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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Taking Bad Advice

A friend of mine, who often goes "behind the wall" to the Kremlin to advise President Vladimir Putin and his aides, told me a couple of days ago: "The crowd in the Kremlin still seems to be in the dark and dismayed over how America won in Iraq."

As time passes, the true picture emerges of complete incompetence in military and political decision-making during the Iraqi crisis that led Russia to spoil relations with Washington and put the nation's future in serious jeopardy. A small group of officials -- Kremlin chief of staff Alexander Voloshin, Federation Council foreign affairs committee chairman Mikhail Margelov and Putin's foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko -- tried desperately to keep alive a pro-U.S. foreign policy but ultimately failed, opposed by the united forces of the anti-U.S. lobby.

Kremlin insiders say the Defense and Foreign ministries together with the KGB-successor intelligence community have a virtual monopoly on providing Putin with vital decision-making briefing documents. During the run-up to the war in Iraq, these agencies were providing assessments that said the confrontation would last months or maybe years; that it would be a new Vietnam-like quagmire; that Moscow should unequivocally back Baghdad, etc.

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The group of pro-Western advisers in the Kremlin became increasingly frustrated. Until the last moment, they hoped that some compromise with Washington on Iraq would be worked out. One of them told me bitterly: "Putin apparently says 'yes' to everyone who comes to his office, whether he is pro or anti-American, and in the end we were simply outnumbered by the pro-Saddam lobby."

Now, those in the Kremlin who got it all wrong by predicting a lengthy bloody war say: The Americans simply bribed the Iraqi generals to disband their army and that explains the fall of Baghdad. It would seem that members of the ruling elite believe their counterparts in other countries are as corrupt as they are.

Interviewed on television this week, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov summarized the attitude of the anti-American majority in the ruling elite when he said: "The American blitzkrieg in Iraq failed." Apparently, utterly defeating a country the size of France with an armed force of 400,000 in three weeks, while losing some 150 allied soldiers, is in Primakov's assessment, "a failed blitz."

Primakov also expressed the belief that the U.S. military bribed its way into Baghdad, and that it paid Saddam Hussein's generals and the leaders of his Fedayeen (a paramilitary force of devotees, some 30,000 strong before the war) to send their men home. Primakov pronounced that "anti-Americanism is the wrong policy," but at the same time compared U.S. actions in the Middle East with those of Nazi Germany when it occupied Europe in the 1940s. He also stated that the Iraqi crisis was another step in the formation of a multipolar world "because Europe stood up to America."

These Primakov statements are in no way the rumblings of a retired outdated statesman. In the run-up to the war, Primakov was close to the Kremlin decision-making process and his hand-picked successor as foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, was one of the main architects of Russia's recent foreign-policy blunders.

The U.S. victory and the fact that the majority of Iraqis believe they were liberated did not change the attitude of the Foreign Ministry. The other major opponent of the U.S.-led war, France, is modifying its policies by agreeing that sanctions should be promptly suspended to benefit the Iraqi people. Moscow insists that sanctions may go only if UN inspectors verify that all weapons of mass destruction have been eliminated -- a process that will take many months or maybe years.

U.S. diplomats say that Russia, whose specialists in the past helped to build much of Iraq's infrastructure, is welcome to participate in the rebuilding of the country. But there are strings attached: Moscow should stop opposing Washington in the UN and begin behaving as a true partner. It has also been mentioned that the ouster of Ivanov may seriously improve bilateral relations.

In 2001, Putin turned Russia toward the United States against the will of the majority of our ruling elite. In 2003, the anti-American elite has managed to regain control of decision-making. Today only Putin can force yet another U-turn, but does he have the will and sufficient understanding of Russia's basic national interests to make it happen?

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.