Wednesday, 13 March 2002

IS RUSSIA’S WAR ON TERRORISM THE SAME AS AMERICA’S?

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By Stephen Blank (3/13/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: Russia is an American ally in the war on terrorism, and Russian-American intelligence sharing on Afghanistan actually predates September 11. Indeed, the Russian media has alleged the existence of secret joint plots to assassinate Bin Laden or to invade Afghanistan, which were publicly denied before September, 2001. Since then, several Russian analysts like Sergei Rogov and Alexei Arbatov have asserted that Russia has contributed more than any other U.

BACKGROUND: Russia is an American ally in the war on terrorism, and Russian-American intelligence sharing on Afghanistan actually predates September 11. Indeed, the Russian media has alleged the existence of secret joint plots to assassinate Bin Laden or to invade Afghanistan, which were publicly denied before September, 2001. Since then, several Russian analysts like Sergei Rogov and Alexei Arbatov have asserted that Russia has contributed more than any other U.S. ally to the war on terrorism or that its contribution was particularly decisive. However, the more one looks at Russia’s definition of the war on terrorism, and the conditions it sets for partnership, the more problematic this partnership appears.  The discrepancy between American and Russian concepts of terrorism and of suitable responses to it calls into question the solidity and durability of this partnership. As an ally in the war on terrorism, Russia has shared intelligence with America and collaborated on helping to stabilize a post-Taleban Afghanistan. But Russia’s conditions for partnership in the war on terrorism and its concept of terrorism and activities are increasingly visibly incompatible with Western practice. Russian spokesmen, while supporting the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, place primary emphasis on Chechnya.  As a condition of partnership they demand total support for that effort and reject ‘double standards’, which in their understanding includes any criticism of Russian activity there.  They also tend to equate terrorism with separatism and see both as part of a broadly orchestrated plan from a single center of the terrorist international from Manila to Sarajevo.  Accordingly, official statements such as those by Defense  Minister Sergei Ivanov at the Wehrkunde meeting and the Rome Conference with NATO focus almost exclusively on military extirpation of terrorists.  While officials like Ivanov on rare occasions have acknowledged the need for political and socio-economic solutions to Chechnya, Russia in general focuses on a purely military solution.

IMPLICATIONS: However, Moscow’s concepts diverge broadly from American and Western thinking and operations. Whereas military operations in Chechnya increasingly look like genocide, particularly in the way they target the Chechen male population, the U.S. military is actively investigating allegations of bombing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan.  Likewise, Western statements and activity focus not only on military operations but on attacking terrorism’s broader socio-economic roots.  Furthermore, America has not ceased to criticize Russian activity in Chechnya, and is now upgrading its presence in Georgia in response to Chechens’ presence in the Pankisi gorge in order to forestall unilateral Russian action against Georgia. Russian operations also follow a different tune than rhetoric would suggest.  Firstly, Russia remains the mainstay of separatism in the Caucasus and Moldova, without whose support many of the local secessionist movements would likely have collapsed long ago.  Second, Moscow harbors coup plotters like former Georgian Minister Igor Giorgadze who is allegedly directly implicated, along with FSB members, in assassination plots against Georgian President Eduard Shevarnadze.  U.S. intelligence officials have previously publicly raised charges against Russia for collaborating with those who blew up the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in October, 2000 and with Bin Laden by selling him high-tech encryption equipment delivered to Moscow by Russia’s convicted American spy Robert Hansen. Similarly, the  Western interest in socio-economic reconstruction of war-torn regions is not only beyond Moscow’s capabilities, it appears to be absent from its calculations.  Russian officials regularly steal official funding earmarked for Chechen reconstruction and military operations there are as much a pretext for plunder as they are anything else.  Similarly, abundant evidence indicates the collaboration of Russian intelligence, police, and military organs with some of the most notorious Chechen terrorists. Hence even if Russia wins the war, it will confront a blighted Chechnya and North Caucasus with no means to rebuild the region. 

CONCLUSIONS: These signs of incompatibility between the Western and Russian wars on terrorism suggest that building an enduring and authentic partnership on the basis of collaboration in this war will not be easy and perhaps neither worthwhile nor feasible.  Russia’s war on terrorism, though it does respond to real threats, is too self-serving to be accepted abroad for anything other than an attempt to pursue regional state interests by purely military means since the other means of conflict resolution are absent.  Moreover, the repeated signs of the military acting without regard for legal niceties, treaties, or accountability suggests the depth of Moscow’s failure to democratize its “power structures”, a failure that stimulates internal wars and ostracism abroad.  Russia may say that, like America, it is waging war on terrorism.  But actually it is waging both more than a war on terrorism and unfortunately much less as well.  This is not an adequate basis for partnership nor does abstention from criticism serve either the Russian people or the war on terrorism very well.  This may be a hard truth but peace can only be built on truth and the willingness to speak it.  Pretending otherwise serves neither Russia not America and certainly does not alleviate the suffering of either Chechens or Russians.  

AUTHOR BIO: Professor Stephen Blank, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA 17013. The views expressed here do not represent those of the U.S. Army, Defense Department, or the U.S. Government.

Copyright 2001 The Analyst. All rights reserved

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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