Russian Reaction Muted to Saddam Capture

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Moscow ( - Reaction to the capture of Saddam Hussein has been muted in Russia, where the government opposed the U.S.-led war.

In a statement issued Sunday, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Saddam's capture would "contribute to the improving security situation in Iraq and boost the process of political settlement in the country with the active role of the United Nations."

He added that Saddam's fate "must be decided by the Iraqi people themselves."

Apart from that formal response, there were no expressions of delight or congratulations from senior Russian politicians.

Television channels did not break from normal weekend schedules to report on the development.

The influential daily paper Izvestia ran an editorial Monday headlined "Saddam is captured; the war goes on."

Some Russian politicians went so far as to cast doubt on the news.

Ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, known for his friendship with the toppled Iraqi leader, said he did not rule out the possibility that it was "Saddam's double" who was captured. During his rule, Saddam frequently used look-alikes in a bid to avoid assassination attempts.

Zhirinovsky, whose Liberal Democratic Party of Russia stunned many with its strong third-place showing in recent parliamentary elections, said the U.S. had needed "a small victory in Iraq more than ever," in the absence of weapons of mass destruction being found there.

Dmitry Rogozin, co-leader of another nationalist bloc that did well in the elections, Rodina (Motherland), said he doubted Saddam's capture would help to stabilize the situation in Iraq.

Both the Liberal Democratic Party and Motherland are pro-Kremlin parties, expected to support President Vladimir Putin's main support base, United Russia, in the new State Duma.

Rogozin last week raised the possibility that Moscow may retaliate against the U.S. decision to bar firms from countries that failed to support the war -- including Russia -- from competing for contracts to rebuild Iraq, by switching its oil exports to Euro-denominated prices.

Rogozin, who headed the international affairs committee in the last parliament, said the U.S. treatment could result in Russia realigning its foreign policy away from America, and toward Europe.

Last week, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov responded to the U.S. decision on contracts by saying Russia may decide against restructuring $8 billion in Iraqi debt.

The Russian government was not planning to write off Iraq's debt, because Iraq was not a poor country, he told a news conference.

Russia used its position as a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to oppose America's war plans.

It had significant business interests in Saddam-era Iraq.

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