Is Russia Really Our New Best Friend?
Vol: 1 Issue: 28 Sunday, October 28, 2001
In recent weeks — in particularly post-Sept 11, Moscow has come just short of sending the White House flowers and candy. Has Moscow turned over a new leaf? It would be naive to think so. Dubya’s new buddy Vlad is working entirely from a perspective of enlightened self interest. It looks like he’s given away the store in recent months, but all he has really done is tossed a few trinkets.
“America, We Are With You”
Moscow has always been keenly aware of how to work shifting alliances, and alliances in the West have been realigning since 9/11 with breathtaking speed. Putin has wanted good relations with the West, but until now, has been unable to do so without appearing subservient and without having to offer huge concessions. But 9/11 changed that. Putin was the first world leader to call Washington to say, “America, we are with you.”
Russia’s allowing U.S. military forces into its backyard was a gift that costs nothing. Previously, Russia fumed when any power showed interest in Central Asia. But although Moscow could not have prevented Washington from setting up shop in independent-minded Uzbekistan, it could have complicated matters. And Moscow has allowed — even encouraged — the United States to operate out of Tajikistan. The new catchphrase in Russian intelligence is a reference to the U.S. presence in Central Asia: “Better to have the Americans in Uzbekistan that to have [Chechen militant leader] Shamil Basayev in Moscow.”
Russia has offered expertise, antibiotics and vaccines to help the United States counter a growing anthrax scare. Russia inherited the Soviet Union’s deep bioweapons program and traditionally has been hostile to sharing any of the fruits its high-tech military programs with the United States.
Moscow Holding All The Trump Cards
The 9/11 attacks dealt Russia a pat hand, if Putin plays it right. Russia stands to be the outside power that did the least to take advantage of the situation and the most to help. On the other hand, if Moscow balked on the Afghan situation and the US won on its own, Washington’s position globally would be enhanced at Russia’s expense. Now, if we bog down in Afghanistan, Putin stands ready, willing and able to bail us out militarily. And we will be in no position to turn down the Kremlin’s wish list, like NATO membership, full G-7 partnership, preferred IMF backing, and so on.
So far, Moscow’s new policy is already begun to pay dividends, with Putin being the first Russian leader not to look like Washington’s lapdog in the process. The IMF is openly singing Russia’s praises. The World Bank is stepping up loan disbursement. The presidents of Poland and the Czech Republic — two European states most frightened of a resurgent Russia — are musing about the possibility of Russia joining NATO. An extension of most favored nation trading status by Washington and a few words to the WTO to speed Russia’s membership bid are already a foregone conclusion.
For Putin, this is a win-win situation. The best part of it is that, from Russia’s perspective, everything offered so far is completely reversible, whereas any gains, once made, would remain in place short of war.
Across Russia, the standard of living has dropped to half what it was in 1992. Russia is behind the curve technologically, its access to world markets is marginal, its cash flow slowed to a trickle and its deals with Iran, Iraq and Syria are chump change compared to what is possible if the bear can lay down with the eagle and munch grass together. And if it doesn’t work out, it is much easier to eat a full, unsuspecting eagle on the ground than one in the air.
Israel Suspends Withdrawal
Israel suspended a military withdrawal from Bet Jallah because of continued Palestinian attacks. Sharon stopped the pullout amid renewed attacks on Jerusalem. Heavy fighting was also reported in Bethlehem on Saturday amid an Israeli withdrawal from the city. Israeli tanks traded fire with Palestinian forces. Palestinian gunners fired mortars at a Jewish settlement in the southern Gaza Strip. A home in the settlement of Kfar Darom was heavily damaged.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell renewed his demands for a complete Israeli withdrawal, saying “Let’s try not to let this cycle of violence become even more intense than it has been in recent days. It’s a very volatile period and I would like to see this start moving in the other direction.” The only ‘direction’ left would be for Israel to just jump en masse into the Mediterranean.