From the outset of the American military operation in Iraq, the Russian media has focused on seeking answers to two main questions: how long Saddam Hussein will hold out, and what will happen later, after the war.

As usual, opinions vary.

“Bush’s Blitzkrieg,” reads a headline in Izvestia. “American troops are already approaching Baghdad.” Izvestia and many other newspapers are providing detailed, minute-by-minute coverage of the war in every issue.

Izvestia reports that during Operation Desert Storm, only 7% of bombs and Tomahawks were equipped with high-precision targetting systems. Now around 80% are, according to some sources. Admiral Stephen Baker, a former Navy chief of staff, says this figure is even higher – up to 90%. The admiral goes on to explain that the qualitative leap in this field took place several years ago, when the United States sent 24 satellites into orbit: “This enables practically any target to be hit within ten minutes of being located, with an error margin of no more than nine meters.”

Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Russian office of the Defense Information Center, told Izvestia that he considers these claims believable. When asked how long the war would last, Safranchuk replied fairly confidently: “I think ten days to two weeks would be enough to complete it. Even faster, perhaps.”

The military experts quoted in the Kommersant newspaper are more cautious in their assessments.

Admiral Eduard Baltin considers that the active phase of the operation will last no less than three weeks: “But this will not mark the end of the war, apparently; counting on a blitzkrieg never works out.”

Andrei Nikolaev, chairman of the Duma defense committee, says the special operation to remove Saddam Hussein from power and “what amounts to the occupation of Iraq” will take not less than a month. “But the main battle awaiting the Americans will take the form of partisan warfare.”

Yevgeny Podkolzin, who commanded Russia’s Airborne Troops from 1991 to 1996, says the war in Iraq will take no longer than ten days: “The United States has thrown such overwhelming military might at Iraq that they can’t hold out any longer. But a protracted civil war may begin after that.”

Army General Mikhail Moiseev, former chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces who managed the withdrawal of the 40th Army from Afghanistan, is now a chief inspector with the General Staff. He doubts whether a blitzkrieg is possible; in his view, besides the unfavorable weather situation – the sandstorm season is starting – another obstacle could be the response in the Arab world, and across the whole Islamic world.

Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, former head of the Defense Ministry’s main directorate for international military cooperation and now vice-president of the Geopolitical Studies Academy, believes there is even a possibility that the United States might use nuclear weapons in the event that the operation does not go as the Pentagon planned it would.

The Vremya Novostei newspaper reports that shortly before the war began, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated the ideal timeframe for the proposed blitzkrieg in Iraq: six days. However, it’s already clear that this will not be possible: even in the cities which are considered captured – Basra, for example – heavy fighting continues.

Moreover, as expected, the question of the number of casualties may prove particularly sensitive.

Vremya Novostei says that before military action began, a certain senior American military officer in Moscow named some figures for estimated and acceptable casualty numbers: “Dozens of American troops, hundreds of Iraqi civilians, thousands of Iraqi soldiers.” However, says Vremya Novostei, the very first days of the war refuted this prediction: “It’s enough to look at television footage of massive bombing of city areas and the red glow over Baghdad.”

“Iraq will fight like we fought Napoleon and Hitler,” says Professor Anatoly Egorin, deputy director of the Eastern Studies Institute, in the Vremya MN newspaper. “Remember what World War II was like for us: burn or blow up everything rather than let the enemy take it. But there will be huge civilian casualties in Iraq.”

Even without that, there will be no problems in finding someone to blame if the military operation proves to be drawn-out.

The Izvestia newspaper reports: “The US State Department has accused Russia of supplying military hardware to the armed forces of Iraq.” Of course, Russia has categorically denied doing so. However, according to Izvestia, Russian-made equipment capable of disrupting the guidance systems of American “smart bombs” has turned up in Iraq.

The Tula Design Bureau confidently told Izvestia that no military deliveries have been made to Iraq: “Even if any of our products have ended up in Iraqi hands, this has occurred without our involvement.”

Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky explained that the targetting systems under discussion are freely available for purchase in many countries.

At the Aviakonversia company, which produces jamming equipment for GPS/GLONASS satellite navigation systems, Izvestia was likewise assured of the absence of any contracts with Iraq: “The Americans have bought these jamming systems from us, with the aim of developing some way of countering them. Apparently, they have not succeeded – so now they are looking for scapegoats.”

Sergei Oznobishchev, director of the Strategic Research Institute, told Vremya Novostei that Washington simply has a grudge against Moscow for not supporting the military operation. Despite all efforts by Russian politicians to convince their US colleagues that Russia has no intention of quarreling with America over Iraq, relations are feeling the strain. Russia continues to insist that the issue of Iraq should be returned to the United Nations – and the Americans don’t like that, of course.

