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Published: Sunday, 7/15/2001

Russia plays power games of past

Some call it d j vu.

Others more fashionably refer to it as “a glitch in the system,” quoting a character in The Matrix.

I call it short-circuit in the brain.

And that's what happened to Russia some two weeks ago.

That's when it - just like the Soviet Union in the past - threatened to use its veto power in the United Nations.

The threat effectively killed the U.S.-British-proposed resolution to replace the trade sanctions of Iraq with “smart sanctions.” The resolution was to prevent Iraq from importing weapons and sensitive technology while reducing the impact on the general population.

As a result, Iraq, which had vehemently opposed the proposition, pledged to resume oil exports, after Baghdad and the United Nations signed a memorandum extending the oil-for-food program.

Russia shot itself in the foot. Not unwillingly, mind you, but rather out of political stubbornness.

Economically, Russia - as a major oil exporter - looks at losing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oil-export revenue now that Iraq has resumed its oil sales.

So, as the young say, “What's up with that?”

The Kremlin is clearly sending out a message to the United States and its allies that it has an option of using the weapons-hungry Iraq - its old ally - as leverage in President Vladimir Putin's quest for a “multipolar world,” limiting the growing world dominance of the United States.

That's unfortunate.

Only a few weeks ago, Mr. Putin and President Bush praised each other after their European summit, giving the impression that Russia and the United States are about to resolve their differences, including the United States' plans for anational missile-defense shield against rogue states such as Iraq and Russia's opposition to the U.N. embargo of Iraq.

Cautious optimists such as this columnist even hoped that Russia's economic interest of joining the club of industrialized nations as a member of the World Trade Organization have superceded its xenophobia, particularly its anti-Americanism.

Unfortunately that hope is more dead than alive now.

Old rationale, like old habits, dies hard.

By that rationale, the Kremlin figured that taking the benefit of globalization might take a while, not to mention the necessity to carry on with unpopular reforms, while the revenues from weapons sales to Iraq are more immediate.

Besides, reforms would bring up more legal transparency in Russia, which would make it so much harder for the bureaucrat to skim off the poor Russian Joe Blow. It's still easier to steal than work in Russia, and - more importantly - so much more profitable.

So instead of going on with its much-lauded effort to resolve differences with the United States, Russia - whose economy is 50 times smaller than that of the United States' - is continuing to pose problems for the world's only remaining superpower.

Russia is arguably reverting to its spoil-sport policy of a nuclear blackmailer, using Iraq as a bargaining chip in its effort to gain leverage in international politics.

The U.S. British plan to refocus the embargo on the weapon imports ran contrary to the Kremlin's plan. And that's why Russia opposed them.

The Kremlin is left to celebrate its Pyrrhic victory.

Mike Sigov, a Russian-born journalist, is a staff writer for The Blade.



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