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Russia: Has Cooperation With The U.S. War On Terrorism Paid Off?

Russia was one of the first countries to offer strong support to the United States in its war on terrorism. Russian President Vladimir Putin accepted the presence of U.S. bases in the Central Asian republics, began sharing Russian intelligence with the U.S., and appeared to soften on the question of Baltic membership in NATO. But one year later, some Russian analysts and politicians say that Moscow's cooperation with Washington has not paid off and that the U.S. has not given sufficient political and economic support to its new ally.

Prague, 13 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- After last year's terrorist attacks on the United States, Russia gave strong support to the U.S.-led war on terrorism. But a year later, some Russian politicians and analysts are saying their country has received almost nothing in return.

They say Russia has surrendered its traditional dominance in Central Asia, where U.S. soldiers are now stationed. They criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin's soft stance on the Baltic countries' NATO entry bid and say that despite the creation of the Russia-NATO Council that Moscow still does not have the power to influence major alliance decisions. Such critics also point to the fact that Russia still has yet to join the World Trade Organization, putting it behind countries like Moldova and Kyrgyzstan.

Some observers insist that joining the U.S. in the war on terrorism is good for the security of the Russian state and may bring more benefits in the future. But analyst Aleksandr Anisimov said Russia has seen only a few benefits since offering its cooperation to the U.S., and that for ordinary Russians, life has not changed for either the better or worse. He said U.S. investment has not substantively increased in Russia and that the U.S. had done little to help address Russia's dire social problems.

Anisimov said the only true benefits to come of Russia's cooperation with the U.S. are political ones, and that President Vladimir Putin and his ruling elite are the only ones to reap the rewards. Putin has gained more support in the West; his military campaign in Chechnya is not criticized as harshly as before. His cooperation has also improved business prospects with the West but may, at the same time, be damaging Russia's traditional business ties in Arab countries.

"If you speak about the groups of oligarchs who seek good relations with the Arab states and are involved in deals that [Iraqi President Saddam] Hussein is making under the approval of the UN Security Council, [the new cooperation with the U.S. is not useful]. It is also not useful for the groups that are dealing with Iran. These groups, of course, think that Russia stands to lose a lot if it continues its policy of rapprochement with the West," Anisimov said.

Andrei Piontkovskii heads the Moscow-based Strategic Research Center think tank. He takes a more optimistic view, saying that, although some anti-Americanism persists among some members of the political elite, Russia scored a diplomatic victory in becoming an ally of the U.S. "Thanks to the situation and to the fact it has allied itself with the United States in its operations in Afghanistan, Russia has eliminated its own most dangerous security threat [to the south]," Piontkovskii said. "Before the events of 11 September [2001], Moscow itself was seriously debating whether to bomb the Taliban. After anti-Taliban commander [Ahmad Shah] Massoud was assassinated, it became absolutely clear the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance would be crushed. Islamic radicals may have moved into the Ferghana Valley [in Central Asia] by the following spring, which would have been a political and military catastrophe for Russia."

Marius Vahl, a political analyst for the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels also said Russia has gained a lot for supporting the U.S. in its war against terrorism. He said that before 11 September 2001, the Bush administration was not inclined to treat Russia as an important potential ally. Now, Vahl said, Russia's close post-11 September ties with the U.S. have allowed it to pursue ties with "axis-of-evil" countries Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Vahl said the U.S. would not be so flexible on Russia's choice of foreign friends if it was not such a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led war.

Even more notable, Vahl said, is the fact that criticism of Russia's war in Chechnya -- a "very big topic" in the West before 11 September -- has "disappeared." The creation of the Russia-NATO Council is also an important development that may have major benefits in the future, Vahl said.

Regarding Russia's failure to join the World Trade Organization, Vahl said Moscow is coming close to achieving this long-term goal, and that 11 September is in large part the reason. "On the political level, Russia's application is regarded much more favorable now than if Russia had chosen a completely different course after 11 September," Vahl said.

Some Russian newspaper commentators complain that the U.S. administration is pursuing its own foreign-policy interests unilaterally and appears to have little regard for the opinion of its allies.

But Anisimov said this is not exactly the case. He said Russians should not blame the U.S. for changes in the global geopolitical situation. He said the problem is not that the U.S. is getting stronger, but that Russia is getting weaker. "The root of the problem is not in the United States but in the weakening of the Russian Federation. The former Soviet republics have practically no desire to develop economic and political relations with Russia," Anisimov said.

Anisimov predicts the trend may eventually lead to the breakup of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose union formed in the place of the former Soviet Union.