russia ... to raise the issue of U.S. and British air strikes in the U.N. Security Council." (195) Russia's weak position was more noticeable now than during the previous U.S. and British attacks in 1996 and 1998.

The apparently still unsuccessful Russian efforts to have the sanctions lifted or even temporarily suspended caused easily predictable dissatisfaction in Iraq, who started to threaten a cancellation of a contract with the Russian company Lukoil for the development of Iraqi oil fields. (196) The Russian answer to that was a good deal of diplomatic and political activity which was, however, of largely symbolic importance. Members of the Duma began to form a Russian-Iraqi inter-parliamentary commission on bilateral cooperation. (197) and there is a lively exchange of delegations between the two countries. (198)

In addition to the geopolitical and economic causes which have been discussed above, the Russian political elite paid attention to Iraq also due to strong Russian public opinion support for that country. According to a recent poll conducted by the All Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, which was published on 2 March 2001, 58 percent of Russians were upset and angry about the February 2001 American and British attack on Iraq. Only 2 percent of those polled approved of the attack. (199)

Bearing in mind today's very low level of interest in, and even less sympathy for the Arabs among the Eastern Europeans, Russian popular support for Iraq is an almost puzzling phenomenon and might probably be partly explained by their feeling of solidarity with their former ally of the Soviet era and a dislike of American arrogance. However, it is also necessary to remember that "Moscow now is far from speaking 'with one voice on Iraq'" (200) and that there are also some influential circles there which are ready to sacrifice Iraq on the altar of the better relations with the West - particularly with the U.S. (201) Since the mid 1990s, they are just a minority, but because of the still volatile political situation in the country, their influence might increase again in the future.


Development of the political and economic relations between post-Soviet Russia and Iraq could be seen as one of the most intriguing and complex examples of its foreign policy transformation in the search for a proper place in the world community. Since the mid 1990s, the country's new political leadership aims to find a way out of the political crisis and humiliation of the Gorbachev-early Yeltsin period and to restore its previous international status. In marked contrast to the Soviet era, the new Russia's foreign policy is conceived as non-ideological and is avowedly based on its national interests, which are understood mainly in strategic and economic categories. For both of these reasons Iraq is a very important country for Russia because of its geopolitical location, the Islamic factor and its natural and financial resources. Moreover, the struggle for an end to the oil embargo on Iraq and against U.S. military intervention became one of the main focal points in the Russian game against U.S. world hegemo ny and the unipolar world system which is based on it.

Bearing in mind its present general weakness in all its efforts, Russia has nevertheless been cautious and moderate. There are quite clear limits which it did not want to overstep, and in all its actions it has always called for restraint, use of peaceful means and strict adherence to bona fidae understood international obligations. In marked contrast to its Soviet past, Russia wants to be seen now as a "peacemaker and a factor of stability in the region," (202) and to work in accordance with and in the framework of the broad international consensus. (203)

Iraq is also a country of crucial interest to the Russian economy. In the first six months of 1999, Russian companies exported 43.0 percent of Iraqi oil which was allowed to be sold according to the U.N. "oil for food" program. (204) and at least two of them: Lukoil and Slavneft, already have their offices in Baghdad. (205) For Russia, whose own federal budget in 1999 amounted to only $24 billion U.S., Iraq's orders which now exceed $20 billion U.S. are considered to be vital sources of income. (206)

In its tough struggle for the restoration of its independence and preservation of its boundaries, Iraq is also apparently "gambling on Russia as the main power which may help to end the sanctions," (207) and for the last ten years has been constantly showing Moscow its "special sympathies". (208) In 2000 Saddam Hussein elevated Iraqi-Russian relations to the rank of a strategic partnership (209) and on 18 March 2001 he told the Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev who was visiting Baghdad that "he hopes to meet President Putin in the near future." (210)

