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Saturday, 14 September, 2002, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Analysis: US-Russian 'battle' for Iraq
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and US President George W Bush
Putin (left) has issued his own ultimatum to Georgia

The battle for Iraq has begun.

The first salvo was made by President Putin on the 11 September, who issued an ultimatum to Georgia to root up "international terrorists" or face Russian action.


Moscow was hinting that it would treat Georgia, an American ally, in the same way as Washington was about to treat Iraq, Russia's business partner

The salvo was aimed as much at Georgia's President Eduard Shevardnadze, as at the US President George Bush.

It was a pre-emptive strike on the eve of Mr Bush's speech at the United Nations, where he was expected to issue an ultimatum to Iraq.

Moscow was hinting that it would treat Georgia, an American ally, in the same way as Washington was about to treat Iraq, Russia's business partner.

Observers believe a quid pro quo has been in the making.

It may work both ways: either Moscow and Washington abstain from hitting their respective targets, or give each other a free hand.

'Saddam for Shevardnadze'

President Putin, they say, wouldn't have taken such a dramatic step had he not sensed Washington's willingness to strike a deal.


Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
Bush's demands of Iraq
  • Relinquish all weapons of mass destruction
  • Stop oppressing its people
  • Ensure UN funds are used for Iraqi people


  • After all, the US Ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Vershbow, publicly admitted there were al-Qaeda agents in Chechnya.

    Russia says they infiltrate from Georgia, where they train and arm themselves.

    So, Georgia - in Russian view - is not much different from Afghanistan under the Taleban, or, indeed, Iraq which is accused by the US of involvement in international terrorism.

    As a conservative Russian newspaper Trud put it, "Let's swap Saddam for Shevardnadze".

    'Worrying logic'

    However, the US does not appear to have accepted the offer.

    Russia says Pankisi Gorge is a safe heaven for Chechen rebels

    The US Under Secretary of State, John Bolton, said after his talks in Moscow on Friday that the State Department did not see any similarity in the Iraqi and Georgian issues.

    He said there could be no quid pro quo, as Washington's position was very strong: Iraq has been for years in contempt of the UN Security Council resolutions.

    But Russia brought up the same charge against Georgia, maintaining that Tbilisi ignores the UN Security Council resolutions on the fight against international terrorism.

    If the US can hit whoever it suspects of harbouring terrorists, the Russian politicians say, why can't we do the same where we see fit.

    This logic is worrying some observers.

    They warn the international coalition against terror may crumble, if countries pursue their own selfish agendas, be it Iraq or Georgia.

    This has more to do with cheap oil and spheres of influence, they say, than international security.

    They urge Russia and America to stop wrangling and find a common ground.

    Tug-of-war

    Mr Boltin's words at the news conference in Moscow might have been music to their ears.

    Asked if Washington would go it alone if Russia refused to support it on Iraq, he reportedly said "no".

    For his part, Sergei Prikhodko, Deputy Chief of Staff in President Putin's administration, said "Russia and the United States have a common goal regarding the Iraqi issue - to secure guarantees that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction and will not have them in the future."

    Does this mean that both side are close to an agreement?

    Russian observers are not overly optimistic.

    The US has just imposed penalties on three Russian companies that are accused by Washington of selling sensitive military technologies to "rogue states".

    Almost immediately Russian lawmakers raised the possibility of slapping economic sanctions on America's friend Georgia.

    The ubiquitous quid pro quo may be still very much alive, but who wins this tug-of-war remains to be seen.

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    See also:

    13 Sep 02 | Middle East
    12 Sep 02 | Middle East
    11 Sep 02 | Middle East
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    12 Sep 02 | Middle East
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