Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 173

Deliberations between Russia and the United States centered on Russia’s possible role in a U.S.-led antiterrorist coalition continued in both Washington and Moscow this week. But the talks appeared to produce more rhetoric than substance and gave little indication of whether the two countries are any closer to an agreement that would move them beyond the sharing of intelligence–which reportedly is going on actively–toward more broad-based and concrete forms of joint action. That, at least, appeared to be the case based on the public pronouncements that followed Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov’s meetings in the U.S. capital on Wednesday with both U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and, later, with President George W. Bush. In Moscow, meanwhile, another top Bush administration official, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, held talks on Wednesday with a team of senior Russian officials led by First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov. The two sides issued joint statements after the talks indicating a general agreement to increase Russian-U.S. cooperation in countering “threats coming from the Taliban in Afghanistan.” But few specifics were revealed and officials provided little elaboration on the day’s proceedings.

Russia’s foreign minister did make several public statements during his stay in Washington that were to the Bush administration’s liking. For one, he offered clear rhetorical support for the U.S. struggle against the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, saying: “The evil will be punished. All Russia is with you.” He also indicated what appeared to be Moscow’s approval of military action by the United States, telling a Washington audience that “in combating international terrorism, no means can be excluded, including the use of force.” He then spoke of the end of the Cold War and said that the time had “come to take a new, decisive step and start building a strategic relationship.”

But on one of the key points presumably under discussion during Ivanov’s visit to Washington–whether Moscow would bless possible U.S. military cooperation with the three former Soviet republics that border Afghanistan–news reports were less than clear. Several news agencies quoted an unidentified “senior State Department official” as saying that Ivanov had indicated Moscow would not object to U.S. efforts to seek cooperation from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The same official was also quoted as saying that the Russians “did not link or express any reservation about the kind of cooperation that we might want to have with Central Asian states against terrorism.” Indeed, one report went so far as to quote the senior U.S. official as saying that Foreign Minister Ivanov had gone so far as to specify that his views reflected those of President Vladimir Putin. The statement was interpreted as a rebuttal of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov’s recent assertion that he did not see “any basis for even the hypothetical possibility” of a NATO military presence in Central Asia” (see the Monitor, September 18).

But Ivanov appeared to contradict the U.S. official. A Russian Itar-Tass report, for example, quoted Ivanov as saying that the American side had not even “raised” a question about military assistance on the part of the Russian Federation, or the possible use of Russian bases in Central Asia. Indeed, Ivanov was quoted in the same report as saying that the question of Russian military cooperation in the U.S. antiterrorism campaign more generally had also not been discussed, nor had there been any talk of a possible return of Russian troops to Afghanistan. An Interfax report, meanwhile, quoted Ivanov as saying that the “question which had not been raised” involved the use by American troops only of Russian bases in Tajikistan. Whatever the precise nature of this week’s discussions in Washington, it would be a surprise if Foreign Minister Ivanov had in any way rebuffed the views of his namesake in the Russian Defense Ministry post. Sergei Ivanov (no relation), appointed to the top defense post earlier this year, is one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest advisors and his views presumably reflect those of the Kremlin. Meanwhile, Anatol Lieven, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, suggested this week that any Russian acceptance either of U.S. overflights into Afghanistan or the basing of American troops in Central Asia would come only at a price. “The Russians would expect some kind of joint control over cooperation that they’re very unlikely to get, and all sorts of concessions in other areas,” he said. There was no immediate comment from Russian officials on reports indicating that American warplanes being deployed overseas this week are heading not only to the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, but also to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Aside from what may have been a disagreement over American use of Central Asian bases, Ivanov appeared also to put an accent on other aspects of Russian-U.S. interaction in the antiterrorism campaign that may not be entirely to Washington’s liking. In a speech identifying terrorism as an international problem, Ivanov equated today’s Afghanistan-based terrorism to recent events in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Chechnya. Ivanov’s linkage of Chechnya to Afghanistan-based terrorism was no surprise. Even before the September 11 events Moscow had repeatedly tried to tie the activities of Chechen rebels to Osama bin Laden, and since September 11 Russian officials have attempted to legitimize their war in Chechnya as part of the broader battle against international terrorism. But the mention of the Balkans is interesting because it reprises another long-standing Russian contention, namely, that Islamic forces in that region of the world are also linked to extremist Islamic terrorists and that NATO actions in the region are misguided in part because they fail to account for this fact. In this way, Moscow appears to be seeking to legitimize its policies in the Balkans as well as in the Caucasus by placing them within the context of the new U.S.-led drive against international terrorism.

If these were points of contention–or potential contention–between Russia and the United States during Ivanov’s visit, then it is true that the two sides appeared also to narrow some differences on key issues. Following his talks with Ivanov, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, for example, made what appear to have been some of the more accommodating remarks by a high-ranking American official to date on Russia’s war in the Caucasus. Powell told reporters that the United States “recognize the serious challenge faced by Russia in Chechnya.” And while he again urged Moscow to “find a political solution” in Chechnya and defend the interests of Chechens “in a way that is consistent with human rights and other standards,” he also spoke of Russia’s need to respond to the challenge posed by Chechnya and said that we “will do what we can to help.”

The two countries appeared also to have perhaps made some small progress on strategic arms control issues during Powell’s meeting with Ivanov. The U.S. Secretary of State told reporters that he thought “we are moving in the right direction” in talks devoted to missile defense and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Ivanov reportedly agreed, but while stressing that many issues remain unresolved. “On some of the issues, our positions are coming closer,” he said. “On the other issues, we are continuing active consultations.” What was notable was that the U.S. side did not appear, as it had done during a recent visit to Moscow by U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton (see the Monitor, September 19), both to push aggressively for Russian acceptance of U.S. missile defense plans and to criticize Moscow simultaneously for its failure to control the spread of sensitive military technologies (Reuters, September 19; AP, September 19-20; Itar-Tass, Interfax, DPA, AFP, September 20).