Since gaining sovereignty, the members of the Interim Iraqi Government have been engaged in intense diplomatic work, visiting the capitals of the states that are not only interested in an early Iraqi settlement, but most importantly, can also provide political or financial assistance to this process. Moscow is no exception in this sense. At the weekend, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov received Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Moscow.
Mr Zebari's visit took place against the backdrop of a media frenzy over the possibility of Russia dispatching troops to Iraq. The talks produced the same result as previous meetings had: negative. Russian soldiers will not be sent to Iraq. "This issue was neither raised nor discussed," Sergei Lavrov stated at the end of the meeting with Mr Zebari. Indeed, the Iraqi minister stressed that Baghdad had not asked Moscow to dispatch any troops or military experts to Iraq because "the position of the Russian Federation on this issue is well known." However, he added that there were "many other ways in which Russia can give real support to Iraq."
The general outcome of the visit was that Russian experts would return to this country as soon as security conditions allow. In Lavrov's words, Russia is prepared to give assistance to Iraq by training personnel, as well as in the field of restructuring debts through the Paris Club of creditors. "I assure you that this contribution will be no less valuable than that of participants in multinational forces," the Russian foreign minister stated.
In particular, the sides reached an agreement that Russia will provide Iraq with assistance in training personnel for the Iraqi police force and other security services if Baghdad forwards the respective request to the Russian leadership, Mr Zebari stated in an interview with al Jazeera following the Moscow talks. However, this does not mean that Russian military experts are about to fly to Iraq. According to Mr Zebari, the Russian side may train personnel both in countries neighbouring on Iraq and in Russia. The Iraqi government will take a decision on this issue.
An important point is that the NATO countries have also agreed to give Baghdad assistance in training military personnel, but they are in no hurry to go to Iraq. None of them wants to send its military experts to Iraq, as they will immediately become terrorist targets. Both Baghdad and Washington understand this. Moreover, neither the Iraqi government nor the US will stand to gain if a country is blackmailed by terrorists and, even worse, is forced to make concessions to them, as was the case with the Philippines.
Evidently, the US, which commands multinational forces, has a problem: which countries will stay with it in Iraq at least for another year and who will agree to join it? It needs to preserve the coalition at any coast.
However, even promises of contracts in the restoration of Iraq can hardly persuade any country to send its troops there. No economic gains can justify the potential losses, both human and political, that could be sustained by the side that has agreed to such a deal and the side that has proposed it.
If last September, Moscow was not ruling out the theoretical possibility of sending troops to Iraq if the UN or the Iraqi government requested it to do so, today the Russian foreign and defence ministries state that this is out of the question. The situation may change some day but not now.
Apart from that, Moscow hardly needs to trade its soldiers for contracts in Iraq. Russian companies still have a sufficient technological and legal base for work in this country. Baghdad "is faithful to all the obligations assumed by the Iraqi side," Hoshyar Zebari stated at the end of the talks in the Russian capital. In the al Jazeera interview he explained that "an agreementto appoint representatives of the Iraqi and Russian governments to check all the Russian contracts signed under the former Iraqi regime, including those signed under the Oil for Food program, was reached during the visit." This is needed in the light of the corruption and bribery scandals that have emerged in connection with the Oil for Food program. This verification procedure is also advantageous for Moscow, as after it has been completed, no one will be able to doubt the legality of the contracts signed - whether they concern deliveries of equipment or food to Iraq, the construction of electric power stations or the development of oil fields.
Moscow hopes that Russia will retain the greater part of the contracts. This means, above all, contracts for the restoration and construction of power stations and other industrial facilities. No one can rival the Russians in terms of price and quality for this work. The situation concerning the development of oil fields and construction of pipelines is less simple, as there are many other parties that want to cash in. However, Russian oilmen are optimistic in this case too, hoping to retain at least some of the work in Iraq, even if they fail to preserve the contracts in full. "It is easier for the Western companies that will come to Iraq to use Russian experience, research and equipment than to start everything from scratch," Yuri Shafrannik, chairman of the Council of the Russian Oil and Gas Industrialists Union, repeatedly said while talking to this RIA Novosti commentator.
Therefore, the companies that genuinely worked in Iraq in the past few years rather than just simulated activity (and it is an open secret that there were such firms) have a chance to stay there. However, they will have to fend off tough competition to win new contracts and the Russians do not harbour illusions on this score. This RIA Novosti commentator has heard this from Russian diplomats and businessmen on more than one occasion. They only hope that the competition will be fair. Should these rivals succeed in ousting Russians companies from some economic sectors, even sending Russian troops to Iraq will not help.
Marianna Belenkaya, RIA Novosti