September 7, 2004


Russia forced to rethink US ties (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 9/07/04, Asia Times)

Already coined as Russia's September 11 by various Russian pundits and editorials, the tragic slaughter of hundreds of innocent people in a middle school in Beslan has the potential to trigger a major tremor in the foreign policy charted by President Vladimir Putin, perhaps even as far as heralding a new chapter in US-Russia relations, much to the chagrin of the so-called Eurasianists around Putin who have for a long time been advising him to steer clear of the US's "war on terrorism".

In his first post-Beslan interview, Putin, in a tone reminiscent of President George W Bush's post-September 11 behavior, has declared Russia to be in a "war" with enemies that his defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, has branded as "unseen" and "borderless". Cognitively then, the mass killings in Russia, including the victims of downed Russian airplanes and Moscow subway commuters, have seemingly spurred a politico-ideological turn around vis-a-vis the US, viewed with suspicion by the Kremlin for exploiting the September 11 tragedies for geopolitical gains at Russia's doorsteps in Central Asia and elsewhere in the Middle East, prompting Russian policy-makers to rethink their cynical gaze at the US war on global terrorism, eg, the same Ivanov has been on record for making paranoid statements about a post September 11 "dense ring of military and intelligence gathering installations belonging to the US". In the light of the severity of the Chechen-led terrorist attacks, reportedly with participation by members of al-Qaeda, Ivanov and other like-minded people around Putin are likely more apt to make similar statements about the threat of Islamist terrorism.

Does this mean that we are about to witness a foreign policy "re-orientation" in Russia featuring Moscow's new willingness to join Washington's war on global terrorism and to make the foreign policy adjustments deemed necessary for such an alliance? While we must await the passage of time to furnish the answer, the current milieu in Russia, wrought with a governmental crisis in combating terrorism, is clearly pregnant with such a possibility.

While the petulant Right raged against Russia, Turkey and others in the Axis of Good who were less than helpful in the Iraq War, the President just bided his time, knowing they had nowhere else to turn in the long run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 7, 2004 9:29 AM

Although it's certainly possible that the President and/or his advisors had such an insight, (and I hope that they did), it's also possible that they merely saw that they weren't going to get any cooperation from Russia and Turkey in the present, but weren't willing to write off the future, and so just hoped for the best.

If, as you've argued in the past, Chechnya is as good as gone, and al Qaeda and other Muslim Utopianists have no ability to, or hope of, overthrowing any modern industrial nation, why should Russia undertake any massive, effective, and vastly expensive action, when a show of force would placate the public ?

If I'm not mistaken, you've also written that the US' "war on terror" isn't, strictly speaking, necessary, so why should Russia sign up ?

(IF that is your position, I disagree. The terrorists can reach America in ways that, for instance, the Japanese in '41 never could. Not taking the fight to them would result in a death of ten thousand papercuts).

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 7, 2004 10:01 AM


Posted by: oj at September 7, 2004 10:08 AM

France has to be and had to be punished because its foreign policy appears to be little more than a childish instant knee-jerk opposition to the US. Such immature behavior from a once-great nation needed to be greeted by a spanking at least.

Schroeder is on the express train to oblivion as is his party. The CDU-CSU understands the reason for German-American traditional amity.

Putin couldn't impede our efforts in a serious way. He has his own issues to deal with on the homefront. He is a nationalist, but most emphatically not a racist kook. He doesn't know from economics but he isn't stupid and is aware of what doesn't work. He is trying neo-liberalism but is trying to avoid the crony capitalism which poisoned his nation under Yeltsin. He still has a bloc of Communists who wrap themselves in the anti-America, anti-Jewish, pseudo-nationalist mantle, but in the last election, squashed them into irrelevance, co-opting them on the issues that mattered. Finally, he has a percentage of apparatchiks who aren't really loyal Russians, some are Europeanizers to use a 19th century phrase others are Eurasianists or the Russian version of the Arabist filth in our State Department.

When the Russian Army, the Original Big Red Machine, comes to town they don't play by Marquis of Queensbury rules. References to 'rules of engagement' and 'just war' doctrine are greeted with scowls, laughter and derision when made to a Russian officer. OJ has made reference to Russian destruction in Chechnya. If Putin takes the gloves off, in the immortal words of Al Jolson,'You ain't seen nothin' yet.' In any alliance in the WOT with Russia, Bush should keep that in mind and modulate his public statements accordingly.

Posted by: Bart at September 7, 2004 10:28 AM


Russia has already done their worst in Chechnya - the next steps lie elsewhere. Killing even 50,000 more Chechens isn't going to make any difference with what happened in Baslan.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 7, 2004 11:10 AM


Their worst?

Stalin killed 20 million Ukrainians. He all but exterminated the Crimean Tatars. 50,000 Chechens? The Russians would just be getting warmed up.

Posted by: Bart at September 7, 2004 11:36 AM

The real question is whether Russia will stop supporting Iran and helping them out with nuclear technology.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at September 7, 2004 1:14 PM


That depends on how serious Putin is about confronting the Euroasianists and the Communists in the apparat. Iran vs. Russia already exists in the Central Asian former SSRs. Iran's cachet in the Kremlin is that they hate America, as do the old Commies, the Euroasianists and the Europeanizers. However, the last election was a huge nationalist victory, and the attack on the school can be seen as the price of taking advice from the Euroasianists. The parallels with 9/11 are pretty obvious to sentient person and that along with advancing age should take the wind out of the sails of any old Bolshie still left. The Europeanizers are like 2% of the vote, and against the grain of Russian national aspirations. Nobody has trusted them since Dostoyevsky.

Posted by: Bart at September 7, 2004 2:21 PM


If Putin wanted to be Stalin, he could kill every Chechen. But that is very unlikely. Putin is discovering that being a 'modern' President brings a lot of limitations. Plus, his military isn't up to the job.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 7, 2004 5:36 PM

About Bush "biding his time"....wouldn't this be an example of the "countries have no permanent friends/enemies, just permanent interests"? And perhaps now, having the mission determine the coalition? Viewed dispassionately, there was no real reason for Bush to rage against Russia after 9-11. But now they (perhaps) now have a common interest to join our coalition.

Posted by: ray at September 7, 2004 9:44 PM