Russia claims to be the most crucial supporter of America’s war on terrorism. Indeed, Russia has shared significant intelligence and given other types of support to the war. But Russia’s definition of terrorism and its methods to deal with it are very different from western norms. Where the U.S. has launched a massive humanitarian campaign in Afghanistan, Russia’s approach is purely military, as shown by its war in Chechnya. And whereas Russia defines separatism as terrorism, it has long been one of the main champions of separatism in small states in the CIS. Building an enduring and true partnership with Russia under these conditions is problematic.
The antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan enjoys unprecedented international support. President Putin actively backed the U.S. efforts to destroy the Taliban regime which was regarded by Moscow as one of the sources feeding the Chechen rebellion. Though Afghanistan did considerable damage to U.S.-Soviet relations in the 1980s, the U.S. and Russia joined forces 20 years later for the first time after WWII. However, after the Taliban were removed and the new Afghan government established, the U.S.-Russian team spirit has gradually faded. Today the partnership which raised many hopes for the future looks increasingly vulnerable.
The arrival of U.S. special troops to Georgia has been on the headlines of international media for over a week, announcing the expansion of the anti-terrorism war to the Pankisi Gorge, where Al Qaeda and Chechen fighters are said to be hiding. While both Georgia and the U.S. insist that it is a part of a regular program, the decision follows the U.S. deployment of troops to Central Asia, for which Georgia remains a gateway. After almost a decade of serious engagement with Georgia and millions of dollars in financial aid, is the U.S. concluding the process of military expansion to the former Soviet Empire?
The recent reaction of the Russian government to President Bush's State of the Union address in which he refereed to Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil" and implied a military action against them was, among other issues, an indicative of the state of relations between Russia and Iran. It also indicated Russia’s concern about the United States long-term objectives its neighborhood. By describing the threat as a sign of American expansionism, Russia demonstrated its feelings about the long-term American military presence in Central Asia and Afghanistan, a concern also shared by Iran.
Though Iran claims to support the war on terrorism, a closer look at Tehran’s policies in the past six months show a trend to increased use of coercive diplomacy and support for terrorist groups. This trend predates September 11th, but has not been affected by Iran’s self-proclaimed participation in the war on terrorism. Iran has adopted an aggressive posture in the Caspian, has extended support for Palestinian terrorists, and has played a less than positive role in the Afghan settlement. In a precarious internal situation, Iran remains a risk factor in regional politics.
Kyrgyzstan recently agreed to grant the United States access to an airbase near Bishkek in order to facilitate anti-terrorist operations. The agreement follows the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s declaration several months ago to establish an anti-terrorist center in Bishkek that would have hosted a joint Sino-Russian military force. The Bishkek base agreement is only one of a number that Washington has reached with Central Asian governments. The U.S. insists that it does not seek long-term facilities in Central Asia, but its military cooperation with countries in the region effectively blocks the consolidation of the Sino-Russian condominium over Central Asia that was well under way until September 2001.
Vladimir Putin’s proposal for a Eurasian Gas Alliance, unveiled at meetings with the presidents of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan last week, serves to underscore the continuing strength of Russia’s hand in the Caspian gas sector. Moreover, it could signal the broader direction of future gas pipeline development in Central Eurasia and may even presage imminent resolution of the long-running dispute over the legal status of the Caspian Sea. The critical element in Moscow’s calculations is the eroding authority and effectiveness of their chief market rival’s ruler, Turkmenistan’s president-for-life Saparmurad Niyazov.
Competition among strong warlords threatens the success of the interim government in Afghanistan and poses a major problem for delivery of relief and reconstruction assistance there. Neither the interim government nor the international peacekeeping force is likely to have the strength to deal with the most powerful warlords. In offering individual warlords incentives to cooperate, the interim government and international community will have to consider what kind of profit, power and prestige are available to the warlord in if he does not cooperate. While the warlords will have to be accommodated in the short term, in the longer term it will be important that they not be strengthened and, if possible, sidelined.
Russian President Putin's ambition to form an equal partnership with NATO and the US stands in stark contrast to its behavior in its southern borders. Its behavior in relation to Georgia is an example that Moscow's imperial ambitions are not part of the past. Consistent use of economic warfare and recent bombings of Georgian territory show Russia's interest in preventing Georgia from slipping from Russian control. There is reason to doubt that a partnership between Russia and the West could function unless Russia starts abiding by the standards of conduct of its European counterparts.
Many observers have hailed Russian Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky's announcement that Turkey has requested an extradition file for Chechen propagandist Movladi Udugov as signifying both a serious blow to the Chechen resistance and a watershed in Turkish-Russian relations. This assessment grossly overestimates Turkish support for the Chechen cause - and conversely the Chechens' dependence on it - as well as the salience of Chechnya in dealings between Ankara and Moscow. If made, the request will have no fundamental impact either on the course of the war in Chechnya or on Turkish-Russian relations.