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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Iraq Gambit: Genius or Folly?

"It's a coup for the Russians, a disaster for the Middle East," said an American analyst commenting Friday on Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev's extraction from Iraq of a recognition of Kuwaiti sovereignty.


The expert, Peter Rodman, echoed the concerns of a number of political analysts who were apprehensive that the Russian initiative would muddle the issues surrounding the recent Iraqi military buildup and prolong the crisis.


"I guess it is a step forward," said Rodman, of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, but Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "has made so many promises he has violated." He added, "Saddam is a real menace and this gives him a kind of reward."


Still, analysts agreed that Russia has once again -- as in Bosnia -- established itself as a credible peace broker capable of making progress where other powers fail.


"They want to be seen as major international players. And, they are," said Charles Dick, a Russia analyst at the Conflict Studies Research Center of Britain's Royal Naval Academy at Sandhurst. "It is pretty much in the eyes of the beholder whether this is a diplomatic coup. It will certainly make it difficult for the Americans to be as hardnosed."


The United States and Britain, reacting to Saddam's offer on Thursday to recognize Kuwait at the behest of Russia, dismissed Kozyrev's efforts as insufficient and hardly grounds to establish a six-month timetable for removal of sanctions.


The Americans' reaction may, in part, have to do with the Russians' role, said retired Colonel Andrew Duncan, an analyst with the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.


"In the depth of the American psyche, there is still a worry of Russian influence," said Duncan. "But when you look at times like Bosnia, none of them can deny that it was positive and useful."


In September, an Iraqi delegation visited Moscow and left with agreements -- contingent on the lifting of sanctions -- for future Russian cooperation on the development of Iraqi oil fields and industrial development.


Lured by the promise of post-sanction business deals, Kozyrev may have been duped into helping Hussein play some members of the UN Security Council off others, one analyst suggested.


"In essence they are playing into his hands," said Edmund Blair, a writer with the London-based weekly, Middle East Economic Digest. "His present statement is probably part of the game of trying to split the international community further."


Blair was doubtful that even after sanctions were lifted Saddam would repay Russia's loyalty with an invitation to help develop the vast Iraqi oil fields.


"I'm sure he would be quite happy to snub the Russians, snub the French and go right to the big ones with the biggest money and best equipment in the States," said Blair. Russian-made weaponry, however, could be another story.


"I would think they would be pretty much forced to buy from the Russians," said Dick.