A range of visits by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to European nations have brought in political dividends to Moscow in its efforts aimed at preventing a war on Iraq. Putin held negotiations with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac as a result of which the three leaders stated that the Iraqi crisis must be solved peacefully and international inspections in Iraq must be intensified. At the same time, France, Belgium and Germany have rejected NATO’s resolution aimed at supporting Turkey in case of a military operation against Iraq.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov made a very important statement in Rome on February 11. He said at a press conference after negotiations with his Italian counterpart Antonio Martino: “Any initiative regarding Iraq must come from international inspectors.”

He noted: “We have only one authoritative source – international inspectors. We must trust them.” Sergei Ivanov said that Russia is prepared to give reconnaissance planes to the UN for monitoring Iraqi territory.

The Russian minister stated: “We have skilled experts and reconnaissance planes, which can be passed over to inspectors.” It is natural that these proposals were discussed with Italian officials. In principle, Mr. Martino supported Moscow’s position. Meanwhile, Italy is sitting on the fence. It recently supported Washington’s proposal to attack Iraq. Italian representatives in NATO voted for military aid to Turkey in case of a conflict. In the meantime however, the majority of European nations oppose a war on Iraq. IT should be noted that 11 out of 15 members of the UN Security Council voted for continuation of international inspections in Iraq on February 11. Reuters reports that a high-ranking representative of the German government noted that Russia seconded Germany’s efforts aimed at activating international inspections.

Only the US, the UK, Spain, and Bulgaria supported the beginning of a military operation against Iraq. The representative of the German government said that Germany, France, and other nations are working on a program aimed at making inspections stricter, increasing the number of observers, using intelligence services, and appointing a UN plenipotentiary for Iraq’s disarmament. At the same time, the source denied reports that several thousands of UN peacekeepers will be sent to Iraq within the framework of this program.

In other words, an antiwar movement is gathering strength, and Russia plays a very important role in this process. In addition, Russia is trying to strengthen its influence in Iraq by means of sending its military specialists and experts to the UN mission in Iraq. For instance, Moscow lobbies the use of the An-30B reconnaissance planes instead of the U-2 (the US). The Russian military showed what this plane can do at the Kubinka base (near Moscow) on February 11. The plane’s special hardware makes it possible to photograph objects from an altitude up to eight kilometers. The plane can photograph up to 5,000 square kilometers of land in an hour. In all, the flight can last five hours. As is known, Baghdad agreed to the use of American reconnaissance planes for monitoring its territory on February 11. Meanwhile, it has not rejected Russia’s proposal.

Colonel Alexander Drobyshevskii, chief of the press service of the Air Force, told WPS that the An-30B is the basic plane used by practically all European nations within the framework of the Open Sky program. As is known, 27 nations signed and ratified this agreement in 1992 (25 European nations, the US, and Canada). The main goal of the agreement is to control military activities from the air. In other words, the An-30B equipped with the most up-to-date electronic hardware might become a military control facility within the framework of the UN’s programs.

The U-2 is a more obsolete plane in comparison with the An-30B. In addition, this is a purely military plane, which can only be used by US specialists. In the meantime, many experts from Germany, France, Denmark, Italy, and other European nations can use the Russian plane.

The An-30B is a modified version of the An-24 twin-engine turbo-prop passenger plane. The An-30B is equipped with Russian monitoring hardware. However, it can use foreign cameras. The plane’s characteristics make it possible to use the An-30B over the mountains.

No one knows what decision the UN will make regarding the use of the An-30B in Iraq. The Russian Defense Ministry does not rule out that Russian reconnaissance planes will have the right to monitor Iraqi territory. This would contribute to further strengthening of Moscow’s positions in solving Iraq’s problems.