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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 13:49 GMT
Russians wary of US over Iraq
Oil pipeline between Iraq and Kuwait
The US is after Iraq's oil, some Russians think

Just like any other Russian family, Naum Mikhailovich and his wife Inna always argue about politics and international issues over dinner.

These days the argument is about Iraq. Naum Mikhailovich has relatives in Israel and America.

We don't give a damn about Iraq or America

Russian beer drinker
He believes Saddam Hussein is a threat to them and wants him removed from power.

"This dictator," he thunders, "has been brainwashing his people for 20-odd years, he must go. "

"And what if the Iraqi people like him?" retorts his wife, "and what if next time Washington doesn't like our President Putin? Remember what they did to Milosevic and Yugoslavia?"

This debate is echoed at a small, but vocal anti-war demonstration at the US Embassy in central Moscow.

Saddam Hussein may be a dictator who persecutes Iraqi communists, said Mikhail, a member of the Russian Young Communist League, "but his struggle against US imperialism is a symbol of our own fight against capitalism in our country."

"We don't believe President Bush," two girls, Lyuda and Sveta told me.

"He's after Iraqi oil, that's all. And he'll kick Russian oil companies out of Iraq as soon he steps in."

'Don't care'

Passions may be flying high in Moscow, but just 50 kilometres (35 miles) away from the Kremlin walls, in the small village of Bykovka, the locals can't be bothered.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Iraq: Big issue for Putin but not all his compatriots
"We don't give a damn about Iraq or America," a group of beer-drinking locals told me.

"We live in Russia, why should we care about them? In Moscow they demonstrate 'cause they've got nothing better to do. The politicians are paid for that. But leave us out of this."

Politely but firmly I am told to mind my own business.

Back in Moscow, pollsters are busy collating figures of yet another opinion poll on Iraq.

According to Yelena Bashkirova, president of a leading Russian public opinion poll agency ROMIR, Russians consider the Iraq crisis to be the most important international event of the year.

Saddam Hussein is one of the most talked about public figure after Presidents Putin and Bush.

Ms Bashkirova's polling shows:

  • almost 39% favour a peaceful resolution
  • 33% believe Russia should steer clear of such conflicts
  • 8% support the US
  • 7% are behind Iraq.

Some of these Iraqi allies are an unlikely lot.

President Bush is right to have war on terrorism. It's good for the whole world

Moscow student
At a pro-Iraq rally organised by the nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a group of skinheads clad in black leather told me they hate Arabs, because they fight in Chechnya and kill Russian soldiers.

"But we are here," said Vadim, swearing non-stop, "we hate the Yankees even more. They mess up things close to our borders, and we'll have to live with that mess."

"And with the...refugees," swore one of Vadim's pals from behind his back.

Today Iraq, tomorrow

Nearby, at the largest McDonald's restaurant in Moscow - and indeed the world - customers seem to be oblivious to this anti-American, xenophobic sentiment outside.

Vladimir, a Moscow University student thinks Washington is doing the right thing by attacking Saddam Hussein.

"President Bush is right to have war on terrorism. It's good for the whole world," he said.

Most Russians, though, do not share this view.

To them, US unilateralism is no less dangerous than Iraq's intransigence.

Yesterday - Yugoslavia, they say. Today - Iraq, tomorrow - Russia.

They would rather the UN had the final say in international conflicts, but do they believe in it?

Key stories





See also:

27 Jan 03 | Europe
27 Jan 03 | Americas
27 Jan 03 | Middle East
19 Nov 02 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Middle East
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