A U.N. resolution concerning weapons inspections in Iraq made October a month for hard bargaining among Washington, Paris, and Moscow. Washington and London both desired a resolution that would allow the automatic application of force should Iraq obstruct any proposed arms inspections. Paris and Moscow balked, but by mid-October it appeared that both the French and Russians were prepared to accept a U.S. proposal allowing for further Security Council consultations before any attack on Baghdad could be launched.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov explicitly stated that Moscow might agree to the use of force against Iraq if Baghdad interfered with arms inspections. Thus, the United States appeared to be offering a face-saving option for the Security Council, one that brought the United Nations into the Iraq equation (after President Bush had already signed Congress’s resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, an implicit threat to act unilaterally if the Security Council would not compromise).
But the real story of the Iraq resolution bargaining probably had less to do with the Security Council’s view of the position and status of the United Nations than it did with the economic interests of France and Russia, both of which have staked a claim in developing Iraq’s oil fields—and both of which were very concerned that U.S.-based companies would drive them out in the event of “regime change” in Baghdad.
A U.S. presence in Central Asia (a U.S.-backed oil-and-gas pipeline, to be routed through Afghanistan and Pakistan, is in the works), Washington’s interference in Georgia (a prime pipeline route for transporting Caspian Sea oil and gas, bypassing Russia), and possible occupation of oil-rich Iraq by the Americans might cut cash-strapped Russia out of any future OPEC-busting hydrocarbon alliances. So Russia threatened war with Georgia and attempted to obstruct any U.S. plans for an immediate strike on Iraq, moves most pundits saw as part of an elaborate game through which Moscow hoped to gain a stake in the New Hydrocarbon World Order envisioned by Washington.
October saw the Putin regime bargaining hard (torg in Russian) over what was really bugging the Russian president: oil, the state budget, Russian relations with the Arab world, and economic opportunities in the West. Among the torg-related events were a 48-hour blitz visit to Moscow by Tony Blair, who told reporters afterward that “the Russians are ready to approve” some “pretty tough language” in a revamped U.N. resolution; talks between the Saudi finance minister and Russian officials over “developing trade and economic relations” between the two countries; a Putin meeting with Moroccan King Mohammed VI, focusing on Iraq; an announcement that the United Arab Emirates was interested in purchasing an air-defense system from a Russian firm, which was viewed in Moscow as a sign that the United States and Great Britain were ready to let Russia in on the lucrative Persian Gulf arms market; the removal of Russia from the international Financial Action Task Force’s money-laundering blacklist, possibly a U.S.-U.K. bone tossed to Putin’s Kremlin; Russian oil executives’ attendance at a Houston oil-industry summit, where U.S. officials hinted they might view Russia as an alternative (to OPEC) oil supplier; a discussion of “regime change” in Baghdad between Russian and Kuwaiti officials; media reports that the United States and Britain were prepared to pressure Moscow’s Western creditors to write off Russian debts; and U.S. protests over Moscow’s alleged nuclear-research cooperation with Syria.
Meanwhile, Sergey Kukura, vice president of Russian oil giant Lukoil, was released by his kidnappers even as the hydrocarbon torg proceeded. Kukura, as reported by Denis Petrov (Cultural Revolutions, November), was kidnapped in September—and the Moscow rumor mill claimed that the oil executive was the victim of wrangling among Russia’s oil oligarchs, some of whom allegedly wanted Lukoil, which has an interest in Russia’s Caspian Sea oil-and-gas projects and owns the rights to develop Iraq’s largest oil field, to pursue a line of cooperation with the United States. And it is possible that those oligarchs who are interested in breaking into the U.S. market may have had something to do with the bizarre Kukura saga: Some sources claim no ransom was paid for Kukura’s release, and Lukoil President Vagit Alekperov, who attended the Houston oil summit, has refused to comment on the episode.
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