Russian Thoughts On The American-Iraq War†††
By Dr. Ludmilla Selezneva, Moscow University
I have very mixed feelings and thoughts on this or any war.
The purpose of this short article is to describe my understanding of the attitude of the Russian people to the American war in Iraq.
††††††††††† The reasons for this are varied and complex.
The first are the still strong memories of World War II.† Even though it finished almost 60 years ago,
everyone in my country† has memories of it.† Russia lost 27 million people! Almost every family lost someone close.† The magnitude of this tragedy may not be fully comprehended by America.† 60% of the European USSR was occupied by Nazi Germany.† Millions who did not die lived under Nazi occupation for 2-3 years.† Every town and small village has World War II memorial with hundreds or thousands of names. All couples go to the village or town eternal flame with flowers on their wedding day.†
Russian people know what real war is and their first toast at any party is for peace on the earth.† They are against any wars even wars of friends if those friends are the aggressors.
The reader may say that this is too childish, naive and emotional approach for this complicated world and the reader† will be correct.† But there is another argument, which is more current and is still a bleeding wound:
The Chechnya War.
The Russian Government started this war in 1994 aiming to stop terrorism in one part of the Russian Federation Ė Chechnya.†† After the disintegration of the USSR and fight for power in Moscow between communists and democrats the social and political situation there grew very complicated. The territory with 1.3 million people was rich with oil and refinery plants. A very narrow elite with new elected president, Dudaev, monopolized all resources† -- selling them abroad and obtaining enormous wealth.† They refused to pay taxes.
In 1994 the Russian Federation government and President Yeltsen started demanding tax payments.† The Chechnya elite response was to call for independence from Russia.† This is a short version of how this complicated political knot started. There were both non-violent and military options to choose.† The Russian government and President† Yeltsyn chose war in December 1994† -- promising to finish it in a week.
In fact, the first Chechnya war lasted two years and ended without any success.
The second Chechnya war started in 1999 and was proclaimed as finished in 2002.† But in fact guerilla war has been the norm for nine years between our Federal government and Chechnya.† For nine years a whole generation of children have not gone to school; parents have been without jobs apart from war or terrorism; family relatives are killed and they in return have to make terrorism the rest of their lives in accordance with Muslim religion.
Considering general anti-war public aspiration, the government and President Putin looked at Iraq situation from a legal point of view.† President Putin puts fight against terrorism as a priority in Russian foreign policy. Russia was the first to support USA after 11 September 2001. It was ready to support military activity if UN made that decision.
But, It does not see obvious proof of the warís necessity.† In fact, the war is over, but there is still not clear evidence of the weapons of mass destruction.† This is why many Russian people think that the USA was fighting to capture Iraqi oil.
Russia definitely has serious economic interests in Iraq. The Saddam government owed Russia Eight Billion Dollars.† There are agreements about several projects totaling $40 billion. However, President Putin was very open saying that international stability is more important for us even than our economic interest. Recently, Russia agreed to cancel Iraq debt to us.
††††††††††† People in Russia are not fond of Saddam. He has no admireres except some marginal politicians.† We started to develop our democracy at the end of the XX century and left dictatorships in the past. Stalin was one of the bloodiest dictators in world history. Saddam to me was an Arab Stalin.
However it is obvious that he is product of their national culture and mentality.† He was their choice. To cut him is like to cut a dragonhead; it is replaced by a new one. And I really donít want this to happen.† I hope this tough law of social development will be broken.†
Do I share all this argument?† Most of it.† I am predominantly against war.† But as a political analyst I have to weigh all circumstances. And I try to understand deeper the way that my beloved American people think. They were threatened by Muslim terrorists and they have right for self-protection. Why is it Iraq? I donít understand, but perhaps American government knows something we do not know. I hope they will not start war against other countries. I hope the Iraqi war will not have as it consequence the world wave of Muslim terrorism all over the planet and first of all against Americans.† I have not stopped loving America and Americans. Fortunately, I am not a minority in my country. While not always love, Russian people feel good towards America.
The Russian government announced the American Iraqi offense as a political mistake, but confirmed that we are not going to be anti-American. I see the great legacy of Gorbachev glasnost and openness to the world in fact that blaming American Government for the policy of war, Russian people do not start thinking of American people as enemies. Recently 76% of the Russian people said that they have more positive than negative attitude to American people. They differ American Government and American people. I know that more than 70% USA population support their Government. And I am not sure that Russian attitude to the whole Iraq knot is correct. Maybe America accepted this challenge: preventive war of the 21 century to minimize number of terror victims? And we cannot understand this new approach? I am thinking, I am looking for truth and donít know what is the most correct approach. But I see that Russian people distinguish between American government and American people. They donít agree with American people (the 76% war support) but they donít view American people as their enemies.† Yesterday I saw numerous groups of American tourists in Moscow, around the Kremlin, doing sightseeing.† May be it is chillier period of our friendship, but it is not a cold war.† The world has changed and no only to war!†† 4/28/03