Russia is evacuating its citizens from Iraq, RIA Novosti was told in the information department of the Emergencies Ministry. Department head Viktor Beltsov said the first of the seven ministry flights to Baghdad and El-Kuwait for evacuating 816 people (553 Russian citizens and 263 CIS citizens working under Russian contracts) would take place on Thursday.
Reacting to this decision of Moscow, Kommersant, the newspaper of the Russian business community, writes that the cost of the issue is $1 billion. "This is how much the contracts that Russian companies are implementing in Iraq are worth," writes the newspaper.
The Moscow decision to evacuate its citizens from Iraq was made after eight specialists of the Russian company Interenergoservice, who had been restoring a local power station, were kidnapped in the suburbs of Baghdad on Monday evening. Though the next day they returned in taxis hired for them by the kidnappers, the incident showed that Iraq is not a safe place where Russians can work without fearing for their life. This is why they are leaving the country.
The decision hardly surprised anyone in Russia, as the local media provides detailed reports about the situation in Iraq and related developments. On Tuesday evening, television news provided excerpts from the press conference of US President George Bush in Washington, and on Wednesday morning Russians discussed the president's statement at home and on their way to the office.
I heard most of them say in the Moscow metro that George Bush and the USA have landed in a right mess in Iraq. Many Russians predict that Bush will lose the November presidential elections and think that, no matter how hard the Americans may try to change the situation in Iraq in their favour, they will have to withdraw their troops anyway. So, the sooner they do it, the fewer casualties there will be.
However, there are a significant number of people who think the US withdrawal from Iraq, especially a hasty flight, would be dangerous to the world, including Russia. It would encourage the fighters of Islamic organisations to think they had won, which may prod them towards "new feats" in Iraq and Afghanistan and, possibly, in the North Caucasus.
Quite a few Russians noted the readiness of the US president to dispatch additional troops to Iraq. Many senior citizens recall Vietnam, when the Americans sent more and more reinforcements to Saigon and Danang. But, far from helping turn the tide of war, it only pushed the USA deeper into the Vietnamese mire. Are the Americans going to repeat this mistake in Iraq?
The conclusions that Russians make are grim: The flames of the Middle East war could easily spread to other regional countries or even to other regions. But the immediate task for Russia now, as everyone agrees, is to evacuate its citizens from Iraq. Many think the evacuation will be temporary but nobody can say when the Russians will start returning.