This international configuration which is based on the temporary convergence of the national interests of both countries does not need, however, to be either stable or lasting. Russians are prone to believe that however peaceful and moderate their policy on Iraqi issues are going to be, they will still need to face American counteraction and hostility. (211) In their view Washington will almost certainly use any pretext or subterfuge in order to prolong the sanctions and hinder the full restoration of Russian-Iraqi economic cooperation. (212) Moscow is also uncertain regarding how long the Iraqi leadership will continue its present pro-Russian policy. The Americans are putting tremendous pressure on Iraq which is both open and secret, and after Saddam Hussein's departure from the political arena, Iraqi foreign policy could also change its directions and priorities. (213) Even now Baghdad apparently seems quite disappointed by the ineffectiveness of Russian efforts to end the embargo and by the reluctance of t he Russian companies to start their work in Iraq immediately. (214) The new Russian partnership with Israel and the greatly improved links with Iran and Turkey may also have a negative impact on future Russian-Iraqi relations. However, what is most important for their future now seems to be the decisions of the new U.S. administration and the question is how far will President George W. Bush and his advisors go in order to impose their will on both countries?

Tareq Y. Ismael is a Professor of political science at the University of Calgary (Canada) and Director of the International Centre for Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies, Eastern Mediterranean University, (Turkish Republic of Cyprus), and Andrej Kreutz is an instructor in political science at the University of Calgary.


(1.) In 1916-1917 during World War I, the Russian Army even occupied the north-eastern part of present-day Iraq, which at that time had been a province of the Ottoman Empire (Haim Shemesh, Soviet-Iraqi Relations, 1968-1988: In the Shadow of the Iraq-Iran Conflict; Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1992), p. 14, f. 2.

(2.) Oles M. Smolansky with Bettie M. Smolansky, The USSR and Iraq: The Soviet Quest for Influence (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1981), p. 63.

(3.) Majid Khadduri, Independent Iraq 1932-1958: A Study in Iraqi Relations (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), p. 252.

(4.) Shemesh, pp. 2-3.

(5.) Smolansky, p. 14.

(6.) Op. cit., p. 280.

(7.) Op. cit., p. 281.

(8.) Shemeth, p. 6.

(9.) Shemeth, p. 11.

(10.) Ibid.

(11.) Pravda (Moscow), 18-19 July 1967.

(12.) Francis Fukuyama, The Soviet Union and Iraq Since 1968 (Santa Monica: Rand Corporation, 1980), p. 46.

(13.) A. Agarkov, "Rossiisko-Irackiie otnosheniia no novom etapie razvitiia sotrudnichestva: problemy i perpektivy", Vostok i Rossiia no rubieze XXI veka (Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moskva, 1998), p. 214. According to the always well informed Middle Eastern French expert, Eric Ruleau, Saddam Hussein was the real architect of the treaty (Le Monde, 14 April 1972).

(14.) TASS (in English), 9 April 1972.

(15.) Ibid.

(16.) Smolansky, p. 31.

(17.) Op. cit., p. 33.

(18.) Radio Baghdad, 8 January 1980 (FBIS, 8 January 1980).

(19.) Shemesh, p. 163.

(20.) Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn, No. 3, 1987, P. 83.

(21.) Pravda, 1 October 1980.

(22.) A. Vassiliev, Rossiia no Blizhnem i Srednem Vostoke at Messianstva k pragmatizmu (Moskva: Nauka, 1993), p. 335.

(23.) Ibid

(24.) Op. cit., p. 336.

(25.) Ibid.

(26.) BBC. 2 February 1980.

(27.) Agarkov, p. 214.

(28.) Op. cit., p. 215.

(29.) Ibid.

(30.) Ibid.

(31.) Ibid.

(32.) Ibid.

(33.) On 2 August 1990 there were exactly 7,791 Soviet citizens there. A. Vassiliev, p. 363.

(34.) V. Z. Sharipov, Persiskii Zaliv: Neft - politika i voina (Moskova: Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, 2000), P. 107.

(35.) Op. cit., p. 109.

(36.) Agarkov, p. 215.

