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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

America Resorts to Economic Blackmail

Showing its exasperation with Russia's growing defiance of U.S. war plans, the United States on Wednesday resorted to economic blackmail and warned Russia that it risks jeopardizing its bid to join the World Trade Organization if it vetoes a UN Security Council resolution.

Russia also risks having to endure the continued humiliation of Soviet-era U.S. trade restrictions and being locked out of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, said a senior U.S. diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity in an interview Wednesday.

"We wouldn't want to hold the relationship hostage [to Iraq] any more than Russia, but our ability to move forward on some issues -- on WTO accession, on the removal of Jackson-Vanik -- could be affected at least in the short term," the diplomat said. "In no case will the damage be irreparable, but there could be damage.

"The Russians understand that their degree of involvement in post-Saddam arrangements ... will be significantly influenced by the degree to which they are seen as supporting or not obstructing on a resolution of the crisis," he said. "I think they understand there could be negative consequences of a veto with respect to Russia's interests [in Iraq]."

The final decision, however, was still President Vladimir Putin's to make and it was unclear which way he would go, the diplomat said.

Wednesday's strongly worded warning reflects Washington's frustration with Russia's strengthening alliance with France and Germany, as articulated mainly by Russia's foreign minister, Igor Ivanov.

Ivanov ratcheted up his opposition to a second resolution Wednesday, emerging united with his French and German counterparts after a hastily arranged meeting in Paris with a threat to block any UN resolution authorizing war on Iraq.

"We will not allow the passage of a planned resolution that would authorize the use of force," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said at a news conference, quoting from a joint declaration signed by the three foreign ministers, Reuters reported.

The meeting followed Ivanov's trip Tuesday to London, where he met with U.S. President George W. Bush's closest allies -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Minister Jack Straw -- but came out saying Russia would not be afraid to use its Security Council veto as "an extreme measure."

France on Wednesday appeared to rally round that stance. When asked if their declaration meant that Paris was joining Moscow in its threat to use its veto, Villepin said: "We will take all our responsibilities. We are totally on the same line as Russia."

Ivanov said Wednesday that he had also been assured by China -- which is also a permanent member of the Security Council along with France, Russia, Britain and the United States -- that it "shared our approach" on Iraq.

The warning from the senior U.S. diplomat on Wednesday was clearly aimed at putting pressure on Russia to cool down the alliance building that could endanger the passage of a UN resolution and to step back from threats to torpedo the vote.

The intensified diplomatic maneuvering came two days ahead of a UN Security Council meeting where chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix is due to deliver a report on efforts to ensure Hussein disarms. The United States has said it expects to bring the resolution to a vote soon after that report but no date has been set. For the resolution to pass, the United States needs to gather nine votes on the 15-member council and avoid a veto from any of the five permanent members.

U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow met Wednesday with Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov in an attempt to further the U.S. case against a Russian veto.

They talked about the stakes for the U.S.-Russia relationship, and Mamedov emphasized that there is more to the relationship than Iraq, the senior American diplomat said.

The United States had attempted to drive its case home during last week's visit to Washington by Putin's chief of staff Alexander Voloshin, the diplomat said. "We tried to give him an honest assessment of the impact of a very negative stance on the administration, and on congressional and public support for the U.S.-Russian partnership," he said. "[Iraq] should not cause the rest of the relationship to be held hostage, but we made clear that that's sometimes easier said than done."

Analysts interpreted Voloshin's trip to Washington, where he met with U.S. President George W. Bush, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell and other senior administration officials, as well as Henry Kissinger, as an attempt to seal concrete economic deals in return for Russia's support or abstention on the Security Council.

Russian oil majors have held large contracts to develop Iraq's oil patch, which contains the second-largest reserves in the world, and Russia has been Iraq's biggest trading partner under the UN sanctions regime.

But the U.S. diplomat said Wednesday those interests in Iraq could be endangered if Russia tried to torpedo the UN vote. "We have said we will respect Russia's interests. ... But again the attitude of the new Iraqi government and the attitude of the members of the coalition that are bearing the burden toward Russian participation is going to be affected by Russia's stance in the coming days."

He said Russia's increasing opposition to the U.S.-backed resolution seemed like a ploy to avoid having a vote altogether." Their preference seems to be for [military] action to come about without a second Security Council resolution," the diplomat said.

But he could not say whether Russia's economic interests in Iraq would still be assured if that was the case. "That depends on how we get to that point. We hope that the Russians, even if they can't support what we're doing, will not actively seek to oppose us."

The diplomat said the chances of a "yes" vote from Russia now appeared to be "pretty slim."

He said Putin had a habit of playing a double game ahead of making a decision on key issues for Russia's relationship with the United States.

"We've long seen Putin navigating ... between those who are in favor of a long-term realignment of Russian foreign policy toward the West and those, particularly in the security services and the military, that remain very skeptical of the wisdom behind that historic shift in Russian foreign policy," he said.

"He has to keep an eye on both flanks."

The diplomat could not say whether it seemed Putin had fallen under greater influence from those who are skeptical of the pro-Western policy. "We'll see how things develop in the coming days," he said.

"We have been a little surprised in particular since Putin's visit to Paris [three weeks ago] that Russia has taken such a firm line. But at the same time, there has been an effort to preserve room for maneuver. After [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schr?der's visit here, Putin made a statement designed to project a more conciliatory stance.

"The decision on whether to abstain or veto will be taken by Putin and no one else but Putin."