Russia Angered by Claims That It Spied on US for Saddam

Daily News Article   —   Posted on March 27, 2006

(by Sergei Blagov, Moscow – Russian officials are denying a Pentagon report alleging that Moscow provided Saddam Hussein with information on U.S. military movements in the run-up and in the early days of the Iraq war. The Pentagon report released Friday said Russia had a spy inside the U.S. military’s central command.

“This kind of unsubstantiated allegation against Russia’s intelligence service has been voiced repeatedly,” said Boris Labusov, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.

The service said it did not think it was necessary to comment on such “fabrications.”

Moscow also questioned the motives behind the publication of the Pentagon report.

Russian media quoted unnamed security officials as saying the accusations were “a form of revenge” by the U.S. for Russian opposition to the war on Iraq.

The Pentagon report cited two documents recovered in Iraq after the fall of Saddam indicating that the Russians collected information from sources “inside the American Central Command.”

The documents suggested that battlefield intelligence was conveyed to the Russian ambassador in Baghdad, who then passed it on to Saddam.

“Significantly, the regime was also receiving intelligence from the Russians,” the U.S. Joint Forces Command said in a report posted on its website.

“An example of this intelligence was the following document sent to Saddam on 24 March: ‘The information that the Russians have collected from their sources inside the American Central Command in Doha is that the United States is convinced that occupying Iraqi cities are impossible, and that they have changed their tactic … The strategy is to isolate Iraq from its western borders.”

Russian denials appear to be falling on deaf ears in Washington. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday the U.S. would raise the espionage allegations with the Russians.

“We would take very seriously any suggestion that this may have been done, maybe to the detriment of American forces,” she told NBC’s Meet the Press.

“Definitely we will raise it with the Russian government.”

Moscow consistently opposed military action against Iraq, a move which President Vladimir Putin at the time labeled a “big mistake.”

The espionage claims focus new attention on Russia’s role before and during the early days of the war.

During the hostilities a number of Russian websites run anonymous reports on the fighting, purportedly from a military intelligence source named “Ramzai.”

The reports, which were highly critical of the allied war efforts, included detailed accounts of battles.

When the major hostilities ended, the daily military reports on the Ramzai Files website stopped. Their actual source was never revealed.

A curious incident occurred on April 6, a few weeks into the war, when an Australian SAS unit came across an eight-vehicle convoy of Russian diplomats traveling 200 kilometers west of Baghdad. The group included Russian ambassador Vladimir Titorenko, who claimed the convoy had come under fire from U.S. forces earlier.

Australia said at the time it had offered medical assistance to the party, but the offer was declined, and the convoy traveled on to Syria.

“We treated the ambassador of Russia and his colleagues from the embassy courteously and professionally, and after the appropriate checks … they were allowed to go on their way,” Prime Minister John Howard said.

Russian journalists traveling with the convoy were quoted later as saying the vehicles may have been caught in crossfire between U.S. and Iraqi forces. There appeared to be some confusion over which route the convoy had taken, and claims the Russians had deviated from a previously-agreed route. The U.S. described the incident as “regrettable.”

Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta then carried reports suggesting that the Russian diplomats may have taken Iraqi intelligence files out of the country to prevent them from falling into U.S. hands and embarrassing Moscow.

(CNSNews International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)

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