Russia Doesn't Play 2nd String Moscow Squeezed a Pledge from Iraq to Recognize Kuwait, but Few in the West Seemed Impressed

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THERE is nothing Russia likes less than to be treated as a second-rate power.

And nowhere does Moscow have so many opportunities to try to prove that it is more than a has-been than in Iraq, its old client-state.

So when Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev managed to exercise his influence over Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the week of Oct. 10, extracting a pledge from Baghdad to recognize Kuwaiti sovereignty, he rather hoped that the world would pat him on the back.

Instead he got the cold shoulder, as Western diplomats played down the significance of Saddam's promise. "Words are cheap," US ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright said Oct 17, dismissing a Russian bid to speed up an end to UN sanctions against Baghdad.

Even before the Oct. 17 UN debate, Mr. Kozyrev was upfront about his frustration with Western governments. "Rather influential" circles "have gotten it into their heads that Russia will be a secondary, at best regional, power locked within the Commonwealth of Independent States," Kozyrev told the Interfax news agency.

"Russia will never accept such an attitude," he insisted. "Although we hold consultations with our partners, we have pursued an independent line and will actively pursue it. In the long run they will get used to it."

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow has had precious few opportunities to flex its diplomatic muscles, and for some time it had little enough energy either.

But that is changing - as is evident from Russia's prominent role in the Bosnian crisis - and the authorities here would like the world to recognize this.

Although there are few enough places in the world where Moscow's voice carries weight, there is one corner of the Middle East where Russia has more clout than anybody else - Iraq. …