US Threatens Russia Over Iraq Veto


By Henry Meyer

Middle East Online
March 13, 2003

Russia could suffer serious economic and geopolitical consequences if it vetoes a UN resolution authorising war against Iraq, the US ambassador to Moscow warned in a newspaper interview published on Wednesday. Alexander Vershbow told the Izvestia daily that Moscow could put at risk planned cooperation between the two countries in the energy sector, that would include massive US investment in the Russian oil industry.

He also signalled that Russia's strategic partnership with the United States forged since the September 11, 2001 attacks, as well as cooperation in anti-missile defence could be placed in doubt. "We could significantly widen our cooperation in the energy field, increase US investment in the Russian energy sector, develop new forms of security cooperation and work together in anti-missile defence. We could increase cooperation in the fight against terrorism," he said.

The envoy pointed out that the United States wanted to work more closely with Russia's underfunded space program since Washington grounded its shuttle fleet in the wake of the Columbia disaster in February. Russia-NATO ties have just started to blossom since Moscow gained a voice in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization last May in a new council that cooperates on issues such as terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, arms control, crisis management and military cooperation, he added. "It will be a great pity if progress in these areas is halted, or actually reversed because of serious disagreements over Iraq," Vershbow said.

The decision to use a Russian veto or abstain would prove critical for the future of US-Russian relations, the ambassador warned. "One step or the other will be interpreted entirely differently by the US people and Congress. Russia should carefully weigh up the consequences," he concluded. Since September 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin swung behind the US-led war on terror and made good relations with the United States a top strategic priority.

But in recent weeks that policy has unravelled as Moscow has joined Germany and France in opposing a US attack on Iraq and said it would veto a new UN resolution that would give Baghdad until next Monday to show it is disarming or face war. The proposed US-Russian energy partnership is critical for Russia, with US energy companies potentially ready to pour billions of dollars into developing the vast untapped oil and natural gas fields in northern Russia.

Washington has been seeking to reduce its reliance on Middle East oil, with the looming war in Iraq threatening to further destabilize an already tense region, and four Russian oil majors have floated a project to build a major Arctic export terminal aimed at simplifying oil export to the United States. The United States' support is also key for Russia's efforts to gain admittance to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). A senior Russian foreign policy analyst, Sergei Karaganov, accused the US administration of "desperation" but conceded that threats to halt cooperation with Russia could lead to "unpleasant and painful" consequences for Russia. "There is unlikely to be a severe economic fallout," the head of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy told the RIA Novosti news agency, adding that large-scale US investment plans in the oil sector have remained purely theoretical so far. "But cooperation with the United States is vital to defend and strengthen Russian interests in a whole range of global areas, which is why Russia needs to keep the most friendly relations possible with the United States," he added.

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