(37.) Izvestia, 10 January 1996, p. 3.

(38.) Pravda (Moscow, 3 August 1990).

(39.) That was indicated soon afterwards by a prominent Russian scholar who noted that: "We lost the confidence of the Arab countries when we trampled upon the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Iraq." (A. M. Khazanov, ed., Posledstvia voiny v Persiskom zaliv'e i situatsia v regione (Moscow: Prometei, 1993), p. 9.

(40.) Agarkov, p. 215.

(41.) Vassiliev, p. 350.

(42.) Izvestia (Moscow), 4 August 1990.

(43.) Yelena S. Melkumyan, "Soviet Policy and the Gulf Crisis", Ibrahim Ibrahim, ed., The Gulf Crisis: Background and Consequences. (Washington, D.C.: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, 1992), p. 84.

(44.) Vassiliev, p. 352.

(45.) Ibid.

(46.) Saraj Graham-Brown, Sanctioning Saddam: The Politics of Intervention in Iraq. (London, New York: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 1999), P. 10.

(47.) A. M. Vassiliev, "Budushtieie Rossiiskoj Politiki na Blizhnem Vostoke", Vestnik Rossiyskoj Akademii Nauk, 1998, vol. 68, No. 6, p. 494.

(48.) Galia Golan, "Gorbachev's Difficult Time in the Gulf,", Political Science Quarterly, vol. 107, No. 2 (1992), pp. 216-217.

(49.) A. M. Vassiliev, Rossiia na Blizhnem i Srednein Vostake, p. 358.

(50.) Golan, p. 218.

(51.) Vassiliev, p.360.

(52.) International Herald Tribune, 28 January 1991.

(53.) TASS, 4 February 1991.

(54.) Golan, p. 218.

(55.) Melkumyan, p. 87.

(56.) Vassiliev, pp. 359-360.

(57.) Melkumyan, p. 87.

(58.) Ibid.

(59.) Vassiliev, p. 359.

(60.) However, there is also the opinion that supporting Primakov's mission, Gorbachev only wanted to "please his domestic opponents in the hope of ultimately resuming his own policies." (Golan, p. 219). Shevardnadze was definitely against Primakov's mission and any efforts towards Soviet mediation and a more independent stand in the conflict (Vasiliev, p. 358). See also Primakov, Gody v Bolshoi Politike (Moskwa: Sovershenno Sekretno, 1999), pp. 309-310.

(61.) Golan, p. 219.

(62.) Agarkov, p. 216.

(63.) Izvestia (Moscow), 15 November 1991.

(64.) For a detailed analysis of the unprecedented Soviet-Russian collapse, see V. Pogodin, Rossiya i SSZA na poroge XXI veka ("Russia and the U.S.A. at the Threshold of the XXI century"), Svobodnaya Mysl., April 1997, pp. 30-34.

(65.) Russell E. Travers, "A New Millenium and a Strategic Breathing Space," Washington Quarterly, vol. 20, No. 2 (Spring 1997), pp. 103-104.

(66.) Middle East International, 9 October 1992, p. 8.

(67.) Rossiia - SNG - Asia. Problemy i Perspectivy sotrudnichestva (Moscow: Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, 1993), p. 6.

(68.) Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia na Blizhnem i Srednem Vostoke u Politika Rossii (Moscow: Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, 2000), p. 41.

(69.) Abdalla Abdalla Omar, SSZA, Islamskij Vostok i Rossiia (Moscow: Russian National Fund, 1995), p. 76.

(70.) Op. cit., pp. 76-77.

(71.) Agarkov, p. 216.

(72.) Abdalla Abdalla Omar, p. 77.

(73.) Izvestia, 10 January 1996, p. 3.

(74.) Middle East International, 9 July 1993, p. 5.

(75.) Ibid.

(76.) Ibid.

(77.) Agarkov, p. 216.

(78.) Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia na Blizhnem i Srednim Vostoke, p. 29. Also personal interview with A. M. Vassiliev, a noted Russian Middle Eastern scholar in Moscow, on 4 January 2000.