In any case, “the United States cannot permit itself a lengthy and bloody war, even with the certainty of a victorious outcome,” says the Vedomosti newspaper. “The main question is simple: how long will Saddam Hussein hold out?”

Obviously, the basic facts about the situation do not look good for Saddam Hussein: “Coalition troops are facing a technologically weak army, whose will to fight is doubtful. The only strategy available to Saddam Hussein – passive defense – is considered hopeless from the start.”

Nevertheless, says Vedomosti, many politicians and commentators are now predicting another world war. They recall that neither at the start of the 20th Century nor in the 1930s was there any forewarning of a global catastrophe: “The only signs of the imminent worldwide carnage were declining ethics and states starting to break international laws. We are seeing a similar picture now.”

However, Vedomosti emphasizes that further exacerbation is only possible if the Iraqi regime can hold out for at least a few weeks.

Why have the Americans decided on a land war, anyway? Andrei Kolesnikov, writing in Kommersant, asks: “What are they expecting? They ought to have understood right from the start that people tend to wander around deserts for forty years. I fear this cannot be done any faster. It’s been tried.”

Actually, it’s clear enough that the fate of the Iraqi regime and its leader is sealed; the only question is what the end will be like for Saddam Hussein, says Vedomosti. “For example, will he find the courage to die in battle, thus becoming a new Arab hero; or will he be shamefully handed over by his own people, many of whom might want to pay back the dictator for years or even decades of constant fear and humiliation.”

The Vremya MN newspaper devoted a separate article to the fate of Iraq’s leader. It says: “Whatever we may think of Saddam Hussein as a politician or as an individual, it is clear that he has become a historical figure. The paradox is that while he has proved completely incompetent as a military commander, having lost every war he started, Saddam Hussein is now viewed by the masses in the Arab world as a fearless warrior who has not bowed down before a powerful enemy.”

According to Vremya MN military observer Vladimir Skosyrev, Saddam Hussein’s rule could not have lasted forever – in part, because he has been unable to create a system for transferring power. The US military operation will only hasten his fall.

However, he has been incredibly lucky: “Now, Saddam Hussein will leave the stage not as a tyrant being overthrown, but as an unbending fighter for independence. And that image will inspire future generations of suicide fighters, burning with hatred for the Americans and all other ‘infidels’ who bring alien ways into the Arab world.”

Other consequences of the anti-Saddam operation are also evident, and they are no less serious. Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Strategy and Technique Analysis Center, writes in Vedomosti that anyone witnessing current events in Iraq cannot fail to be struck by “one simple and unpleasant thought: any nation which is worried about becoming a victim of American repression ought to set about acquiring nuclear weapons and the means for delivering them to US territory.”

Moreover, these means of delivery are unlikely to be restricted to the traditional missiles, which are complex and expensive and hard to conceal. “As a result, there will be room for cooperation between regimes which are under threat and international terrorist networks.”

Of course, says Vremya MN, “given the present level of alertness in the United States, there is unlikely to be any repeat of September 11, which has become the ideological foundation of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.”

On the other hand, the current demonstrations of “the arrogance of power” cannot fail to arouse resistance; they cannot fail to increase the numbers of extremists and extremist acts of resistance.

What’s more, most observers believe this matter will not end with Iraq. Pavel Felgengauer writes in Novaya Gazeta: “Having started putting one Middle East country in order, America won’t stop – it will simply be unable to stop; having eliminated one cannibalistic regime, it will have to deal with others.”

There is a long list of claimants for US attention: “Iran, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia (still an ally, so far), and, of course, North Korea; and they all understand perfectly well that after the inglorious defeat of Saddam Hussein, their only option will be to submit unconditionally to American rule, or put all their efforts into developing some means of deterrence as soon as possible – producing their own nuclear missiles.” And these are precisely the nations which will be the targets of America’s pre-emptive strikes.

This view is partially supported by Leonid Shebarshin, president of the Russian National Economic Security Service, formerly head of the KGB First Main Directorate (intelligence).

In Nezavisimaya Gazeta – Dipkurier, Shebarshin writes: “In my view, after Iraq it will be Saudi Arabia’s turn for a regime change.” However, he believes this may be done by peaceful means. “But the next and more serious target of the Americans could well be Iran.”

Vremya MN points out: “In a world which has moved beyond the post-war half-century of US-Soviet confrontation, what is becoming more and more clearly entrenched is not the principle of international law, but the law of the overwhelming power of the world’s only superpower.”

An observer for Novaya Gazeta stresses that the system of international relations created after World War II, based on the principle of unquestioned national sovereignty, is essentially ceasing to exist. Now there is something like Brezhnev’s famous doctrine of limited sovereignty, adopted after Soviet troops moved into Czechoslovakia: the USSR asserted its right to intervene in the internal affairs of nations in the socialist camp, in order to “support” socialism.

