Russia and America after September 11: Convergent Interests, Divergent Perspectives

Russia and America after September 11: Convergent Interests, Divergent Perspectives

Today, we face a complex and dangerous situation.

Today, we face a complex and dangerous situation. 9/11-type events are multiplying, and we continue to witness ongoing explosions around the world. I concur with the assessment offered by CIA Director George Tenet: Al-Qaeda represents a special type of terrorism, a self-sufficient organization connected with no particular government or regime. Such an organization is very difficult to penetrate and combat.

We share a common interest in combating this threat. Let me offer my opinion as to what needs to be done, or rather, what should not be done, in the process.

First and foremost, it is important not to take any action that could inflame the Muslim masses and cause them to actively support extremist elements. In Russia, we have had a particularly bad experience with this in regard to Chechnya. I am convinced that if we had been able to separate the peaceful population from the guerillas, we would already have peace there.

In Afghanistan, the United States acted with the overwhelming support of all states in the international community. A cooperative effort was mounted to suppress terrorism, to destroy the remnants of Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden's organization. Even Iraq, Iran and Libya supported this effort.

For the war on international terrorism to succeed, it is necessary to do nothing that would upset this unity and erode support for continuing action. It is especially important to prevent any new division of the world along religious or civilizational lines; such a development would be extremely dangerous.

Therefore, it is important for the United States to avoid actions that would cause other countries to throw their lot in with terrorist organizations. The attention of the international community must remain focused on combating this most insidious form of terrorism, and the United States should strive for the union of all states in this common task.

It is therefore my belief that an attack on Iraq is not one of the ways to weaken international terrorism. Let me explain why. 

I have known Saddam Hussein since 1969, and I believe that I know him better than many people in Washington do. It is an understatement to say that he is not the most optimal person to be in charge of Iraq.

In any direct military conflict, it is silly to think that the United States would not prevail. The real question, however, is what will be the price, what will be the consequences, of military action?

During the Gulf War, I was a part of a crisis group convened in Moscow that included the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs. We concluded that it was entirely possible that Saddam Hussein was capable of utilizing spent nuclear fuel as a weapon, to create warheads that would spread radioactive materials. At the present time, however, I don't think that Saddam has this capability any longer. However, I do feel that the cost of an attack on Iraq could be huge.

I don't share the belief that people around Saddam Hussein would move to depose him in the event of war. I know Tariq Aziz and other members of Hussein's inner circle. They are fanatically dedicated to him. Saddam even arrested Tariq Aziz's son, yet Aziz remained loyal to him. In fact, it is reminiscent of Stalin's day, when Stalin would arrest family members of his inner circle, yet they remained loyal--Vyacheslav Molotov being a prime example. Stalin arrested Molotov's wife, and Molotov still remained his faithful subordinate. Furthermore, I don't see any serious opposition, either within Iraq or outside the country, that could replace Saddam--I simply don't see any such people on the horizon.

I know the opinion of the Europeans, I know the sentiments of the Arab world. Arab leaders who privately and quietly oppose Saddam are opposed nonetheless to an attack. They fear that an American attack would lead to an uprising of the Arab street that could overthrow their own regimes and destabilize the entire region.

In my opinion, the goal should be to force Saddam to abide by the will of the international community. I, of course, do not speak in any official capacity, but I think  in coordination with the United States, the foreign ministers of Russia, France and China should be sent to Baghdad to meet with Saddam Hussein, presenting him with a list of specific terms. The trio of ministers should make it absolutely clear that if Saddam is unwilling to implement these conditions, then these three powers--all permanent members of the Security Council--could not be counted upon to block a new United Nations resolution authorizing force.

I do think that the people around Saddam realize that the United States is serious. I think that recent statements by Iraq--its stated willingness to allow for inspections with no conditions, its announcement that it is ready to open any facilities to inspectors--testify to the fact that Iraq is taking this situation very seriously.  I think this is the way out. I know Hussein from the Gulf War. I know that when the critical point in time is reached, he does not stick to his position.

I am pleased by the continuing rapprochement between the United States and Russia. I think that Russian public opinion supports this process. I think that President Vladimir Putin is committed to this new line. Certainly, he took a risk when he acquiesced to the American military deployment in the countries of the former Soviet Union, in Central Asia. Public opinion still does not completely support this development. Yet Putin understood that this was necessary. After Putin spoke to President Bush on September 11, he talked with me, and said that offering support to the United States was not a decision taken on emotional grounds--rather, it represented an approach that had been thought through.

I believe, however, that the ball is now in America's court. Much depends on what the United States will do. I do not envision any massive rifts in the relationship, but it is important to maintain the tempo of relations and overcome any difficulties that may emerge.

It seems to me that many Americans believe that NATO expansion and Russia's relations with Georgia might be two such difficulties. With regard to NATO, I don't see any military need to expand the alliance. In contrast, I have never opposed, and do not now oppose, the expansion of the European Union. In my view, NATO expansion is driven not by security considerations but political motives: the United States, by expanding NATO, hopes to strengthen its position in Europe, fearing that the ongoing development of the EU might weaken its influence. I do think, however, that it remains in European interests and--let me emphasize--also in Russian interests that the United States remain engaged in Europe.

Our relationship with Georgia is complicated. When the second Chechen war began in 1999, I, along with other Russian political leaders like [Moscow mayor] Yuri Luzhkov, suggested that armed forces should stop once they reached the river Terek [which separates the lowlands of Chechnya from the more remote highlands]. We proposed the creation of a liberated zone where the Chechen population could live peacefully. For this to succeed, however, we would have to seal the border to prevent guerillas from infiltrating and obtaining supplies. We secured the internal border of Chechnya within Russia, with Dagestan and the Stavropol region. President Yeltsin called President Eduard Shevardnadze to discuss the possibility of Russian forces being used to seal the border with Georgia. We proposed joint operations along the border, the sharing of intelligence on Chechen militants. At first Shevardnadze agreed, but at the last minute, as the Russian Defense Minister was preparing to leave for Tbilisi, we received a phone call--the deal was off.

As a result, we had to send military forces into the interior of Chechnya to combat the rebel fighters. The guerillas were able to create military strongpoints around civilian sites, creating conditions for the high loss of life, both among Chechens and Russian soldiers.

I do believe that military action needs to continue against Chechen separatists, but I think it needs to be reinforced with negotiations. It is true that Aslan Maskhadov was not able to rein in terrorist and extremist factions in Chechnya prior to the second war, but he cannot be ruled out as a factor in a settlement. It also appears that Georgia, in recent weeks, is preparing to work more closely with Russia--joint patrols and so forth--to secure the border.

So, this issue is not likely to threaten the relationship. In my opinion, President Bush has succeeded in one thing for sure: he has developed excellent personal relations with Putin, and this means a great deal. Of course, there needs to be continued give-and-take in the relationship. Take the question of the ABM Treaty. I do not think American withdrawal from the treaty was the right thing to do. We were also concerned by statements during the presidential campaign and afterwards that the United States would reduce weaponry unilaterally, with no binding obligations. So Russia obviously faced a dilemma. The strategic arms treaty that was signed represents a compromise. Some in our military are not completely happy with it, because it allows for the possibility to reconstitute weapons. However, the United States did commit to a legally binding treaty. So the future of the relationship depends on both sides being willing to move toward each other.