(79.) Abdalla Abdalla Omar, p. 78.

(80.) Ibid.

(81.) Izvestia, 8 December 1994.

(82.) S. Lavrov, "Pora li oslabliat' sanktsii protiv Iraka?" Moskovkiye Novosti, No. 30, 24-30 June 1994.

(83.) Agarkov, p. 217.

(84.) Op. cit., p.218.

(85.) Izvestia, 17 October 1995. For comments about Kozyrev's political fickleness, see also Izvestia, 10 January 1996, p. 3.

(86.) Abdalla Abdalla Omar, p. 78.

(87.) Op. cit., p. 80.

(88.) Diplomaticheskii Vestnik (Moscow), September 1995, p. 21.

(89.) Gawdat Bahgat, "The Iraqi Crisis in the New Millennium: The Prospects," Asian Affairs, vol. XXXI, part 2, June 2000, p. 15.

(90.) Diplomaticheskii Vestnik (Moscow), September 1995, p. 21.

(91.) Mezhdunarodnye Otnosheniia na Blizhnem i Srednim Vostoke, p. 30 and personal interview with A. M. Vassiliev, 4 January 2001.

(92.) Ibid.

(93.) Ibid.

(94.) According to some American sources, the Russian oil company, Zarubezhneft has already started up as the first foreign company since the Second Gulf War, to drill oil wells in the Kirkuk field in northern Iraq (Leon Barkho, "Russian firm drilling for Iraq Oil," Associated Press, 2 December 1999. On line at: www. Washington

(95.) Bahgat, p. 150. See also Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, vol. XLVI, No. 10 (1994), p. 28 and No. 28 (1994), p. 24.

(96.) Sharipov, p. 113.

(97.) ITAR-TASS, 1994, 21 October, issue 165, s. 1-8 (in Russian).

(98.) Ibid.

(99.) Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, vol. XLVII, No. 23, p. 26 (1995).

(100.) Vassiliev, Budushtieie Rossiiskoi Politiki na Blishnem Vostoke, p. 495.

(101.) Agarkov, p. 218.

(102.) The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, vol. XLVIII, No. 2, p. 14 (7 February 1996).

(103.) See for instance: V. Kolossov, "Geopolititsheskiie polozeniie Rossii," Polis, No. 3, 2000, pp. 55-60 and K. Brutens, "Vneshnaia politika Rossii; Novyi etap", Svobodnaya Mysl, XXI, No. 11(1501)2000, p. 7.

(104.) Kolossov, p. 59.

(105.) Olga Aleksandrova, "The 'Third World' in Russian Foreign Policy," Aussenpolitik, III, 1996, p. 249.

(106.) Haaretz (31 October 1997), on line http://www3.haaretz./eng

(107.) Agarkov, p. 218.

(108.) Ibid.

(109.) Ibid.

(110.) Sevodnya (Moscow), 6 September 1996, p. 1.

(111.) Ibid.

(112.) Ibid.

(113.) Agarkov, p. 219.

(114.) Op. cit., pp. 218-219.

(115.) Diplomaticheskii Vestnik, November 1997, p. 55.

(116.) Ibid

(117.) Ibid. See also Sarah Graham-Brown, Sanctioning Saddam: The Politics of Intervention in Iraq (London and New York: Taurus, 1999), p. 86.

(118.) Diplomaticheskii Vestnik, November 1997, p. 56.

(119.) Ibid.

(120.) Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 21 November 1997.

(121.) Ibid.

(122.) Rossiiskaia Gazeta, 21 November 1997, p. 4.

(123.) Ibid.

(124.) See for instance Youssef M. Ibrahim, "Higher Hopes in Baghdad for Ending U.N. Embargo," New York Times, 18 October 1998, p. A4; Tim Weiner, "U.S. Spied on Iraq Under U.N. Cover, Officials Now Say," New York Times, 7 January 1999, p. Al. Also U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan, confirmed that he had obtained convincing evidence that the UNSCOM inspectors helped collect eavesdropping intelligence for the U.S. government (Washington Post, 6 January 1999, p. Al).

