Russia Straddles Iraq Debate

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Feb. 13, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Russia is putting itself in a tricky situation, straddling the line in the Iraq debate. Moscow doesn't want to risk its friendship with Washington by siding with France and Germany against war, but it also has financial interests in Baghdad to consider.

Mark Brzezinski joins us from Washington to talk about Russia's role in the Iraq situation, a former director of the southeastern European affairs of the National Security Council.

So, Mr. Brzezinski, what is Mr. Putin doing? I said he isn't siding with France and Germany, but he kind of is. And I thought he had turned into George Bush's best buddy.

MARK BRZEZINSKI, FMR. DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: John, Russia is trying to advance its self-interest. And we've given Russia an opportunity to do so by allowing the differences between the West, or within the West, over how to proceed in Russia to become so deep that they jump in to fill the vacuum. But in so doing, use the opportunity to advance their own interests.

GIBSON: Well, what are their own interests here? I mean, is it too cynical of me to notice that it sure wouldn't hurt Mr. Putin to have NATO in total disarray?

BRZEZINSKI: You're absolutely right. Russia, China, and other countries have no interest in seeing us succeed as the world's preponderant power. They're happy to see the NATO alliance fragment. And we have to remember that when we deal with our alliances, including NATO, that this is not the Warsaw Pact of the Soviet Union where we can order other countries to war. We have to make a compelling case for them to join us. And when we don't, we create the opportunity for those who have an interest in advancing their own agenda to serve as key votes. In this case, that's Russia on the Security Council.

GIBSON: You know, there are hearings starting next week in Congress about moving American troops out of Germany and placing them perhaps in Poland, some other countries in what we used to call Eastern Europe. Would Russia see that as a win, that there isn't a big American force sitting in Germany facing Russian tanks that are no longer there, but could be in another situation?

BRZEZINSKI: When we agreed with Russia that we would expand NATO, we promised Russia that for the present time we would not be putting troops in the new NATO-pact states. Now there may be very solid, strategic reasons to move troops from Germany to Central Europe. But we certainly should not do that as a means of punishing allies for not joining us in the war on terrorism.

What concerns me is that we have given international partners, like Russia and China, an opportunity to exploit the war on terrorism and not join us in the war on terrorism by not making a compelling case that the international community should. Now, Secretary Powell last week made the first presentation in this crisis that the administration should have done all along, that Saddam is armed, that he does present a grave threat. Prior to that, we created the regrettable message that we're not so much interested in disarmament as we are about regime change and a rush to war. The rest of the international community doesn't like that, and they don't want to buy into it. It's their right not to. Secretary Powell made a compelling case.

GIBSON: Mark Brzezinski, thanks very much for joining U.S. We'll see you again.

BRZEZINSKI: Thank you very much.

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