Moscow Russia insisted Monday that its proposed 10-year trade agreement with Iraq had been in the works for years and should not cause alarm, but a leading political analyst said the deal's timing was designed to send a message to the United States.
"Maybe it is intelligent; certainly it is cunning," Georgy Mirsky, chief political analyst at the Institute for World Economics and International Relations, told Echo of Moscow radio.
He said the announcement coming just as Washington is rallying support for a possible invasion of Iraq appeared designed to make it clear to President Bush that Russia is prepared to flex its muscles.
"Why is it (announced) now? Why not earlier?" Mirsky asked. "It is connected."
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed Monday that it was in talks with Iraq about a 10-year trade agreement, which envisions new cooperation in oil, irrigation, agriculture, transportation, railroads and electrical energy. Iraq's ambassador to Russia, Abbas Khalaf, said it was a $40 billion agreement, but Moscow refused to confirm that figure.
Russia has spoken forcefully against any unilateral U.S. action in Iraq, but Russia's Kommersant newspaper said the proposed Russia-Iraq deal would increase the stakes, particularly if dozens of Russian specialists headed to Iraq to work on economic projects.
"It is sufficient to say that bombing citizens of a country which is one of the members of the global anti-terror coalition would be for Washington not so simple," the newspaper said.