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Friday, December 18, 1998 Published at 15:52 GMT


Russian MPs brand Clinton 'sex maniac'

The Russian parliament's response has been "vitriolic"

By regional analyst Tom de Waal

The force of the Russian response to the air-strikes on Iraq has surprised many in the West.

It is no surprise that the Russian parliament, the State Duma, has been vitriolic.

Some extreme deputies have called President Clinton a "sexual maniac".

It is a view echoed in the Russian press, with the normally liberal newspaper Kommersant running a banner headline on its front page "A military-sexual romance" ["voenno-polovoi roman"] telling its readers that "Iraqi children are suffering for Clinton's love" ["Irakskiye deti stradayut za lyubov' Klintona"].

Ambassadors recalled

Far more unusual is the reaction of the Russian executive, which has recalled its ambassadors from Washington and London.


[ image: The Duma voted overwhelmingly to oppose air strikes]
The Duma voted overwhelmingly to oppose air strikes
The last time an ambassador was recalled to Moscow from either Washington or London was in 1971 over a spying row with the UK.

A Kremlin aide friendly to the West, Sergei Prikhodko, said that the ratification of the START-2 Treaty was now in question.

Western governments will be hoping that the Russians' indignation has more to do with pride than substance.

According to the newspaper Kommersant, President Yeltsin was only informed about the air-strikes on Thursday evening in a telephone call from the French President Jacques Chirac.

Yeltsin 'offended'

He evidently feels offended that Russia, which has played a key mediating role between Iraq and the West in the past, was ignored this time.

The man who is now Russia's prime minister and its acting president in all but name, Yevgeny Primakov has deeper motives.

Mr Primakov has known Saddam Hussein since 1969 and was Mikhail Gorbachev's envoy to the Iraqi president before the Gulf War. He evidently believes that Saddam is a man that Russia can work with and a centre of stability in the Middle East.

The former UN weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus has said that proposals made by the Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz and Mr Primakov have frequently matched "word by word."

Russian interests

Looked at objectively, the Russian balance of interests in Iraq is unclear.

On the one hand if sanctions were to be lifted, Iraq could theoretically pay back more than $7bn [by 1990 prices] in debts it ran up with the Soviet Union, mainly for arms sales.

But it is unlikely Russia would get back all its money and the gain would probably be outweighed by a drop in world oil prices caused by a glut of Iraqi oil.

Russia is, strangely enough, benefiting from the crisis in that the dollar price of its main export, oil, has risen sharply.

The Russians also know that a row with the West and non-ratification of START-2 decrease their chances of receiving $8bn in IMF loans they desperately need to balance the budget.

Western governments will hope that the operation ends quickly and cleanly and economic cooperation rises to the top of the agenda again.





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In this section

Saddam Hussein: his rise to power

Butler: Iraqi hate figure

Kofi Annan: Man with a mission

The Iraqi opposition: A simple guide

The UN's Mandate

US Interests In The Gulf

London shoulder to shoulder with US

Iraq: the French connection

Russian MPs brand Clinton 'sex maniac'