Russia against US-Led War, but Some Conciliatory Voices Heard

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Moscow ( - Although Russia has voiced its strong opposition to the attack on Iraq, Moscow appears to be trying not to undermine completely its ties with the world's only superpower.

President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he regretted the action against Iraq without U.N. approval, describing it as unjustified and "a grave political mistake."

He insisted that the war should end as quickly as possible and said the U.N. should play "a central role in restoring peace and solving Iraqi problems."

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov also expressed regret over the strikes and pledged to provide assistance to Iraqi civilians.

Other reaction has seen the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, indefinitely postpone a vote to ratify a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction agreement. The Moscow Treaty, which was ratified by the U.S. Congress earlier this month, will see Russia and the U.S. cut their strategic nuclear arsenals by about two-thirds.

One Communist Party lawmaker accused President Bush of launching World War III, while another resigned in protest from a Duma group that interacts with the U.S. Congress.

In the weeks leading up to the war, Russia made clear its opposition to the use of force to disarm Iraq, threatening along with France to use the veto it enjoys as a permanent member of the Security Council.

Up to the last moment, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was arguing against a war, telling the Security Council on Wednesday that an attack would undermine the international war on terrorism.

The Kremlin's official line corresponds with the public mood. In a Center to Study Public Opinion survey, 71 percent of respondents said they viewed the U.S. as a threat to peace, while only 45 percent saw Iraq as the menace. (Many respondents saw both as a danger, hence the total exceeding 100 percent.)

The poll also found that anti-American sentiment in Russia is running as high as it did during the U.S.-led NATO military operation in Yugoslavia in 1999.

However, that will merely serve to remind many Russians that Moscow's vocal protests at the time were ineffective in stopping the NATO operation four years ago.

Some voices have raised concerns about Russia's economic interests in a post-Saddam Iraq.

Ivanov said Russia would need to work to convince a new government in Baghdad to honor contracts awarded to Russian oil companies by the current regime.

Russia's Security Council secretary, Vladimir Rushailo, said Russia would use international institutions to challenge any decision by a new administration to cancel the contracts.

These concerns may be behind the somewhat conciliatory tone now heard from some officials here.

Russia must not quarrel with its American "partners" because the fight against international terrorism and non-proliferation remained "strategic tasks" in the partnership, said Mikhail Margelov, head of the international relations committee of the Federation Council, Russia's equivalent to the U.S. Senate.

Ivanov also said Russia and the U.S. remain partners, according to a report in Pravda.

In former Soviet republics, opposition to the war was also relatively muted.

Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma said Thursday his country would not take part in a war, although on the same day, the Ukrainian parliament approved a decision to deploy a chemical warfare defense battalion to Kuwait.

Kuchma said he hoped civilian casualties would be kept to a minimum.

Another ex-Soviet state, Belarus - regarded as the most anti-Western of the independent countries that once were constituents of the U.S.S.R. - said the use of force without U.N. approval violated international law.

Kyrgyzstan, a pro-Western state that has allowed U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan to use its Manas air base near Bishkek, advocated the soonest possible end to the war on Iraq.

The RIA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Zheyenbek Kulubayev as saying Kyrgyzstan would not authorize the use of the base for strikes against Iraq.

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