(125.) New York Times, 18 October 1998, p. A4.

(126.) Rzeczypospolita (Warsaw), 13 February 1998, p. 4.

(127.) See for instance K. Eggert (Izvestia, 4 February 1998). For the predominant opinion among the political class and public opinion at large, see Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 5 February 1998.

(128.) Pravda, 3 February 1998.

(129.) Nezavisimaja Gazeta, 5 February 1998.

(130.) Ibid.

(131.) RFE/RL, 13 February, p. I, 1998.

(132.) Ibid.

(133.) Guardian International, 23 February 1998.

(134.) Diplomaticheskii Vestnik, April 1998, pp. 49-50.

(135.) Op. cit., p. 52.

(136.) Ibid.

(137.) Ibid.

(138.) The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, vol. 50, No. 51 (20 January 1999), p. 1.

(139.) Diplomaticheskii Vestnik, January 1999, p. 7.

(140.) Kommersant, 18 December 1998, p. 1. See also Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 18 December 1998.

(141.) Kommersant, 18 December 1998, p.2.

(142.) Diplomaticheskiji Vestnik, January 1999, p. 24.

(143.) Ibid.

(144.) Op. cit, p. 25.

(145.) op. cit., p. 27.

(146.) op. cit., p. 24.

(147.) Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 18 December 1998.

(148.) RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, No. 243, P. I(18 December 1998).

(149.) Sevodnya (Moscow), 11 December 1996, p. 3.

(150.) Ibid.

(151.) For an example of the political support of the Russian oil companies, see Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 18 October 1996, pp. 1-2.

(152.) Ibid. See also Sevodnya (Moscow), 11 December 1996, p. 3.

(153.) A private interview with a prominent Russian Middle Eastern expert, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Prof. A. M. Vassiliev in Moscow on 4 January 2001.

(154.) Ibid.

(155.) Mezhdunaradniye Otnosheniia no Blizhnem i Srednem Vostake, p. 41.

(156.) Sevodnya, 11 December 1996, p. 3.

(157.) Mezhdunaradniye Otnosheniia no Blizhnem i Srednem Vostake, p. 41.

(158.) Diplomaticheskii Vestnik, January 1999, p. 30.

(159.) During the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz's visit to Moscow on 18 November 1997, the Russian spokesman Tarasov stated: "Russia's position remains unchanged ... that the Iraqi authorities must annul their illegal steps to impose conditions on UNSCOM. After that, and only after that, should other issues be discussed." (Christian Science Monitor, 21 November 1997, p. 18).

(160.) RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, No. 244, p. 1(21 December 1998).

(161.) Middle East International, 25 December 1998, P. 10.

(162.) Nezevisimaia Gazeta, 18 December 1998.

(163.) Diplomaticheskii Vestnik, July 1999, p. 50.

(164.) Ibid.

(165.) Interview with A. M. Vassiliev on 4 January 2001.

(166.) Diplomaticheskiji Vestnik, July 1999, p. 50.

(167.) Interview with A. M. Vassiliev on 4 January 2001.

(168.) Ibid. See also C. Lynch and John Lancaster, "U.N. votes to renew Iraq inspections," Washington Post, 17 December 1999, p. Al and R. Khalaf, "U.N. adopts new resolution on Iraq," Financial Times (London), 18 December 1999.

(169.) Ibid.

(170.) Ibid.

(171.) Diplomaticheskii Vestnik, October 1999, p. 57.

(172.) Ibid.

(173.) Mezhdunarodnye otnoshenia no Blizhnem i Srednem Vostoke, pp. 40-41.

(174.) Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 18 March 2001.

(175.) A. Malygin, "Novaia Situatsia no Blizhnem i Srednem Vostoke," Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn, No. 10, 2000, p. 85.

(176.) op. cit., p. 86.

