On the Record

Russia Sleeping with the Iraqi Enemy

Clifford G Gaddy

DAVID HAFFENREFFER: For many Americans, Russia’s seemingly close ties to Iraq is coming as a shock. The two nations are now preparing an economic trade pact that includes deals for oil, electricity and railroads. How dare they.

Joining us now to talk more about this is Clifford Gaddy, he’s a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. Mr. Gaddy, thanks for coming on the program.

CLIFFORD GADDY: Pleasure.

HAFFENREFFER: I guess because of what we see as a fairly close relationship between President Bush and President Putin in Russia, a lot of Americans are feeling a bit surprised by this news out, but we shouldn’t feel surprised by it?

GADDY: No, I don’t think we should. I think we should be aware of the fact that Russia has had a long-standing relationship with Iraq, it’s continuing that relationship.

It’s also, by the way, and probably not coincidentally, had talks and agreements with two other members of the so-called axis of evil, North Korea. President Putin will be meeting with North Korea’s leader who is in Russia right now in the next couple of day. Last week, there was a similar sort of agreement with Iran. These are ongoing relationships that Russia has had with these countries.

They reflect an overall principle of Russian foreign policy that I think has been overlooked and misunderstood, as many Americans have somehow felt that Russia has, quote, joined the West or become a U.S. ally, or even a U.S. junior partner in the recent—since 9/11 in particular. In fact, I think Russia has different guiding principles for its foreign policy, it had them before 9/11, and it has them today, and they don’t always coincide with our idea of what Russia should be doing.

HAFFENREFFER: Is there a lesson that the White House should be taking from this? Is this anything that might be surprising anybody in the admission or is this something that we’ve known about all along?

GADDY: Well the information, of course, about Russia’s relations with these countries has been there. It’s always a matter of subjective interpretation. I think there has been a strong element of wishful thinking that Russia, as a problem, as it has been, certainly for the Cold War and even for the 1990s, Russia remained one of the United States’ major foreign policy challenges.

After—somehow after the advent of Mr. Putin as president and particular after 9/11 of last year, Russia disappeared as a problem, even moved to become an ally and there is a tendency to swing from one extreme to the other.

HAFFENREFFER: What is your sense about the relationship between Russia and Iraq? Is it necessarily contingent upon Saddam Hussein running the country?

GADDY: No, it’s not. I think that is very important to realize that one of the fundamental principles, as stated by Mr. Putin of Russian foreign policy, is that Russia will deal with all countries in the world.

Russia has proclaimed it has no enemies among countries in the world. It will deal with all countries not on the basis of some ideological predisposition towards a particular regime, but rather, in terms of Russia’s own self-interest, much of which, of course, will be economic. Russia is not trying to shape a foreign policy based on regimes and it will transcend regimes.

The second element of Russian foreign policy is to maintain stability which in many cases means the status quo with respect to regimes. Of course, in both of these cases, this is certainly going to lead Russia inevitably into a difference of opinion about the wisdom of engaging in regime change in Iraq, especially if it’s done through violent means, which would be destabilizing.

HAFFENREFFER: How would you then advise administration officials in the U.S. to move forward? Vladimir Putin saying—I believe it was just yesterday—that an attack on Iraq would be, in his words, unacceptable.

GADDY: It is perhaps impossible for the United States to convince Russia, as perhaps other European countries, of the necessity and the wisdom of an attack on Iraq, but at a minimum, I think what Russia is asking for from the United States is serious consultations about measures taken in U.S. foreign policy, whether it be Iraq, whether it be activities closer to their borders in the caucuses or Central Asia, other parts of the world.

When the United States acts in what it perceives to be its own self-interest, Russia wants the United States to recognize clearly that those actions can have serious and sometimes possibly devastating consequences for Russia, and Russia wants to talk about that. It wants to explain its concerns—at a minimum, I think that is what the administration needs to do with Russia, rather than waiting and coming after the fact, after such an event happens and trying to reprimand Russia and claiming or implying that Russia is somehow violating the terms of something that really doesn’t exist, which is an alliance with the United States.

There is no alliance, there are no formal obligations and Russia doesn’t expect that, but I think what Russia does want is to be taken into account. It does not want to be taken for granted. It does not want to be disregarded.

HAFFENREFFER: There are many—a lot of Western investment dollars in Russia at this point. Is this subtle tenor change between the United States and Russia enough to—what will be the impact here? Do you think it will cause people to pull some money out of Russia?

GADDY: No, I don’t. First of all, there is actually not that much Western money in Russia yet. Western investment into Russia declined precipitously after Russia’s default on debt in 1998. And it has yet to build back up to the levels that were—that it had been before 1998.

Of course, Western investment is important for Russia and Russia is trying to bring in more Western investment, but I frankly don’t think anyone is going to be taking this recent agreement with Iraq into account and thinking about—as an American businessman—thinking about investment in Russia.

There are other concerns and most of them, I think, have been well aware of Russia’s relations with other countries in the world. This is not news to most people who have been engaged in direct relations with Russia.

HAFFENREFFER: Clifford Gaddy, thanks for coming on the program.

GADDY: My pleasure.

HAFFENREFFER: Clifford Gaddy from the Brookings Institution joining us from our Washington, DC bureau.

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