Pavel Felgengauer says: “Now the same kind of limited sovereignty is being charted for the entire world. America will make its own decisions about who is good and who is bad, who should be punished and overthrown or who should be praised and encouraged.” This is precisely why the former socialist camp nations and former Soviet republics have supported the actions of the United States: “The Brezhnev doctrine is nothing new to them; they know how to behave with regard to the boss.”

In general, says Felgengauer, the anti-war coalition – Germany, France, Russia, and China – has demonstrated its complete helplessness: “America cannot be restrained. The United Nations, like the League of Nations before World War II, is in decline.”

“The world is looking at the ruins of diplomacy.” After quoting that line from Germany’s “Zeit” weekly, Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal adds: “But it seems that not only diplomacy lies in ruins – so does the whole world order which has taken shape over the last ten to 15 years.”

Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal says it would be an exaggeration to say that the United Nations has lost its global leadership role due to the actions of the US administration.

Only twice in its entire existence has the UN Security Council decided to use force to compel an aggressor to peace: in 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea, and in 1990, when Iraq occupied Kuwait. All the world’s other wars have taken place without UN sanction: “Thus, the UN is returning to its habitual role – it is once again becoming a debating club for great powers.”

A similar fate appears to lie in store for NATO. At least, Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal quotes NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson’s recent statement that NATO, created for collective defense purposes, “will remain the primary trans-Atlantic forum for the exchange of information and ideas”.

The Iraq crisis has also provoked a split in the European Union. Those nations which support America may experience some problems. Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal says Jacques Chirac has already hinted that Eastern European states which have not displayed sufficient European solidarity may have serious problems with joining the EU. “Thus, the most important decisions related to creating a united Europe are also under threat.”

In terms of Russian-US relations, Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal considers that “our intransigence” could have some substantial negative consequences.

Of course, Washington is not speaking of Russia’s stance as harshly as it speaks of France: “The US administration has no interest in demonstrating at present that most other nations do not support its actions.” However, from now on Russia should not count on having any special relationship with America.

“Already, we can confidently predict that Iraq’s $8 billion of Soviet-era debts will never be repaid to Russia. And we can also forget about American promises to ensure that Russian companies have access to Iraq’s oil sector.” Of course, the rejections will be delivered to Russia by the new Baghdad government, not by the Americans. But the United States is unlikely to revive negotiations with Russia about cooperation in outer space or energy.

Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal concludes: “It appears that Russia-US relations may be added to the list of incidental casualties of the war in Iraq. However, Washington is not entirely to blame for that.”

Andrei Ryabov writes in the Vremya MN newspaper: “The start of the war in Iraq has drawn a line beneath the efforts of politicians and diplomats from various nations, including Russia, in the pre-war period.”

Fortunately, Russia never had to make a choice at a meeting of the UN Security Council – “where a veto on the war would have been tantamount to a break with the United States, while abstaining or not taking part in the vote at all would have meant a loss of face for Russia’s leaders in the international arena as well as at home.” However, there is as yet no hope that the “pre-war” level of relations with the US can be rapidly restored.

Rapprochement with EU leaders has not yet brought any tangible results, whether in economic cooperation or “on the visa issue, which is a sensitive one for the more progressive Russian citizens”. Neither has the idea of setting up an international tribunal for Chechnya been abandoned.

On the other hand, says Ryabov, there is no evidence that the leading Islamic nations, after seeing Russia’s stance on Iraq, have finally stopped aiding the separatist guerrillas in Chechnya.

Ryabov stresses that the present uncertainty is a source of even greater uncertainty about the future: no one knows how long the war in Iraq will last, or what consequences it may have in military, political, and economic terms.

Making guesses about those consequences is now the main approach to foreign policy discussion: “What else can you do when the ‘great game’ is being played by others, while you are forced to adapt to that game, using any ‘windows of opportunity’ which might open up as a result of the actions of others, and frequently counting your own limited resources?”

Alexei Pushkov, who produces and hosts the “Postscriptum” current affairs program on the TV Center network, says Russia hasn’t lost anything in particular by not siding with the United States in this case. After all, America failed to offer Russia anything substantial in return for its support.

Pushkov says in Nezavisimaya Gazeta that yet another promise to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment “looks like outright mockery, and is no longer capable of eliciting anything but laughter.” The fact that the US State Department has added three Chechen groups to its “terrorist list” may be satisfying for the Kremlin, but it’s really only symbolic. As for support in joining the World Trade Organization – Russia doesn’t really need it: “We ourselves have yet to determine when to join the WTO and on what terms.” And, as “Newsweek” magazine has pointed out, nobody ever promised Russia access to Iraq’s oil.

According to Pushkov, in its relations with Russia the United States has been constantly engaged in “selling empty air” – while at the same time counting on real support for all its own actions.