(177.) Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 24 November 2000, pp. 1-2.

(178.) Ibid.

(179.) Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 8 December 2000, p. 6.

(180.) Ibid. Another outcome of that policy is a planned north-south corridor, which will link Russia with India via Iran, cutting in half the time for land transportation between the two countries (RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 5, No. 11, part 1, 17 January2001).

(181.) Vitali Naoumkine, "Le Russie et le Proche Orient," Revue Internationale et Strategique, 2000, No. 38, p. 203.

(182.) Op. cit., pp. 202-204.

(183.) As a Lebanese scholar indicates: "There is absolutely no evidence of defiance in the articulation of Russia's disagreements with the U.S. on the issue of Iraqi sanctions. Russia just disagrees with Washington on Iraq, and it wants the world to know that it does." (Hilal Khashan, "Russia's Middle Eastern Policy," International Studies (New Delhi) 36, 1 (1999) p. 27.

(184.) Agence France Press, 26 July 2000.

(185.) Diplomaticheskii Vestnik, July 2000, p. 59.

(186.) Ibid.

(187.) Ibid.

(188.) Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 30 November 2000, p. 6.

(189.) New York Times, 13 January 2001, p. A8.

(190.) RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 5, No. 34, p. I (19 February 2001).

(191.) RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 5, No. 36, p. 1 (21 February 2001).

(192.) RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 5, No. 39, p. I (26 February 2001).

(193.) RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 5, No. 35, p. I (20 February 2001).

(194.) RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 5, No. 39, p. 1 (26 February 2001).

(195.) RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 5, No. 35, p. 1 (20 February 2001).

(196.) RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 5, No. 38, p. I (23 February 2001).

(197.) RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 5, No. 39, p. I (26 February 2001).

(198.) For instance on 29 January 2001, two Russian delegations, one led by the Minister of Energy A. Gavrin and the other by the President of Kolmykia, Kirsan Ilymzhinov, left for Baghdad (RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 5., No. 20, p. I (30 January 2001). Between 16-18 March an official visit was scheduled to take place by the Chairman of the Duma, G. Seleznev ( 13 March 2001).

(199.) RFE/RL, vol. 5, No. 47, p. I, 8 March 2001.

(200.) An interview with A. M. Vassiliev, 4 January 2001.

(201.) For example, the head of the Moscow-based Arabists Association, Vadim Semensov, who argues that the "sanctions must remain in place until Saddam Hussein caves in" and that "Russia's betting on Iraq has been a mistake." (ITAR-TASS News Agency, 11 July 2000). Quite recently, even Sergei Karaganov, influential president of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow, has blamed Putin's administration for: "the stepped up dialogue with Iraq." (Sevodnya, 20 January 2001, p. 4).

(202.) E. Satanovskii, "Rossiiskaia politika v otnoshenii Irana i Blizhnego Vostoka," Blizhnii Vostok i Soviemennost, issue 6, 1999, p. 181.

(203.) Ibid. See also E. Primakov, Gody v Bolshoi Politike (Moskwa: Sovershenno Sekretno, 1999), pp. 306-307.

(204.) Sadashi Fukuda, ed., Politics, Economy and Sanctions in the Persian Gulf States in a Changing Environment (Japan: Institute of Developing Economies, 2001), p. 29.

(205.) Op. cit., p. 28.

(206.) Mezhdunarodnie otnosheniia no Blizhnem i Srednem Vostoke, p. 41.

(207.) Agarkov, p. 221.

(208.) Ibid.

(209.) Mezhdunarodnie otnosheniia no Blizhnem i Srednem Vostoke, p. 41.

(210.) RFE/RL, vol. 5, No. 55, p. 1(20 March 2001).

(211.) Agarkov, p.221.

(212.) Ibid. See also Primakov, pp. 311-312.

(213.) Agarkov, p. 221.

(214.) Fukuda, p. 31.
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Author:Kreutz, Andrej
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Date:Sep 22, 2001
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