- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2001

In the critical and long-overdue campaign against international terrorism, the Bush administration must be careful that it does not sacrifice its long-term security interests for transient and unpredictable cooperation with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Since Sept. 11, the Kremlin has been manipulating Western fears of terrorism in order to achieve three overriding objectives: to dampen calls for NATO enlargement, to give Russia a role in NATO decision-making and to allow Moscow to expand and consolidate its influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus. All three goals are contrary to American and allied interests.
During his recent visit to Berlin, Mr. Putin confirmed his willingness to cooperate with the West in the struggle against “Islamic terrorism.” However, Russia will not engage in military actions against rogue states and their terrorist proxies out of fear of becoming a target and falling out of favor with its allies in Iraq, Iran and Syria. This cooperative new Kremlin has its sights clearly set on gaining political and strategic advantages from America’s eagerness to forge a global coalition against terrorism.
In Mr. Putin’s words, “it is time to stop making a fuss about NATO expansion and create structures together with Russia that facilitate the unification of Europe.” At a time when Washington is preoccupied with Osama bin Laden, the Kremlin has calculated that it can take the steam out of NATO enlargement, enlist European support for its security proposals and exacerbate any latent transatlantic divisions over such issues as missile defense.
The notion of Russian membership in the Atlantic alliance is primarily a means for undercutting NATO’s rationale as an effective military structure that can operate outside the zone of member states. It is also an attempt to weaken the American-European security relationship and to expose the former Soviet satellite states to renewed Russian influence, a prospect that is only welcomed in Belarus.
In the midst of America’s anti-terrorism campaign, the Russian leadership is seeking access to NATO decision-making. It wants to influence U.S. policy from the Balkans to Central Asia. For instance, a NATO withdrawal from the Balkans would assist Moscow in expanding its political and economic influences and help ensure the permanent exclusion from the alliance of states such as Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania.
The Kremlin is also canvassing for an international seal of approval as the primary “peace-keeper” in Central Asia and the Caucasus. This would entail significant leeway in dealing with domestic separatist movements and conducting military operations in neighboring states regardless of the opposition of local governments.
Russia has already been rewarded for its rhetorical commitment to the anti-terrorist campaign. In a clear shift of policy, the White House has stated that the al Qaeda network played a role in inciting rebellion in Chechnya, where Russian forces continue to employ indiscriminate force against civilians and commit numerous human rights abuses. Moscow now believes it has obtained a green light for state terror within Russian borders.
In claiming that Muslim radicalism is a threat to Russia and its Central Asian neighbors, Moscow will camouflage its campaign against independence in Central Asia and the Caucases as a struggle against fundamentalism and terrorism.
Claims of Chechen ties to bin Laden could be widened to include Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and other states that remain opposed to Russian domination. Moscow is calculating that the United States will simply look the other way as Russia increases pressures on its “near abroad.”
The White House will do well to remember that many of the terrorist cells active in the Middle East were aided and abetted by the Soviet regime during the Cold War. Moreover, contacts persist between Russian intelligence services, the global Russian Mafia and terrorist groups linked to bin Laden who are intent on gaining access to weapons of mass destruction.
Washington must therefore be careful to gain accurate information from Russia on the nature of the terrorist threat. It must be wary of disinformation designed by the Kremlin to gain allied support in the campaign against legitimate political forces struggling with Moscow’s attempts at reimperialization.
Indeed, America’s international war on terrorism could become a valuable opportunity to secure more reliable partners in countries such as Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan that are resistant to both Russian pressures and radical Islamicist threats and are eager for a more significant American presence.
Moreover, Washington should remain adamant that the case for NATO enlargement will only be strengthened by the support and performance of candidate countries in the unfolding “new war.” The struggle against terrorism must provide leverage for enhancing U.S. strategic interests not opportunities for rivals posing as partners to undermine them.

Janusz Bugajski is the director of East European studies a the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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