The anti-war, anti-American bloody-mindedness of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder has been analyzed to a fare-thee-well. But what about their heavyweight supporter, President Vladimir Putin of Russia?
Last fall, various commentators pegged Putin’s position precisely:
“Russia’s diplomatic capital in the world is much diminished since the end of the Cold War, a fact that Mr Putin has been quick to grasp…Mr Putin is worried that a war with Baghdad would ruin Russia’s fragile economic recovery…He fears that Saddam’s demise would bring oil prices, on which Russia depends for half of its income, crashing down. Russian hardliners may believe that their president is prepared to ditch the fruits of a year of bridge-building with the West to stand by former cold war allies in the Middle East…The smart money still says that after driving the hardest bargain he can manage, Mr Putin will quietly come around.” (Julius Strauss, Daily Telegraph, October 12, 2002)
“Russia’s biggest oil company has been assured by President Vladimir Putin that it will be able to keep its huge stake in Iraq’s oil fields should Saddam Hussein be deposed, as Moscow seeks to extract a heavy commercial price for backing the US’s hardline position on Baghdad.” (Carola Hoyos, Financial Times, October 4, 2002)
But that was last fall. Resolution 1441 passed on November 8, with Russia’s vote. Looking back, it is now obvious that France and Germany never meant what they explicitly said with that vote, that they were lying all along. Is that what Russia did, too? If Russia did indeed drive its hard bargain with the U.S., and if the U.S. met Russia’s price, why didn’t Russia stay bought? Because, as of a fateful February 10 meeting, it certainly did not.
On that date, President Putin visited France, and began to spout the Franco-German line. As reported by the AP, Putin appeared on French television, and “said today that unilateral action (sound familiar?) against Iraq would be a ‘grave error’ and he hinted that Russia might be prepared to veto any ‘unreasonable use of force.'”
Radio Netherlands analyzed Putin’s statement like this, on February 11: “Russian oil companies have invested heavily in Iraq. Moscow fears that, when the war is over, the US and Britain will divide Iraqi oil-concessions among themselves. The Kremlin is also worried that a sharp drop in oil prices after the war would make the relatively costly extraction of Russian oil no longer economically viable.”
One might reasonably observe that we have heard these concerns before.
At about the same time, Putin sent Soviet-era envoy Yevgeny Primakov to Iraq to make nice with Saddam Hussein. And by two weeks later, in Beijing, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov announced that Russia was “ready to veto a U.S.- British resolution under discussion at the U.N. Security Council authorizing war against Iraq…” (Yahoo News)
Now, what might be going on?
Early post-9/11, Vladimir Putin (“Pooty-Poot,” in George W. Bush’s affectionate nickname) took the initiative to call the American President and assure him of his (Putin’s) support. And he showed tangible evidence of that support, acceding to (“allowing” being the wrong word) American military use of former Soviet states along Russia’s southern border (the “Stans”). He got something in return: The U.S. conceded that the Chechens were “terrorists,” and the Russians could treat them as such, no more nagging about human rights violations.
Since the days of the Czars, Russia has wallowed in an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the West, mostly Western Europe. And she has displayed aggressive fear of being surrounded, especially to the South, where the nation has her only warm-water access to the seas. The United States won handily in Afghanistan and promises to win handily in Iraq. Look at a map. Then read your Tolstoy. Nothing new here.
Putin’s reliance on high oil prices has been pointed out. With a strike in Venezuela cutting off that nation’s production, with war uncertainties pushing prices higher, Putin may simply be holding out as long as possible, making as much money as possible. And he may indeed be worried about the $7 or $8 billion Iraq owes Russia, and about some rather iffy oil contracts (as much as $40 billion worth) that Russia holds with Iraq.
There’s nothing here, however, that can’t be worked out with the U.S., and Putin knows it.
No, I’m afraid of something more sinister. Euro-liberal (and Paris resident) David Ignatius finessed the issue this way in his column in the Washington Post February 28: “Putin succumbed to political pressure from Russian generals, diplomats and legislators who think the United States is behaving arrogantly and who want Russia to be more independent of Washington.”
Translation: Putin felt the heat from Communist hard-liners. Look at the nations involved in this obstruction: Russia, China, Germany, France. Look at China’s passive-aggressive refusal to take any responsibility for North Korea. Look at the leadership of the so-called “peace movement.” The USSR may be dead, but Communism is not.
This is the Cold War all over again. The good news is, a victory in Iraq will go a long way toward cutting the trembling knees out from under resurgent Communist influence in the world.