U.S.-Russia forge new alliance out of terrorist strikes

Sunday, September 30, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The terrorist attacks on America have transformed relations with Russia, thrusting the Cold War rivals into an alliance against terrorism.

The new paradigm became evident on Sept. 11, when President Bush ordered the U.S. military to high alert shortly after the attacks and Moscow did not follow suit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned the White House, as Bush hastily flew away from Washington aboard Air Force One. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice took the call in a bunker beneath the presidential mansion.

"I want you to know that we are not putting our troops on alert," Putin told her. "Not only are we not going on alert, we are standing down."

Rice passed word to Bush, who later remarked that Putin must have taken to heart his oft-repeated statement that the United States and Russia are no longer enemies.

Putin called Bush the next day to express his condolences for the thousands of lives lost. He also pledged Russia's help in defeating terrorism.

Suddenly, nobody is talking about the dispute over Bush's missile shield dreams. U.S. forces are preparing to strike from former Soviet territory. And a longtime source of tension, the rebel uprising in Chechnya, has become a pivot point in the reconfigured U.S.-Russian partnership.

Unprecedented access

In a sign of the closer alliance, a number of high-ranking Americans were in Moscow this weekend: Undersecretary of State John Bolton for talks on the military and diplomatic front, Trade Representative Robert Zoellick on Russia's desire for a better trade status, and a delegation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss military matters.

The United States has gained unprecedented access to three key former Soviet states near Afghanistan, Russia's help to arm resistance to the terrorist-harboring Taliban regime, and valuable intelligence about the region. Russia fought an unsuccessful war in Afghanistan in the 1980, when Putin was a Soviet spymaster.

In return, Putin won an unexpected opportunity to earn respect in the West and a freer hand in Chechnya. Bush linked the rebels to terrorists for the first time, giving tacit approval, perhaps, for Putin to crack down.

Quite a turnabout for two men who warily eyed each other at first.

"There's a convenient meeting of interests here," said Antony Blinken, for seven years a senior member of President Clinton's national security team. He said Putin may be able to slow, if not stop, Bush's missile defense system.

'Alliances of convenience'

"This conflict against terrorism has the potential to forge new alliances of convenience around the globe," Blinken said. "Russia may be the best example."

Indeed, the terrorist strike has turned the global community on its ear.

U.S. officials say they're getting intelligence from Libya and Sudan, two terrorist-harboring states. Pakistan, rife with anti-American sentiment, is a U.S. staging ground. And Japan may loosen its World War II-era restrictions on military action to help the United States.

Two weeks after the attacks on New York and Washington, Putin threw his lot firmly behind the United States in a speech to German's parliament. He said Russia, Europe and the United States must unite in a new struggle.

"In reality we've never learned to live together," Putin said. "Today we must firmly declare: The Cold War is over."

Bush is creating a coalition of strange bedfellows. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Libya, Sudan and many more -- all providing aid to the United States, but helping themselves, too.

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