Skip to comments.Oil fears prompt Putin to send envoy to Baghdad
Posted on 02/23/2003 3:53:01 PM PST by MadIvan
PRESIDENT Putin sent a top envoy to Baghdad shortly before speaking to Tony Blair by telephone yesterday.
Yevgeni Primakov, a former Prime Minister with close ties to the Iraqi leader, arrived in the Iraqi capital on Saturday night, according to diplomatic sources in the city. The visit of Mr Primakov, 73, who speaks fluent Arabic and has mediated in Iraq on several occasions, underlines Russias determination that the crisis should be resolved through diplomacy not force.
In 1991 he mounted a failed mission on behalf of President Gorbachev to avert conflict with Iraq prior to the Gulf War. In 1998 his close relations with President Saddam Hussein enabled him to settle a stand-off between Iraq and the UN. Mr Primakov, who started his career as a journalist in the Middle East, is a leading authority in Russia on Arab affairs.
The Kremlin said in a statement: The President of Russia informed the British Prime Minister about the efforts, which are being taken not only by the Russian Federation but also together with other governments, to find a political-diplomatic resolution to the Iraqi problem.
Mr Primakov spent only a few hours in Baghdad and left after meeting senior aides to Saddam. Diplomatic sources questioned whether, as head of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Primakovs visit was designed to push through business deals as well as avert a war.
Concerns that a change of regime in Iraq would have serious repercussions for the oil-dependent Russian economy lie at the heart of Moscows opposition to a military solution.
Russia fears that regime change in Iraq would lead to a collapse in world oil prices. Moscow has said that for every one-dollar fall in the price of oil the Russian economy loses about $2billion (£1.27 billion)
Analysts, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, expect a successful war in Iraq to lead to an oil glut once sanctions are lifted, slashing oil prices from current levels of more than $30 a barrel to under $20 a barrel next year.
Such a situation would cost the Russian economy more than $20 billion just as President Putin faces presidential elections. Like France, Russia is also acutely concerned that its long-standing industrial contracts with Baghdad will be lost if Saddam goes.
Senior Russian officials accompanied a delegation from Russian energy companies to Baghdad in January, one of several such missions in recent months. Last week Abbas Khalaf, Iraqs Ambassador to Moscow, said that Iraq was counting on Russia to oppose the use of force.
Russian companies, including the oil giant Lukoil, have an estimated $30 billion of deals tied up with Iraq. Mr Khalaf also reminded Russia that it was Iraqs biggest partner in the UN oil-for-food programme, with $6 billion worth of contracts signed since 1996.
As one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia can veto a second resolution authorising the use of force. Russia is therefore a key object of US and British efforts to push through a resolution. Apart from Mr Blairs conversation with President Putin, John Bolton, the US Under-Secretary of State, begins talks with senior Russian officials in Moscow today.
On Saturday Yuri Fedotov, Mr Putins Deputy Foreign Minister, said that Russia continued to oppose any new UN resolution authorising force.
Diplomats say, however, that Russia is unlikely to risk ruining its relationship with the United States by vetoing a new resolution and that its opposition to US policy may be brinkmanship to secure guarantees from the US that its economic interests will not be harmed in the event of war.