Twelve years ago, Russians and Americans alike rejoiced at the end of Soviet rule. The time had finally come for these peoples to establish cordial relations, as restrictive Communist barriers were finally eliminated. The Cold War seemed truly past when the U.S. poured billions of dollars in aid into Russia to strengthen the feeble economy. The tragedy of 9/11 deepened the sentiment of cohesiveness when the former adversaries united in the fight against terrorism. It appeared Russia and the U.S. were finally allies.
Yet, recent discoveries show that goodwill is shallower than previously believed. In the aftermath of the U.S.-led Iraqi disarmament campaign, both British and American journalists unearthed documents implying a long-standing relationship between Iraq and Russia.
On April 13, the San Francisco Chronicle reported finding Russian certificates verifying five Iraqi officers recently attended a Russian training camp. The documents, found in a hidden Baghdad office of the Iraqi secret police, state that agents were trained in surveillance and eavesdropping techniques during September 2002 – the same period Russian officials were opposing stronger efforts to disarm Iraq. A personnel file shows Sami Rakhi Mohammad Jasim al-Mansouri, one Iraqi graduate, bore the title of "lieutenant general" and was linked to "the general management of counterintelligence" in southern Iraq.
The British Daily Telegraph likewise found incriminating evidence of Russia’s associations with Iraq.
While sifting through reams of scattered papers at Iraq’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, Telegraph reporters came upon the following:
A March 2002 letter from Russian officials cautioning Baghdad to meet United Nations’ mandates or Russia would give the U.S. "a cause to destroy any nuclear weapons," implying that Russia had prior knowledge of Iraq’s nuclear capabilities.
An Iraqi intelligence report of March 2002 informing headquarters of details, obtained from a Russian agent, of a closed conversation between British and Italian prime ministers.
A letter dated November 2000 from an Iraqi spy, stating that Russia issued him a list of assassins to be used against Western targets.
A January 2000 letter from the Iraqi embassy in Moscow detailing Russian arms sales to the Middle East.
A number of Russian reports to Iraq describing the activities of Usama bin Ladin.
Details on how Russians could help Iraqi politicians attain visas to other countries.
Prior to the U.S. campaign, Russia incessantly denied aiding Iraq with military and security endeavors. Yet the evidence provided by journalists, if substantiated, proves a relationship between Russian and Iraq that violates UN military sanctions on Iraq.
Russian officials have since confirmed training Iraqi officers, but claim that training was for non-military ends such as anti-terrorism and crime fighting. No formal comment has been issued regarding documents obtained by the Telegraph.
Russia certainly had reason to boost its relationship with Iraq. No longer supported by the USSR’s exclusive internal exchange system, Russia is struggling to compete in a world market – a task made increasingly difficult by inefficient manufacturing and political practices. Worse yet, Russia envies the international power it no longer wields, having parted with Soviet imperialism. These factors leave Russia in a precariously weak state, desperate for anything that may lead to strength.
Compounding these problems is international hostility to America’s role as the world’s lone superpower. With no single nation to counterbalance it, many nations claim the U.S. will take over the world, submitting other nations to its control. In response some nations, such as Russia and France, are acting in concert to resist the U.S., while others such as Britain befriend the superpower in an attempt to exert influence from inside.
Saddam Hussein’s Iraq provided the perfect antidote for all of Russia’s concerns. Saddam's Iraqi government promised multi-billion dollar development contracts to Russian oil companies. Russia pulled in more than $4 billion annually under the UN's corrupt Oil-for-Food program alone. Yet beyond ensuring Russia an economic stimulus, Iraq also provided Putin an outlet to indulge in their espionage expertise developed by the Soviet Union, boosting Russia’s sense of international power and influence. Further, in developing Iraqi intelligence, Russia reinforced resistance to U.S. displays of strength - a covert act of defiance.
While Russia’s relationship with Iraq is worrisome in itself, the greatest concern regarding Russia’s activities arises when considering future ramifications. As relations between Russia and America continue to sour and Russia continually seeks economic revitalization, pandering to Third World cronies increases its appeal. Further diplomatic turmoil is also likely.
