Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kozyrev Pulls Rabbit Trick Again

For a second time, Andrei Kozyrev has pulled a rabbit out of his hat, surprising and unsettling the world of international diplomacy with a proposal that plunges Russia into the center of a major international dispute and makes it the world's sole interlocutor with a pariah regime.


This, so far at least, is the net effect of Kozyrev's deal with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. In it Saddam said -- for the first time -- he was prepared to acknowledge that Kuwait is a sovereign state. In exchange, Kozyrev pledged that Russia would press for the lifting of the economic sanctions that are strangling Iraq's economy.


That, by itself, represents a considerable diplomatic coup for the Russian foreign minister. For so long as Saddam refuses to acknowledge Kuwait's sovereignty or borders, he reserves the right to roll tanks and reclaim lost territory at any moment. The mere fact that he has said he will accept that sovereignty is a large step forward.


How far the deal will go is another question, given that both the United States and Britain have rejected the idea of a quid pro-quo -- Kuwait's recognition for lifting of sanctions -- out of hand. For the moment, Kozyrev's deal may not, however, depend on Washington, as he has promised only to press for sanctions to be eased. The crunch -- a vote on sanctions in the United Nations Security Council -- is still some way off.


A sense of d?j?-vu here is inescapable. Earlier this year Russia pulled off a similar diplomatic surprise in Bosnia, preempting an escalation of NATO air strikes against Serbian forces around Sarajevo and lifting the siege around the Bosnian capital. Then too, the United States and the European powers were discomfited, but had little choice but to accept Russia as a key player in further negotiations.


This time, however, there is a serious fly in the ointment. For even compared to the Bosnian Serbs, Saddam is entirely unreliable and cynical. That makes the terms of the Russian deal with Iraq both galling and short-sighted, because they would effectively reward Saddam for using military force to threaten Kuwait this week.


This, the Americans rightly say, they are not prepared to do. And if Washington's accusation that the withdrawal of the Republican Guard has been halted is true, Saddam has already broken his word -- yet again. And if American threats to use force are realised, all diplomatic bets are off in any case.


But Kozyrev's intervention could still prove inspired. He has obtained for Russia a high-profile place at the table in one of the world's most intractable disputes, and in an area where Russia has a real financial interest. Barring dramatic U.S. or Iraqi action, he may yet again have set Russia up as the indispensible mediator.