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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Voloshin Trawls for Iraq Deals

President Vladimir Putin's Machiavellian, pro-Western chief of staff Alexander Voloshin -- a man with a reputation of being Russia's ultimate backroom broker -- was in Washington for talks on the Iraq crisis and met with U.S. President George Bush, the White House said Tuesday.

News of the talks came as a sign Russia is actively looking to make a deal on supporting the United States over Iraq, even as U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton said Tuesday in Moscow that no headway had been made through traditional diplomatic channels.

A White House spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Voloshin met with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on Monday "and President Bush also dropped by." She declined to give further details.

At his daily news conference Monday, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "The president had a meeting with an important staff member of the president of Russia ... and so there was a conversation today about [Iraq]."

Confirmation of Bush's talks with Putin's close aide came as Bolton said he had been unable to convince Russia to back the United States on a new UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq following two days of talks with Russian officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov.

"I didn't detect any shift in their position," Bolton said at a news conference Tuesday. "But the nature of diplomacy is frequently that you have to give your message and receive a message back, and there is further consideration. ... Today is not the first and I am sure it is not the last of the diplomatic discussions."

Bolton's and Voloshin's talks come as part of a wave of intense diplomatic maneuvering following the United States and Britain's forwarding of a new resolution to the UN Security Council on Monday that would pave the way for a military attack. Britain and the United States said they expect a vote to be taken on the resolution within two weeks.

Russia, however, joined France and Germany on Monday in forwarding a memorandum to the Security Council calling for inspectors to be given at least four more months to look for weapons of mass destruction. The Foreign Ministry has said it will use its "entire arsenal of diplomatic means" to push for a peaceful solution.

But Voloshin's visit to Washington is a sign Russia is moving ahead on two fronts, and is still ready to do business with the United States on supporting its resolution if it can reach the right terms, analysts said.

One front, represented by stalwarts in the political establishment, especially the Foreign Ministry, staunchly supports France and Germany in their push to find a diplomatic resolution and opposes any change to the current situation, which is favorable to Russia because of its strong business links to Saddam Hussein's regime.

Putin is preparing for talks on further strategy with German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der, who is due to arrive in Moscow on Wednesday.

The other front, however, believes Russia's interests are best served by maintaining good relations with the United States, in part because it has been more lenient toward Russia on conditions for joining the World Trade Organization than Europe. Putin is more likely to bend toward this camp, and Voloshin's visit to Washington is a signal that the final bargaining might go Washington's way, analysts said. Voloshin is reported to have been a key architect of Putin's pro-U.S. line post-Sept. 11.

"It is significant that Putin has not sent anyone from the old political establishment" of the Foreign Ministry, which has been pushing a tough, anti-war line, independent political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky said. "Putin is under great pressure from the political establishment."

He said Voloshin had fought and won battles against die-hards in the Foreign Ministry ahead of Bush's visit to Russia last year over the drawing up of a new security treaty following the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.

The Kremlin press service would not comment on the aims of Voloshin's visit. The Russian Embassy in Washington told Itar-Tass that Voloshin's trip was planned six months ago.

Bolton criticized the French-German memorandum, saying it would fail to persuade Hussein to disarm. But he said the United States had not "written off any votes in the Security Council and we are working on them all."

He denied a report in The Washington Post on Tuesday that he had told Russian officials the war was inevitable with or without the UN resolution.

Bolton said he had discussed former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's recent trip to Baghdad with Russian officials, but did not give details. A spokeswoman for Primakov also refused to comment on the trip Tuesday.

Piontkovsky said that by joining France and Germany in their nonbinding memorandum, Putin was seeking to put off the outbreak of war for as long as possible to maximize the bounty Russia could reap from high oil prices ahead of military action. Central Bank reserves have soared $3.6 billion to a record $51.4 billion over the last six weeks -- a vital cushion against a possible sharp drop in the oil price once the Iraq crisis is over. For every $1 drop in the oil price Russia's budget loses $1 billion in revenues, a potentially big problem for Putin ahead of presidential elections in 2004.

In the meantime, however, Voloshin has been dispatched to Washington to sniff out business deals for Russia in return for its support, said Kremlin-connected political analyst Sergei Markov.

"Voloshin takes care of the political and business aspects of Putin's regime," Markov said. "He is one of the most pro-Western in the administration.

"Voloshin will seek not just promises but such things as a concrete [Iraqi] oil field for a concrete Russian company or the transfer of [funds] in compensation for the loss of stakes in fields," he said.

No. 1 oil major LUKoil lost the biggest oil contract in Iraq -- estimated to be worth up to $20 billion -- for the vast West Qurna field in a surprise move by Baghdad in December. Iraq accused LUKoil of seeking U.S. guarantees that it would be allowed to retain its contract in a post-Hussein regime. Since then, however, a few medium-sized Russian oil companies have clinched smaller contracts to develop other fields.

A source familiar with a closed meeting Bolton held with local analysts following his talks Tuesday said the U.S. official had clearly said Russia's place in a post-Hussein oil patch "would depend on its stance on the UN Security Council."

Markov cited sources in the government as saying Russia was seeking to make concrete deals in return for its support, such as gaining U.S. backing of Russian plans to become a major importer of spent nuclear fuel from U.S.-allied countries such as Taiwan, Japan and South Korea -- a project that could earn Russia billions, but one that the United States has so far balked at approving.

It is also looking to get the United States to soften its stance on Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization. In particular, he said, Russia wants to weaken conditions for opening up its aviation industry to foreign competition.

Markov said Russia is also hoping the United States will drop its opposition to Russia's work on Iran's nuclear program -- an unlikely turn of events given U.S. concerns that Iran could be developing nuclear weapons.

He said, however, that Putin may still seek to play the European card if he cannot come to terms with the Washington. During talks with Schr?der on Wednesday, Putin could seek a partial write-off of Russia's foreign debt, much of which is owed to Germany.

Piontkovsky pointed out that France and Germany had opted not to forward another resolution to compete with the U.S. and British resolution -- a sign they, along with Putin, might back down in the end.

"If France really wanted confrontation, it would have forwarded an alternative resolution, not a memorandum that does not commit anybody to anything," he said.