Russian relations with the U.S. have been strained following America’s recent resolve to disarm Iraq. Many of Russia’s elite held anti-American views previously, but hostilities have mounted on all levels of Russian society. One official even officially recommended excluding President Bush from St. Petersburg’s upcoming 300th anniversary celebration.
The Bush administration, on the other hand, remains generally unresponsive to discoveries of Iraqi-Russian relations, issuing only brief statements asserting prior knowledge of ties, giving the impression that the situation is under control and unimportant. Bush apparently hopes to prevent hostility and reestablish friendly ties with Russia. However, such a plan may actually backfire, increasing the likelihood of a return to Cold War relations. If the U.S. holds Russia unaccountable for recently violating UN military sanctions upon Iraq, Russia will have no reason to discontinue further malfeasance with rogue nations - likely already underway. Russia cannot continue to indulge in clandestine relations with violent governments without eventually posing a threat to the U.S., either by proxy as a result of the aid they give their client states, or directly as Russia allies itself on the wrong side diplomatically. The recent disagreements surrounding the Iraqi disarmament campaign have already intensified such divisions.
France and Russia, both strongly opposed to the Iraqi disarmament campaign, have since strengthened political and diplomatic ties with one another. Now, the two countries are joining in military operations, intending to conjunctively develop weapons for sale to undisclosed third countries, hold joint training sessions in order to familiarize troops with each other, and participate in developing a European-wide anti-missile defense system. In fact, plans are being floated for a European army likely under the diplomatic veto of the "Axis of Weasel" - an army many experts believe could drive the final nail through NATO’s coffin.
Russian arms sales also concern the State Department. The U.S. recently accused Russia of selling arms to Iran; and, according to the list found in Baghdad of prior Russian arms sales, Russia’s former clients include Syria, Egypt, Kuwait and China. Although Egypt, Kuwait and China are on good terms with the U.S., both Iran and Syria have been cited as terrorist sympathizers who have meddled, one way or another, in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Regardless of the Bush Administration’s attempts to smooth U.S.-Russian relations, Congress refuses to disregard Russia’s actions in opposition to the U.S. The Bush Administration would like Congress to lift Soviet-era trade restrictions that currently prevent Russia from entering the World Trade Organization. However, Congress is presently unwilling to do so; Senator Charles Grassley, chairman of the Finance Committee said of U.S.-Russian affairs: "Every time we take one step forward in Congress, Russia takes two steps back." Grassley said he would like to see economic and political relations improve, but it would require commitment from both the U.S. and Russia.
If Congress finds no reason to remove trade restrictions, friction between the countries will increase. Such inaction may trigger increased contempt of the U.S. and further exacerbate worldwide anger with the U.S. Coupled with the current U.S. anti-terrorism stance and a nosediving Russian economy, inaction could escalate the present rifts dividing the world to deep-seated hostility.
Nevertheless, the present dismissive stance is not a solution. Despite international assumptions to the contrary, the U.S. government is not interested in world-domination. Rather, the main goal of the U.S. government is to establish and maintain a peaceful country in which its citizens can prosper as they desire. As a result of largely achieving this goal, the U.S. became the wealthy and powerful nation that exists today.
Thus, instead of refraining from using its strength, the U.S. must continue to assert itself in protection of our country and in dealing with those who may aid our enemies. Russia, regardless of their intentions, sought to strengthen Saddam Hussein by contributing to Iraqi intelligence. Fortunately, Russia’s efforts proved insufficient to maintain Hussein’s regime; but Russia’s aid could have easily borne more detrimental results and reaped a higher cost in American lives.
Relations cannot be built by ignoring wrongdoings and pandering to insecurities. A strong rapport between the U.S. and Russia can be fostered if the Bush administration deals honestly and justly with Russia regarding recent Iraqi affiliations and regarding any other potentially harmful relations Russia currently cultivates - and if Russia heeds the advice Dick Morris offered in a recent FrontPage Magazine column: charting a course of perpetual opposition to the United States is no way to reestablish former glory.