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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Raids Unite Russian Politicians In Outrage




Led by President Boris Yeltsin, officials across Russia's political spectrum loudly condemned the airstrikes against Iraq, calling them unprovoked and outrageous.


Despite the outpouring of rhetoric from democrats, nationalists and Communists, Russia's ability to oppose the strikes with more than words remained limited by economic troubles and the need for foreign loans, analysts said.


Yeltsin called in a statement for "an immediate end to military action, to show common sense and restraint and not to allow further escalation of the conflict." He said the strikes "could result in the most dramatic consequences, not only for the Iraqi settlement, but for the stability of the entire region.'


Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a Middle East expert acquainted with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, called the attacks "outrageous."


Russia has opposed the use of force against Iraq and has said that any military action must be coordinated by the United Nations Security Council, where it has a veto.


But several analysts said Russia's need for assistance from the International Monetary Fund - where the U.S. has considerable clout - to deal with its financial turmoil meant it could do little to oppose the U.S. action.


"Russia is very weak politically. It depends very much on IMF credits and World Bank loans. Both politically and militarily, it can't really retaliate," said Yevgeny Volk, head of the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation.


The main consequence of Russian displeasure is likely to be postponement of a ratification vote on the START II arms control treaty, signed in 1993 but still not ratified by the Communist-dominated Duma, where some members say it favors the U.S. Prodded by Primakov, the Duma had been moving toward passage in the past few days, but deputies said ratification was a lost cause for now in the wake of the attack.


Another potential result of the attack was the strain in the relationship between NATO and Russia, with Yeltsin ordering Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev not to attend a Friday meeting at the Russia-NATO consultative commission in Brussels, according to Russian news agencies. The raids, however, were not a NATO operation.


Russia's relationship with Iraq goes back to Soviet days, when Hussein was an ally against the United States in the Middle East. Iraq also has an important place in Russia's post-Soviet foreign policy, which seeks to counter U.S. influence in Asia and the Middle East. In addition, cash-strapped Russia is owed about $8 billion by Iraq in Soviet-era debts - money it is unlikely to see while Iraq remains under UN economic sanctions.


The rhetoric was fierce. The State Duma, usually bogged down in partisan squabbling, cleared its agenda Thursday for an unusual show of unity as deputies condemned the attacks.


"This is absolutely intolerable," said Deputy Vladimir Lukin, a former ambassador to the United States and a member of the liberal Yabloko fraction. "A debate on whether Iraq has fulfilled this or that UN resolution is no grounds for the bombing of a country; moreover, it is no grounds for the unilateral bombing of a country."


Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov branded the strikes an "act of state terror against the sovereign state of Iraq."


"The United States does not reckon with the Security Council of the United Nations, nor with the world community, nor with Russia as a major nation," Interfax quoted Zyuganov as saying in the Duma.


Just like some U.S. legislators, deputies said the strikes were a cynical attempt by U.S. President Bill Clinton to distract attention from his domestic political troubles. "In the final analysis, it's all Monica Lewinsky's fault," Lukin said.The deputies passed a harshly-worded resolution condemning the attacks by a vote of 394 to one with two abstentions. The resolution calls for Russia to unilaterally stop observing economic sanctions against Iraq imposed after the 1991 Gulf War and to increase military spending to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product.


Other high-profile political figures of widely varying stripes joined the chorus of condemnation, including Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, former Prime Ministers Sergei Kiriyenko and Viktor Chernomyrdin and Krasnoyarsk region Governor Alexander Lebed,.


Foreign Ministry officials summoned U.S. Ambassador James Collins and British Ambassador Andrew Wood and complained the United States and Britain had violated the UN Charter by acting unilaterally, Russian news agencies said.


"The unprovoked use of force by Great Britain and the United States crudely violate the UN Charter, as well as generally accepted principles of international law, norms and rules of responsible behavior in the international arena," a foreign ministry statement said.


On Yeltsin's orders, Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev called off a visit to Brussels for a session of the NATO-Russia consultative council. But in one of several signs that Russia's opposition is not as staunch as it looked, NTV television reported later the meeting would go forth without Sergeyev.


There were voices of moderation. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who had criticized UNSCOM chief Richard Butler the day before for escalating the confrontation when he ordered UN inspectors out of Baghdad, told the Duma the dispute wasn't worth a return to "total confrontation" with the United States.


Anton Surikov, a spokesman for First Deputy Prime Minister Yury Maslyukov, said START II should still be ratified, though he said it was not appropriate to do it against the background of the air strikes.Russia has few cards to play. The proposal to increase defense spending, for example, is impractical while the budget lacks funds to pay government workers salaries and social benefits.


Analysts say the START II agreement had become more a political bargaining chip than a real step in the disarmament process, since Defense Ministry officials have said Russia's missile forces will be reduced by lack of funds and attrition to the numbers prescribed by the treaty, ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996.


The Heritage Foundation's Volk said, however, that the strikes might provide a temporary domestic boost to the government by distracting the country from economic woes and uniting it against the United States. "It's easy to build up anti-American sentiment in order to divert attention away from the failures of economic policy," he said.


One potential windfall for Russia - a rise in oil prices due to Middle East turmoil - appeared not to be happening Thursday, with crude prices falling slightly. Oil and gas make up half of Russia's exports, and a fall in world oil prices contributed to the Aug. 17 ruble collapse and government debt default.


Financier Boris Berezovsky, executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States, said the strikes highlighted just how weak Russian was.


"Today we witnessed the rise of a new order," he was quoted as saying by Interfax. "There is one country that can independently make and implement any decisions it considers necessary."


"Last night Russia joined a number of other countries who don't have to be reckoned with."