March 31, 2006
By Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
On March 25, the Pentagon
reported that Russia had given Saddam Hussein intelligence about
U.S. military plans for the invasion of Iraq back in the spring of
2003. Recently declassified documents suggest that Russia's
ambassador to Iraq at that time, Vladimir Titorenko, provided
Hussein with information on the timing of the U.S. attack on
Baghdad, U.S. troops, and invasion tactics. Fortunately, some of
the information was inaccurate, which ultimately aided U.S. forces.
Regardless, this incident demonstrates the need for a critical
reassessment of U.S. cooperation with Russia.
intelligence-sharing with Saddam likely benefited the U.S.
military. However, it was a hostile action by Moscow during
wartime, directed against U.S. forces and aimed at injuring the
allied operation against Iraq. It was very much a Cold War-style
operation, evidence of a deep-seated animosity among the Russian
leadership against the U.S.
Moscow's hostile actions in Iraq
were not limited to intelligence-sharing. Retired Russian generals,
including a former commander of the Soviet air defenses (Igor
Maltsev) and a former commander of Soviet paratroops and special
forces (Vladislav Achalov), advised Saddam on preparations for war
with America. They focused, among other things, on the USSR's World
War II "partisan" movement. The USSR successfully deployed this
guerilla movement in territories occupied by the Wehrmacht, and it
was highly effective at disrupting supply operations, cutting
communication lines, and gathering intelligence. Additionally,
Saddam, a life-long admirer of the Vietnamese General Võ Nguyên
the architect of Vietnam's military strategy, integrated guerilla
tactics into post-war resistance planning.
Former Pentagon officials
also suggested that the Russians may have supervised a cover-up of
the Iraqi WMD development program. According to these allegations,
Russian special forces (Spetsnaz) secreted away and hid components
of the Iraqi WMD program in Syria, Lebanon, and possibly Iran, with
additional materials dumped in the Indian Ocean. These claims are
based on classified information and have yet to be further
substantiated. Accusations of Russian intelligence-sharing with
Saddam, on the other hand, have been deemed credible enough to
warrant raising the issue with Moscow.
The Question of
Why release these
allegations now? In terms of timing, there is a massive effort
underway to translate and publicize thousands of pages of captured
Iraqi documents. The U.S. Director of Intelligence, Ambassador John
Negroponte, reportedly opposed declassifying this treasure trove
but gave in to pressure from Congress. The materials that implicate
Russia are not a "special operation" aimed at discrediting Russia;
they are part of this goldmine of information, some of which may
prove politically unpalatable to those who aided the Saddam
Russian Defense Minister
Sergey Ivanov and Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) have
publicly denied sharing intelligence with Saddam. Оn the record, Russian
diplomats call the allegations "nonsense" and have demanded to
"view evidence," but informally, they have suggested that things of
this nature must be discussed quietly-not in public. Their reaction
does not amount to full denial-after all, Iraq was a Soviet client
state and Russia held multi-billion-dollar debt and economic
interests in Iraq, including contracts to develop the giant West
Qurna oil field and other economic projects.
Genuine surprise at the
spying scandals indicates a failure to recognize that many in the
Russian leadership, particularly President Vladimir Putin and
Ivanov, are career intelligence officers from a system that was
defined by anti-Americanism. They will not repudiate that value or
the tools of their trade. As well, expecting of them selfless
loyalty to the U.S. as an ally is unrealistic.
Today, the U.S. views with
suspicion the Kremlin's weapons sales and robust diplomatic and
nuclear technology assistance to Iran, growing economic ties with
the regime of the ayatollahs, embrace of Hamas, and blatant
attempts to return to the Soviet policy of competing with the U.S.
in the Middle East-especially in the military and intelligence
arenas. However, a spectrum of interests requires maintaining a
careful balance in relations with Moscow: Iran, non-proliferation,
joint energy projects, and Russian policy in the former Soviet
Union, especially in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It will not
serve the U.S.'s broader interests to lose sight of this bigger
picture, nor will airing dirty laundry in the international media
help to normalize the U.S.-Russian relationship.
In view of the dramatic
rise in U.S.-Russian tensions in recent months, the Bush
not an international crisis, these recent disclosures should be a
wake-up call to U.S. leaders to rethink how they work with
Cohen, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian
Studies and International Energy Security at the Douglas and Sara
Allison Center of the Davis Institute for International Studies at
The Heritage Foundation. Conway Irwin assisted in the preparation
of this paper.
On March 25, the Pentagon reported that Russia had given SaddamHussein intelligence about U.S. military plans for the invasion ofIraq back in the spring of 2003.
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
Visiting Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation
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