Russia's Dilemma: Power and Strategy after September 11
Introduction The war against terrorism presented the Russian government with a quandary. On the one hand, cooperating in the coalition against terror orchestrated by President Bush offered the potential benefit of concessions on issues that caused difficulties in Russia's relations with the West, and particularly with the United States. On the other hand and in the longer term, the war against terrorism might threaten Russia's domestic stability, affect its standing in the "post-Soviet space" and undermine the relationships it has re-established with traditional Soviet allies. In this feature, Margot Light, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, examines Russia's dilemma. Russian sympathy for Americans after the attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, was immediate and very genuine. Ordinary people left bunches of flowers outside the American Embassy, and the four national television channels took the unprecedented step of replacing their normal programmes and advertisements with non-stop coverage of the situation in the USA. President Putin sent a telegram immediately to express his sympathy. Like many Russians, he believed that Americans now understood what Russia had suffered at the hands of Chechen terrorists.
When the response
to September 11 began to be discussed, senior Russian military leaders,
including Anatoly Kvashnin, the chief of General Staff, and the minister
of Defence, Sergei Ivanov, strongly opposed Russia's direct cooperation
with the United States in the war against terrorism. Nevertheless, Putin,
who had established a good personal relationship with President Bush,
offered to share intelligence with the USA and to open Russian airspace
for humanitarian flights. More significantly, he also promised to increase
the supply of weapons to the Northern Alliance, the Taliban's Afghan
opponents (this was the first public admission that Russia had been
supplying them with arms). He claimed that the Central Asian presidents
had sought Russian support before offering the use of their air fields
to launch the attack on Afghanistan (in fact, the evidence suggests
that he merely acquiesced to a decision he could not prevent).
At first, it
seemed as if Putin's expectations had been justified. Western criticism
of Russia's policy in Chechnya fell silent. And although there was no
shift in relation to Russia's debt, there was some movement on WTO membership.
On the security issues, however, President Putin's hopes for compromise
were disappointed. On December 13 President Bush gave six-month formal
notice that the United States will abrogate the ABM treaty and there
is no sign that the US administration will agree to the kind of strategic
arms limitation agreement that the Russians want. The next round of
NATO expansion will be announced in November 2002 and the Baltic states
will almost certainly be included.
of US forces in Central Asia is likely to cause local resentment in
the long term (as seems to have happened in Saudi Arabia). The consequence
may well be that there will be new recruits to the small opposition
groups (including fundamentalist Islamic movements) that have been attempting
to destabilise the Central Asian governments in the last few years.
Russians have always believed that their southern border is vulnerable
and that there is nothing to prevent unrest in Central Asia from spreading
The London School of Economics and Political Science.