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Published: Sunday, 3/23/2003

Iraq war opens door for Old Order in Russia

Russian Communists and ultranationalists are trying to get back in the saddle.

For years Communists and ultranationalists - outnumbered by the centrist block of pro-Kremlin lawmakers - had no clout in the state Duma, the Russian parliament's lower house of representatives.

But that changed Thursday after the United States struck Iraq - despite Russian protestations in the United Nations.

The Duma gave a preliminary approval that day to an appeal for a special U.N. General Assembly session on Iraq.

This action came on the coattails of a failed Communist-sponsored draft, which called for suspending a landmark U.S.-Russian nuclear arms limitation treaty, ending U.N. sanctions against Iraq, and for shipping weapons to Baghdad.

Had this resolution passed, it would have been a death sentence to U.S.-Russian alliance against terrorism. Fortunately, cool heads prevailed.

It appears that the Kremlin, which retains its strong influence in the parliament, continues to protect its anti-terrorist alliance with the United States.

That's no surprise.

U.S. troops in Afghanistan are shielding the weakened Russia from infiltration by Muslim radicals from Afghanistan. The U.S. government declared key Chechen rebel groups terrorists and froze their bank accounts.

Moreover, the new U.S.-Russian arms treaty would save Russia millions of dollars without relinquishing its nuclear parity with the United States.

That's not to mention the U.S. has the final say on whether or not Russia becomes an equal trade partner with the West. Should Russia become one it would save it millions of dollars in trade tariffs and bring in billions more in trade once trade quotas are lifted.

The Kremlin knows what's good for it.

There is one complication though - parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for the end of 2003 and the first half of 2004.

They can shift the power to the leftists and ultranationalists who share rabid anti-Americanism, many experts in Russia are predicting.

In the face of the elections, the Kremlin is sure to temporarily yield to the pressure from the left - if not in action then at least in its pronouncements.

Here is a rough breakdown of the Russian political forces in regard to their position on Iraq:

  • The Russian government, which has a multibillion-dollar interest in Iraq, is in favor of disarming Saddam through diplomatic pressure. So is the parliament majority.

  • The Communists and ultranationalists are altogether pro-Saddam and anti-American.

  • The Russian liberals who had largely supported the United States stand toward Iraq as long as the United States was seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution to authorize use of military force in Iraq, are silent now.

  • The majority of the Russian public (outside Moscow and St. Petersburg, which are more pragmatic and cosmopolitan) is nostalgic for Russia's imperial past and is therefore anti-American.

    The elections will show which horse finishes first.

    Given the Kremlin's control over Russian TV though, the Kremlin stands to win, with the presidential incumbent re-elected and his control of the parliament preserved.

    Ironically, this may be the case when flaws in Russian democracy may eventually be in the interest of the U.S. administration.

    But so far, the Kremlin is going along with the public's anti-war sentiment.

    “Russia demands the swiftest end to military action,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with top officials in Moscow as reported by the Associated Press. “The military action against Iraq is a big political mistake.”



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