Russia's Putin Turns on U.S.
By Ron Popeski
Friday 21 March 2003
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in fierce criticism of the U.S. attack on Baghdad, has demanded a quick end to hostilities and is challenging Washington's view that Iraq is a threat to world security.
Russia had been aligned with France, Germany and China in opposing any resort to military action and demanding more time for U.N. arms inspectors to continue their search for banned weapons in Iraq.
"This military action is unjustified...there has been no answer to the main question which is: are there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and, if so, which ones," a grim-faced Putin told Russia's top ministers in the Kremlin on Thursday.
"Military action...is a big political error," he said in nationally-televised remarks, adding it flouted world opinion and international law.
Iraq, he said, "has presented no danger, neither to its neighbours, nor to countries in the region or throughout the world, especially as, after a decade of blockade, it has become a weakened state in both military and economic terms".
Iraq, subject to U.N. sanctions after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, has denied it holds weapons of mass destruction.
The tone of Putin's speech was closer to the more critical rhetoric that marked the Kremlin's view of U.S. policy before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States which prompted the two to join hands in a global war on terror.
His comments were notable for the absence of diplomatic niceties towards U.S. President George W. Bush, whom he describes as a friend, or sympathy for Washington's case against Iraq.
SAGGING RUSSIAN ECONOMY
The Russian leader, looking for a way to boost a sagging economy, has been dragging his country into the arms of the West, especially the United States. But the crisis over Iraq, with which Russia has longstanding economic ties, appears to have tested the new warmth between Moscow and its Cold War foe.
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, less conciliatory towards the U.S. position in recent weeks than Putin, later said the two countries were still partners and should work together.
"We remain partners, we are not adversaries. And partners must look together for ways out of tough situations, in this case the situation concerning Iraq," he told reporters.
"If the war continues in Iraq, if it leads to a split in the international community as is now occurring, it would weaken our joint efforts and make us more vulnerable against challenges and threats we are combating."
In his comments in the Kremlin, Putin expressed concern that Washington's decision to proceed without U.N. backing undermined the world body -- one of the few international institutions in which Russia still has a powerful voice.
"Of no less concern is the threat of a collapse of the international security system," he said.
If the world submitted to the right of might, no country would be safe, Putin said. "It is for these reasons that Russia insists on an end as quickly as possible to military action."
One of his senior economic officials said the war could fuel inflation and boost the rouble, hurting Russia's exports.
Deputy Economy Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told reporters that continued high oil prices could push inflation one percentage point above the government's 10-12 percent target.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)