Iraq's Odious Debts

Moscow wants ‘impartial investigation’ into Iraq bribery claims

Sergei Blagov
October 7, 2004

Moscow: Russia has pledged to cooperate with investigations into allegations of Iraq-related corruption following the release of a U.S. weapons inspectors’ report charging that Saddam Hussein tried to bribe Russian and French officials and firms to win support for Iraq in the U.N. Security Council.

“Russia is interested in [an] impartial investigation of violations within the framework of the U.N. oil-for-food program,” foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko told journalists in Moscow Thursday.

“We’d like to have clear information on this issue,” he said.

The allegations, contained in the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) report on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, come at a time when Moscow [is] already is feeling U.S. pressure over Iraq.

A recent U.S. congressional report accused Russia, France and China of blocking U.S. and British efforts to “maintain the integrity” of the U.N.’s oil-for-food program.

The program, which ran from 1996 until last year’s war, was designed to offset the harmful effect of sanctions on ordinary Iraqis by allowing Baghdad to sell limited quantities of oil to buy food and medicines.

Earlier this week, Russia denied reports in U.S. media charging that it, along with France and China, had blocked efforts by the U.S. and Britain to investigate corruption in the oil-for-food program.

The foreign ministry in a statement said Moscow had supported a U.N. resolution earlier this year setting a commission to investigate the graft allegations.

“Russia, together with the other governments, is cooperating with the U.N. commission,” it said.

Last week, executives at the French oil company Total were detained for questioning as part of an investigation into the transfer of millions of dollars in suspected bribes to win oil development rights in Russia and Iraq in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Under pressure regarding Iraq, Russia has also found itself in an unwelcome spotlight during the U.S. presidential campaign.

In their first televised presidential debate, both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry voiced concerns about recent moves by President Vladimir Putin to consolidate political power in the aftermath of major terrorist attacks.

Bush said he did not think what was happening was acceptable, and had said so both publicly and directly to Putin.

But he added that he had “a good relation[ship] with Vladimir” and regarded the Russian leader as “a strong ally in the war on terror.”

For his part, Kerry said he regretted the development, “and I think it goes beyond just the response to terror.”

Russian state-controlled television networks ignored the criticism, while print media coverage of the debate included brief mention of the Russia-related comments.

Some Russian politicians have been dismissive of the censure.

The leader of the nationalist Rodina party, Dmitry Rogozin, said Bush and Kerry should mind their own business. “What we are doing is our own internal affair.”

Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, dismissed the remarks as campaign rhetoric, adding: “We don’t need to attach great importance to it.”

Moscow has shrugged off U.S. views on a number of events in Russia in recent months, including the Kremlin’s clampdown on the oil giant, Yukos.

Even so, and despite Russia’s opposition to the war against Iraq, the Kremlin has made it clear that it was not part of any anti-U.S. coalition.

It is also eager to overcome differences with the U.S., pledging to cooperate with Washington in a number of areas, including nonproliferation, missile defense, and counter-terror activities.

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