The Russian print media continues to be dominated by articles devoted to the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Several have focused what might happen next, specifically on the possibility that the United States might take action against Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden in his host country of Afghanistan. The Izvestia website pointed out that the Clinton administration’s aerial bombardment of Afghanistan following the terrorist bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 had little effect and predicted that a similar attack now would have the same results. Noting that U.S. media have been actively discussing the possibility that Washington would mount some kind of ground operation in Afghanistan, Izvestia.ru asked: “But how will this be carried out in practice? To repeat the sad experience of the Soviet Union–a large-scale invasion? Out of the question.”
According to Izvestia, one possible workable scenario would be for the Washington to give Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban movement an ultimatum, demanding that it hand over bin Laden in, say, a week, or face a full-scale military assault. The Taliban are still fighting the opposition Northern Alliance for full control of the country, and, unlike bin Laden, they have something to lose. “An American ultimatum will confront the Taliban with a difficult choice,” the website noted. “If the rulers of Kabul give up their ‘guest’ at the first demands of the ‘infidels,’ their reputation in the eyes of Islamic radicals will be hopelessly ruined. If they are stubborn, and maneuver or stall for time, crushing blows will follow, from which the former religious students might not be able to recover. The way out, and not the worst one: In the best traditions of Eastern treachery, bin Laden might be eliminated by the Taliban themselves. The responsibility for something like that can always be put on ‘American agents'” (Izvestia.ru, September 13).
For its part, the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets claimed, without mentioning any sources, that the United States is in fact preparing a ground operation in Afghanistan. While it quoted “a highly-ranked Russian general” as saying he and his colleagues had been ordered not to discuss any aspect of Russian-U.S. military relations, the paper also quoted an unnamed general as saying that Russia would not stand on the sidelines in the event of U.S.-led NATO operation in Afghanistan, “especially because we have huge experience in conducting a war in Afghanistan and it should not be discounted.” At the same time, Boris Gromov, the former commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan who is now governor of Moscow Oblast, reportedly warned that the United States would face a “second Vietnam” if it put introduced ground troops into Afghanistan. The paper concluded that the United States is indeed preparing a ground operation in Afghanistan and that the Russian forces would likely participate in the operation. With Russian forces already fighting in Chechnya, “are we preparing for a second front?” (Moskovsky Komsomolets, September 14).
Nezavisimaya Gazeta featured a long front-page article that examined five possible scenarios for a military operation in Afghanistan: nuclear strikes against terrorist bases in Afghanistan, a large-scale conventional attack with “limited goals,” a commando operation to destroy or capture the leadership of the terrorist organizations, a full-scale invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, or a combination of the other first four scenarios. According to the paper, the nuclear scenario would have the advantage of not only successfully destroying bin Laden and his forces but would provide an “extremely effective deterrent factor.” However, the paper also said that a nuclear strike would, among many other negative factors, be the least acceptable politically, with even America’s closest allies opposing it. At the same time, neither a special operation nor massive conventional aerial bombardment in Afghanistan would be likely to destroy the terrorist infrastructure fully. A full-scale invasion of Afghanistan would, among other things, require the United States to achieve cardinal changes in the policies and interests of neighboring countries and others in the region, including Pakistan and Russia. Pakistan would have to renounce its close ties with the Taliban. Russia would have to make “a very difficult choice with consequences that would be difficult calculate” and would “define the country’s development for many decades, if not hundreds of years.” Given these factors, the paper concluded, the most likely scenario is that United States will conduct an air operation against Afghanistan combined with limited commando operations, leaving future leaders in both the West and Russia to resolve the problem of international terrorism (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 14).
WHITHER THE BELARUSAN DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION?