Window of Opportunity: Russia's Role in the Coalition against Terror. (Intelligence)

Article excerpt

Since the dramatic events of September 11 and Russian President Vladimir Putin's declaration of support for the United States in its efforts to defeat international terrorism, the meaning and implications of Putin's bold move as well as its impact on the future of US-Russian relations have been hotly debated. Some Russian observers feel that the anti-terrorist coalition has no strategic value and has been formed exclusively as a working body to tackle a specific task. They argue that such a decision to cooperate with the United States needs the approval of the Duma and the main political forces in the country. Hence, Putin's decision appears to them to be a tactical move to exploit the political situation for his own benefit.

Others believe that the attack against the United States has created a unique window of opportunity for the Russian leader. This latter point of view has found a sympathetic response in the United States. The Nation magazine contributors Stephen Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel have asserted that Putin "became the Bush administration's most valuable ally in the war against terrorism." However, they noted that although "Russia's contribution to the US counter-terror operation in Afghanistan exceeded that of all of America's NATO allies together ... The promise of a historic US-Russian partnership is being squandered by President Bush's polices."

It is inevitable that there will be a public controversy over the anti-terrorist coalition's ability to transform into a fundamental, long-term union based on mutual trust and common goals. Can the coalition survive the turbulent currents of international politics, overcome the lingering Cold War mentality on both sides, and evolve into a true partnership? An overview of the alliances of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in past decades may help answer some of these questions. This essay will focus on one crucial aspect of the issue: cooperation in matters of intelligence and security.

To better appreciate the principal stand of the Soviet leadership on these problems, it is helpful to recall the words of Joseph Stalin in December 1952: "at all times, adjust to the world situation ... Our main enemy is America. But the principal effort should not be on America proper. Illegal residences should be created first of all in neighboring states." These words summarize the experience of Soviet intelligence and subversive activities of the two previous decades: the NKVD's (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) assistance to Spain and China in the 1930s, the Grand Alliance with the United States and Britain during World War II, and Soviet state security's crucial role in the creation of the Soviet bloc after the war when Eastern European security services were set up in the image of the KGB (Committee for State Security) and overseen by Soviet advisers.

Aiding Friends

The first contacts of Soviet security organs with similar foreign entities go back to the 1930s when the NKVD--an early predecessor of the KGB--fearing Japanese incursions into the Soviet Far East, helped create and strengthen security establishments in Outer Mongolia and Tuva, two Asiatic countries bordering the USSR. Tuva was later incorporated into the USSR while Mongolia remained a communist outpost in the region, claiming formal independence.

During the Spanish Civil War, the Soviet government, although represented on the "nonintervention committee" at the beginning of the conflict in 1936, sent a considerable amount of aid to the Spanish Republicans. Soviet intelligence regularly provided the Republican government with information on the secret plans of Nazi Germany and Italy against the new regime. It helped in the clandestine transfer of hundreds of "volunteers" and tons of arms to Spain from neighboring counties, and, after the Republicans' defeat, aided in the evacuation of the military and political cadre to the USSR. …