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Sunday, 9 February, 2003, 11:38 GMT
Putin to rally Europeans on Iraq
Protesters in Munich, Germany
Putin will try to capitalise on anti-war feeling

Russian President Vladimir Putin is on a whirlwind tour of Europe to drum up opposition to a possible US-led attack on Iraq.

He is going to Berlin and Paris, which are among the most vocal opponents of the looming war - but they are all under heavy pressure from Washington to give up their reservations.

Vladimir Putin
Putin does not want to fall out with Bush
Much has been read into President Putin's statement last week when he said that Russia may toughen its stance towards Iraq if it does not comply with United Nations demands.

Some saw it as a sign of Moscow easing up its opposition to the use of force against Iraq.

Others believed it was a message to Iraq to get real and do something to help Russia to defend it at the UN Security Council.

Russia has the right to veto an unacceptable decision but that would ruin the new-found strategic partnership between Moscow and Washington.

Two other permanent members of the Security Council, France and China, which are also opposed to the use of force against Iraq, do not seem eager to exercise their right of veto either and for the same reason.

United front

On top of damaging relations with the world's only superpower, Russian politicians say, a veto may force Washington to go it alone, making the UN Security Council irrelevant, and effectively destroying the current world order built around the UN.

The wording of a second UN resolution may well be on President Putin's agenda

That is why Russia would like to keep the matter away from a damaging vote.

To succeed, Russian diplomats say, Moscow should keep up a united front with other prominent opponents of the war.

President Putin's state visits to Germany and France, on the eve of the crucial meeting of the UN Security Council on 14 February, are aimed at achieving just that.

To give diplomacy another chance, Moscow is even prepared to give up its opposition to a new resolution on Iraq provided, as Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said, it strengthens the weapons inspectors' mandate without opening the road to the use of force against Iraq.

The wording of such a resolution may well be on the agenda of President Putin's European tour.


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