Reactions to September 11 in the Post-Soviet States

Article excerpt

ALL the post-Soviet states condemned the acts of terror against the US last September and expressed their sympathy for the suffering American people. All of them, also, demonstrated their general understanding of the consequent anti-terrorist campaign. This article concentrates on their immediate reactions rather than on what happened in succeeding months.

The reaction of Russia's political elite indicated the country's real political priorities. The answer to the question 'Who is Mr Putin?' that had been frequently asked by the Western press, was rather convincing. On 11 September Vladimir Putin promptly telephoned George W. Bush and expressed his personal condolence. Later that day, speaking on TV, Putin described the barbarous acts as 'a challenge to the civilised world' and called on the international community to 'combine efforts in combating terrorism'.

Similar words of condemnation could be heard from the Minister of Defence, Sergey Ivanov, and the Prime Minister, Anatoly Kasyanov. The Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, spoke in the same way, although keeping a relatively restrained tone. Yet, at the same time, the speeches by the Russian high officials implied a noticeable reproach of the Western governments for 'ignoring Russia's previous terrorism warnings'. The most pronounced such warnings were made by President Putin during his visit to the US in September 1999, in August 2000 when he held a joint press conference with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and in the course of his meeting with the Indian parliamentarians in the following month. Putin's main target had been the Chechen rebels who he accused of maintaining contacts with international terrorists. He also denounced the Chechens who had exploded bombs in houses in Moscow, Buinaksk and Volgodonsk.

In this conjunction, it should be mentioned that long before the Bush Administration coined the phrase 'the axis of evil', Russian politicians had been pointing to the existence of the so-called 'international terrorism bulge' stretching 'from Indonesia to the Caucasus'. For his part, the notorious Osama bin Laden, to whose roles must be added that of a sponsor of the Chechen guerrillas, had been demonised by the Russian mass media to the same extent as by the Western media after September 2001.

It is no wonder then that after Bin Laden was labelled as the chief suspect behind the September attacks, certain political circles in Russia hoped that the West would now shut its eyes to the possible military brutalities of the Russian soldiers in Chechnya. Quite logically, those most interested in that outcome were the leaders of the Russian Armed Forces and Secret Services. Typical was the opinion expressed by the Director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Nikolay Patrushev. On 18 September Mr Patrushev stated that, according to the available operative information, back in 1996 the leaders of the Chechen militants had discussed the feasibility of launching an air strike against the Kremlin. Patrushev said he did not rule out the possibility of the terrorists' launching the same strikes against Russia and Europe in the near future.

A moral counterbalance to the rigid stand of the Russian military was the position of Russia's liberal politicians. Thus after the UN Security Council adopted the resolution on combating terrorism, Russian State Duma member Sergey Yushenkov, representing the right of centre Right Forces Union, said that Russia, unlike the US, had been acting in Chechnya 'out of the legal framework'.

Meanwhile, the Chechen rebels themselves seriously spoilt their image on the tragic date of 11 September. According to several Russian news agencies, following the first reports of the air strikes on New York, the militants opened a lengthy automatic fire that looked very similar to a festive salute from a covert Chechen base.

Despite the emotional assessment of terrorism and Islamic radicalism made by President Putin, the Russian authorities behaved very cautiously when it came to 'revenge on the terrorists'. …