Raid on Iraq: Yeltsin backs West and angers hardliners: Russia

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - The Russian government yesterday backed the latest Western air raids on Iraq but hardliners, seeking to make trouble for President Boris Yeltsin, said Moscow was betraying an old ally and persuaded parliament to debate continued Russian participation in an international naval operation in the Gulf.

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Baghdad had ignored repeated warnings to abide by United Nations decisions, so the attack was hardly surprising. 'We had hoped that Iraq would respect the will of the international community and military action could be avoided,' it said. 'Unfortunately that did not happen. We hope that this time the Iraqi leadership . . . will strictly adhere to all resolutions of the UN Security Council.'

Mikhail Gorbachev first abandoned Moscow's traditional friendship with Iraq when he gave moral support to the West in its war to recover Kuwait in 1991. Mr Yeltsin has developed that pro-Western policy but is coming under increasing pressure from conservatives and nationalists who accuse him of turning Russia into a second-rate power that takes its orders from Washington. The same complaint is heard about Russia falling into step with the world community on Serbia.

The conservative parliament is unlikely to be able to overturn Russian foreign policy in the near future. But in the long run, Moscow's new West-leaning foreign policy could be under threat.