Playing the Angles: Russian Diplomacy Before and During the War in Iraq
In a recent seminar at the Kennan Institute, Mark N. Katz, a Professor of Government and Politics from George Mason University, discussed Russia's strategy leading up to and during the recent war with Iraq. Katz detailed the Putin administration's goals and discussed their success in achieving them. He contended that Russia did not gain much from its activity surrounding the Iraqi crisis and offered several explanations as to why Russia's contradictory goals limited the Putin administration's effectiveness.
According to Katz, one of Russia's goals included working in partnership with other nations, particularly France and Germany, to prevent the United States from acting unilaterally. He explained that leading up to the crisis, Russian leaders had been calling for the development of a multi-polar world and Iraq seemed like a great opportunity to work with others to prevent American unilateralism. Katz noted that the efforts of the Russian, German and French alliance in the U.N. Security Council to block U.S. intervention initially appeared to be successful. However, the United States, along with the support of the United Kingdom, merely sidestepped the Security Council and went ahead with the military invasion of Iraq.
Katz argued that Russia did not gain much from its alliance with France and Germany. He stated that while Paris and Berlin welcomed Moscow's support, EU and French leaders continued to criticize Russian policy in Chechnya. Russia also failed in its attempt to convince western officials to drop the documentation requirements for citizens of Kaliningrad traveling to Russia following Poland and Lithuania's accession to the EU.
Katz explained that Russia's second goal was to increase cooperation with the United States (even while Moscow was working with others against it). Katz noted that following 9/11 Russia had sought a special deal or closer relations with the U.S., especially in the pursuit of several common security and economic goals. Putin had made several concessions to the United States and hoped that Moscow's veto power in the U.N. Security Council would provide Russia with leverage over Washington. However, he continued, Washington was unwilling to pay the price Moscow demanded for its support, and was able to act without it.
According to Katz, a third goal focused on Russia's role in the Iraqi oil sector. He explained that Russia hoped to secure U.S. guarantees that a post-Saddam Iraq would honor all the Saddam-era oil contracts with Russian firms, and the U.S. would somehow get Iraq to repay the nearly $8 billion debt that Saddam had accumulated. Katz noted, though, that it now appears that Russia must choose to either graciously agree to write down almost all (if not all) of the debt that Iraq owes it in exchange for a role in Iraq's oil sector, or Russia can insist on repayment and receive no role in the Iraqi oil sector. Katz also warned that the influx of restored Iraq oil exports could lower the price of oil, which could negatively affect the Russian economy.
Katz concluded that several miscalculations by the Putin administration led to Russia's failure to use the Iraqi crisis to further its national interest. He noted that Russian leaders overestimated the price that the United States would pay to gain Russian support. Katz argued that Russia also underestimated the ability of the U.S.-led coalition to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime. Finally, he continued, Moscow simply did not prioritize its goals, but pursued contradictory ones simultaneously.