Pushkov points out that the United States, as a rule, only enters into bilateral agreements when it sees an economic or political advantage for itself in doing so. “We need to learn to value ourselves more – and then the Bush administration will also start to value us somewhat more highly.”

According to Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Russian Jewish Congress, Russia’s problem is that it doesn’t really learn from historical experience. “We are prepared to form an alliance with anyone, and quite often we are sincere in being their allies – but we do not have, and have never had, any permanent allies, whether in the European ‘Entente’ or in the Arab world.”

Satanovsky considers that it is essential for Russia to focus solely on its own national interests; especially since these days Russia is a rather weak player in the international arena, “somewhere between the second and third league, although it retains the potential to move into the first league”. Unfortunately, says Satanovsky, “what we, as Russia, wish to do is very different from what we are capable of doing”.

Satanovsky believes that the US operation in Iraq is only the start of a process of revising the world order; and that the existing system of forces – at least, in the opinion of the US – has outlived its usefulness. “We cannot rule out that the United Nations may be in the final years, if not final months, of its existence. So isn’t it time to give some thought to what the post-UN world might be like?”

In the meantime, Russia’s official position clearly differs from such ideas. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says in Rossiiskaya Gazeta: “We remain convinced that the Iraq crisis should be finally resolved on the basis of existing UN Security Council resolutions.” Ivanov also believes that the experience of the international security system created after the end of World War II should be used to create a new, universal system which would be capable of protecting the human race from the entire range of contemporary challenges and threats.

Unfortunately, the producers and directors of the current military drama called “Shock and Awe” do not share the convictions of the Russian foreign minister.

Union of Right Forces leader Boris Nemtsov has contributed a lengthy article to Izvestia. He warns: “The Iraq crisis could turn out to be a moment of truth for the Russian government.” Yes, the actions of the Americans pose a threat to the sovereignty of all nations, but Russia is doubly vulnerable: “As long as our country is weak and dependent in economic terms, we cannot speak of having state sovereignty.”

Nemtsov says Russia requires urgent economic restructuring: “This is precisely the time for us to focus on dealing with our own country.”

Nemtsov considers that the anti-American hysteria which has seized the nation is unproductive: “National hysteria ought to be countered with national strategy. We should not support Bush. Neither should we support Saddam Hussein. We should support ourselves, support Russia.”

Like most other politicians and observers, Boris Nemtsov considers that acceptable oil price levels – the foundation for Russia’s relative prosperity at present – will last no longer than this year. “If we do not carry out some real reforms now, we will have to do it in a year’s time – in a much more dramatic situation, and with time running catastrophically short.”

Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal says that as a result of the war in Iraq, the battle to maintain oil prices could turn into a battle for market share. Naturally, the Arab states would win – their oil production costs are much lower than Russia’s. Therefore, the Russian economy is bound to experience problems due to the war in Iraq.

On the other hand, notes Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal, “this shake-up could turn out to be useful for us.”

Indeed, Russia’s present oil-based prosperity troubles many people; Russia is growing more and more dependent on the oil market. Moreover, cheap petrodollars are flowing into Russia, and being used to buy equipment and goods abroad – instead of developing Russia’s own industrial capacities.

In theory, a drop in oil prices could force the Russian economy to try overcoming its addiction to oil. However, Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal admits that the last attempt to do this – in 1998 – scarcely inspires optimism.

And finally, a prediction from leading astrologist Pavel Globa (published in the Konservator weekly).

Basing his case on the predictions of Nostradamus, Globa claims that the world is now facing the rise of Islam and the formation of an entirely new international organization: the Pan-Islamic Union, capable of open military aggression against the West.

This predicted war will have to be stopped by “two northern leaders”; one of them will be a future leader of Canada (“which, unlike the United States, will prosper”), and the other will be a future leader of Russia.

Globa predicts that Russia itself will be temporarily on the sidelines of the clash of interests between West and East. “We will be left alone, left to go about our business. Strangely enough, this will prove highly advantageous for Russia. In consequence, we shall be able to stabilize our economy; and each Russian region will sink or swim by its own efforts.” After that, there will be a general period of prosperity for Russia.

In short, it’s the usual story: “We’ll survive everything, and do our own path-breaking.” That is also likely.

Astrologers point out that “the stars influence events, but do not determine them”. In other words: there is a certain possibility of any turn of events, but possibilities are never enough to guarantee a particular outcome.

This is an unexpectedly wise approach for an astrological forecast, and quite a rational approach: in order to achieve a certain result, one must work for it. It’s not enough to have only a burning desire to “restore Russia’s might”; as an old joke puts it, one also has to “give God a realistic chance”.

Alas, to everyone’s profound sorrow, rationality has never been among Russia’s national virtues. We prefer to proudly go with the flow; though without forgetting appropriate amounts of public relations – especially when elections are coming up.