Russians assail U.S., Britain for 'disgraceful' attack on Iraq Moscow brings home ambassador in Washington

December 18, 1998|By Will Englund | Will Englund,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- Sidelined and unhappy about it, Russian politicians heaped denunciations on the United States and Britain yesterday for the attack on Iraq, and Moscow recalled its ambassador for "consultations."

President Boris N. Yeltsin said Washington and London had "flagrantly violated" the United Nations charter. Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov called the attack "disgraceful." With just one dissenter, the Duma passed a resolution denouncing the United States. The Communist Party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, called for "a global front against "warmongers."

In announcing in Washington that Ambassador Yuli M. Vorontsov vTC was returning to Moscow, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin called the development "unfortunate."

"The Russians have informed us that is their decision, but we expect to continue to work with Russia on a variety of levels on the many issues of importance to Russia and to us around the world," he said.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanovhurried home from Spain, while Defense Minister Igor Sergeyevcalled off a trip to NATO headquarters in Brussels and returned home from Belgrade.

Through all the previous showdowns between Washington and Baghdad, the Russians had prided themselves on what they saw as their central role in finding diplomatic ways out. Primakov, whose career began in the Middle East, is close to Saddam Hussein, and Ivanov, then Primakov's deputy, helped avert a crisis five years ago with a trip to meet the Iraqi leader. The Russians saw themselves as indispensable to the United Nations efforts to contain Iraq and eliminate its biological and chemical weapons.

In a good-cop, bad-cop routine against Baghdad, Russia was the good cop.

This time, though, the Americans plunged right into combat without consulting Moscow. Russia was made irrelevant, and that has officials here fuming.

The Duma called for a unilateral lifting of sanctions against Iraq, which would be in Russia's interest because of a $6 billion debt to Moscow that goes back to Soviet days. But the motive would appear to be a genuine desire to snub the United States more than a cold calculation over financial interests. Oil company executives here solemnly declared yesterday that they opposed the attacks on Iraq, even though flagging oil prices immediately shot up on the news.

The Duma also considered a resolution appealing to Monica Lewinsky to try "to restrain the emotions of Bill Clinton" regarding Iraq.

The attacks came just hours after a newspaper here, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, published an article by Ivanov in which he argued that Russia and the United States bear a responsibility to work together in tackling the world's problems.

"No matter how powerful militarily and economically a country may be, it will not be able to cope with the entire strata of global problems alone," he wrote.

Yesterday afternoon, as he was preparing to leave Madrid, Ivanov said, "We will demand an immediate end to the military action which would make it possible to resume the political process of settlement over Iraq."

Yet even as the politicians were venting their rage over the American attack -- a welcome relief, for some, from the unrelentingly dreary and complicated problems on the domestic front -- and the television news programs were devoting hours to the crisis, the population as a whole seemed little stirred by it all.

Pub Date: 12/18/98

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