The Soviet Union is seeking to sift through the debris of U.S. weapons and equipment that landed in Iraq, according to a senior American intelligence officer.
Hoping for an intelligence bonanza, the Soviets want to learn as much as they can about the Americans' highly touted, high-tech weaponry that won the war - if the Iraqis give them access to its remnants, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.Soviet intelligence officers usually are so eager to obtain such weaponry debris that they "are willing to pay for it," the official said.
Tens of thousands of tons of bombs and missiles, as well as a handful of shattered allied aircraft, rained down on Iraq during the six-week conflict.
"The Soviets have great hopes of getting back into Iraq," the officer said. "They want those bits and pieces that fell all over the country. . . . They're saying to the Iraqis `Don't touch it! Save it for us!' "
The Soviets, once active sponsors of President Saddam Hussein and a major arms supplier, backed the U.N.-sponsored alliance's effort to reverse the occupation of Kuwait.
Even so, the Kremlin tried to mediate a cease-fire in the days before the ground war but failed.
Since the allied victory in the gulf, the Soviets have moved to be part of the postwar settlement in the region. And while the White House has welcomed the move, it has also stopped short of offering Moscow a major role.
Although warmer relations with Moscow helped bolster the coalition against Iraq, the Soviets sought advantages from the war as well, the official said.
Throughout the war, the Soviets "were gathering intelligence. . . . Their efforts were to gather as much intelligence as they could," the official said.
However, no Soviet intelligence-gathering flights over Iraq were conducted during the war, he said.
"It wasn't healthy," he said. Primarily, their efforts were directed on "just keeping track of what was happening in the war," he said, but also against allied war-fighting capabilities.
Some U.S. armaments - such as the Tomahawk cruise missile - had never been fired in combat and saw widespread use in the war.
A total of 284 of the missiles, which have 1,000 pound warheads and cost $1.3 million each, were aimed from Navy warships and submarines during the war.
Pentagon officials say America's most secret aircraft, the F-117A Stealth fighter-bomber, emerged from the conflict without a loss.
But other top-of-the-line aircraft, such as F-15 Eagles, F-16 Falcons and F-A-18 Hornets, were downed in combat, and the Soviets would be eager to obtain any information about their capabilities and the munitions they carry, the official said.
The officer said he couldn't confirm reports that Soviets had advised the Iraqi military during the war against the coalition forces.
"There were Russians in Iraq, but not as advisers," the official said.