Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 166

Like a host of other political leaders from around the globe, Russian President Vladimir Putin used harsh language yesterday to condemn the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon building in Washington. In a telegram to President George W. Bush, Putin decried the “barbarous terrorist acts aimed against wholly innocent people” and expressed Russia’s “deepest sympathies to the relatives of the victims of this tragedy, and the entire suffering American people.” On a more practical level, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov offered his ministry’s assistance to the U.S. Defense Department, while Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu reportedly informed Washington of his own readiness to send help in the aftermath of yesterday’s events. Putin, meanwhile, summoned the chiefs of Russia’s various security and military structures for an emergency meeting and ordered that troops subordinated to some of those agencies be put on higher alert.

Like leaders in Europe and elsewhere, Putin also spoke of the need for solidarity in the face of yesterday’s attacks, saying in his message to Bush that “there is no doubt such an inhuman act must not go unpunished. The entire international community should unite in the struggle against terrorism.” The Russian president also suggested that Moscow was particularly sympathetic to the pain felt by the American people because “Russia has also suffered from terrorism.”

Putin’s condolences and declaration of solidarity were undoubtedly appreciated in Washington, but his implied equation of yesterday’s attacks in New York and Washington with Moscow’s own war against Chechen rebels may not ultimately strike quite so positive a chord in the U.S. capital. That is, the Russian president appeared to use yesterday’s U.S. tragedy indirectly to restate his argument that Moscow’s brutal campaign in the Caucasus is a fully appropriate response to Chechen “terrorism,” and that the Russian military operations there should be seen in the context of the West’s more general battle against “international terrorism.” His call for the world community to “unite in the struggle against terrorism” appeared therefore to mark a new effort by Moscow to get international sanction for its war against the Chechen rebels. It seems likely also to have been directed at attempting to mute differences between Moscow and Washington on a host of important international issues by highlighting what could now emerge as a common security goal: the punishment or containment of Afghanistan’s radical Islamic Taliban government. While the United States yesterday had not yet identified a likely culprit in the day’s deadly bombings, the attention of many U.S. experts was focused on Saudi-exile Osama bin Laden and his Afghan government hosts (Reuters, AFP, DPA, Vremya Novostei,, September 11).

Recently improved Russian-U.S. relations could founder on the terrorism issue, however, if in the weeks and months ahead U.S. intelligence sources identify either an Iranian or an Iraqi government link to yesterday’s terrorist attacks. That is because Russia has pushed hard in recent years to rebuild friendly relations with both Tehran and Baghdad, and has appeared over the past year or so to emphasize in particular its intention to improve ties with Iran.