Online Extra: Russia's Goal: "To Make Iraq Disarm"

A senior policymaker on why Moscow's approach differs from Washington's and on the challenges of establishing a post-Saddam society

Mikhail Margelov is a confidant of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of Russia's Parliament. Like Putin, the 38-year-old Margelov is a former KGB man. An expert in languages, he has had a varied career that ranges from teaching Arabic at a KGB school to helping U.S. outfits such as Boston Consulting Group do business in the former Soviet Union.

Recently, Margelov visited Washington to consult with senior policymakers at the White House and State Dept. and on Capitol Hill about the Iraq crisis -- and what that country might look like in a post-Saddam era. He took time out from a week-long flurry of meetings to speak with BusinessWeek Senior Writer Rose Brady. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: Why is Russia siding with France and Germany in opposing military action against Iraq?

A:

Our goal is to make Iraq transparent to the international inspection [regime] and to make Iraq disarm. In this situation, I think we still haven't exhausted all the advantages of putting military pressure on Saddam.

It was Al Capone who said in the early '30s that with good words and a revolver you can reach better results than just with good words. I think that you can't reach the best results with the revolver [alone]. In a situation where we have not exhausted all the advantages of pressure, we have to continue putting the pressure on Saddam.

Q: Could Russia change its mind and support a new U.N. Security Council resolution introduced by the U.S. and Britain that would authorize force against Iraq?

A:

I don't think it's realistic for anyone here to think Russia would support such a resolution. Don't forget that this year we have elections in the lower house of our Parliament. It's quite obvious that Putin will be criticized from the left wing [in Russia] for the partnership with the U.S. and for his Western-oriented foreign policy -- as the communists say.

Our foreign policy is neither pro-American nor pro-European. It's pro-Russian. But the United Russia party, which is a pro-Putin party, can lose a lot during the elections if Russia supports the Anglo-American resolution. The situation around Iraq isn't only an issue of foreign policy.

Q: What if the Bush Administration goes ahead and leads a war -- with or without U.N. backing?

A:

If there is a war, we have to think about the structure of the society and the government that the international community wants to see in Iraq. After the first Gulf war, the sanctions regime strengthened the dictatorship in Iraq and didn't provide any way out for the population. The international community has to deal with this today. We still haven't paid [enough] attention and discussed what result the international community wants to achieve.

Q: The Bush Administration says its goal is to help Iraq become a democracy.

A:

It won't be that easy to -- so-to-speak -- democratize Iraq the way it was done in Afghanistan. The Iraqi society is much more fragmented and is more sophisticated than the Afghan society.

We shouldn't forget about the major threat of a conflict [inside] Iraq and the threat to the territorial integrity of the country. [In my meetings here in Washington] I was very happy to hear that the U.S. Administration cares much about it and won't send any messages that can be understood the wrong way by the Kurds, Sunnis, Shiites, and other groups in Iraq.

Q: Do you think Russia should play a role in post-Saddam Iraq?

A:

Definitely. The world community will need Russian assistance in structuring post-Saddam Iraq. I'm sure that the level of our expertise and the level of our knowledge about the Iraqi political elite is much higher than the level I could see here in Washington.

We know the players better than anyone else. We have experience in dealing with Iraq since the Soviet Union had [a] relationship with the Iraqi Communist Party, which was banned by Saddam Hussein.

Q: Where do you see U.S.-Russian relations going?

A:

[In my meetings here], we discussed a lot about joint strategic planning in the future.... We actually spent the last 12 years not very efficiently. We weren't thinking about the new agenda in Russia-American relations. We stopped counting warheads, which is a great advantage, but we don't have a new agenda.

One of the new approaches to our cooperation can be joint policy planning, joint strategy planning. If we have such planning, we won't face questions like who will come after Saddam Hussein.

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