- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2001

The September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States have changed the face of U.S.-Russian relations. Russia's position in support of America's war effort demonstrates that U.S.-Russian ties have survived the ups and downs of the 1990s, and have transcended the Cold War, leaving adversity in the past.

A new era of cooperation in the fight against radical Islamist terrorism, which threatens both countries, has begun. Disagreements over NATO enlargement and missile defense must be managed and resolved. The summit in Washington and Crawford, Texas, should focus on solidifying the new relationship with Russia and building towards a future alliance.

There are three reasons why Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to unequivocally support the United States in the war on terrorism. First, he believes that radical Islamist forces, including the Taliban and al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, present a clear and present danger to Russia itself through their support of Chechen separatists and other radical Islamist movements. Radical Muslim groups, such as the Islamic Front of Uzbekistan (IMU), on the State Department terrorism list, threatened Russia's allies in Central Asia.

Just prior to September 11, the Kremlin received the grim news of the murder of Ahmed Shah Massoud, then-military leader of the Northern Alliance. He was killed by bin Laden's assassins on Sept. 9.

Secondly, the Kremlin saw an opportunity to score points in its propaganda campaign against the Chechen separatists. Moscow has repeatedly stated that the radical Islamic wing of the Chechen movement, headed by Shamil Basayev and Hattab, is connected to bin Laden's al Qaeda organization. Indeed, radical Islamic networks in the United States, Great Britain and the Middle East have raised millions of dollars for the jihad in Chechnya. The Taliban was the only regime to recognize Chechnya's independence, and Afghanistan had become a chief supply source for the drug distribution networks that partially financed the war in the Northern Caucasus.

In joining the anti-terrorist coalition, Russia clearly expected Europe and the United States to change their tone on Chechnya and stop criticizing Russia for human rights violations there. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder promised Mr. Putin exactly that during his trip to Germany.

Thirdly, Mr. Putin seized an unprecedented opportunity to effect a breakthrough in Russia's relationship with the West. He believes that eventually the West will emerge victorious and is anxious for Russia to be on the winning side. Mr. Putin weighed the resources of the United States, Europe and Russia arrayed against the terrorists and their supporters and counted on at least the tacit support of China. He concluded correctly that in the long run, bin Laden and his allies are doomed.

Mr. Putin's cultural orientation was an important factor in his decision. Personal acquaintances believe that, hailing from St. Petersburg, the Westernized Russian second capital, and being a self-confessed Germanophile, Mr. Putin prefers a West European orientation for Russia.

His aides and political allies interviewed in Moscow a month ago all agreed that, in the long run, Mr. Putin wants Russia to be the West's security partner and ally. According to Russia's national security doctrine, which was developed under Mr. Putin's supervision from 1999-2001, the main challenge to the country lies in the highly unstable south. And, beyond that, China, with its dynamic economy and growing population of 1.2 billion, is becoming a source of strategic concern despite the two treaties signed earlier this year between Moscow and Beijing.

Finally, Mr. Putin understands that only the West has the capacity to become Russia's principal investor and trading partner, especially as a market for Russia's energy resources. He stated that Russia will become a reliable energy partner for the West regardless of what may happen to Middle Eastern oil supplies.

Russia's strategic realignment with the West may be a long and difficult process, but, if successful, it may distance Russia from China and Iran. More importantly, it may also disengage Russia from its radical Soviet-era Middle Eastern clients such as Iraq, Syria and Libya.

This summit is more important than any U.S.-Russian summit since the historic conferences between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev that led to the end of the Cold War. Two presidents should go beyond the war time cooperation against terrorism, and emphasize strategic cooperation and the post-war integration of Russia into the West. The meeting may also open the way for the United States to develop a national missile defense, providing President Bush with an opportunity to implement Mr. Reagan's dream.

The model for the new relationship should not be the short-lived World War II (1941-1945) alliance joining Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Then, the Soviet Union's communist ideology and Stalin's geopolitical ambitions terminated the alliance with war's end. Instead, a more appropriate model should be the Russian-British cooperation in the war against Napoleon in 1812-1814, which resulted in the creation of the Holy Alliance and the Concert of Europe, a five-power coalition of Great Britain, Russia, France, Prussia and Austria-Hungary. That alliance prevented a world war for a century and resulted in unprecedented prosperity and economic growth in Europe.

The world will be watching to see if the United States and Russia will agree to make it safer for the years and decades to come. At stake is a fundamental change in the geopolitical map of the 21st century, which may put Russia firmly in the Western camp.

Ariel Cohen is a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and author of "Russian Imperialism: Development and Crisis."


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