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Russia: after decades of animosity, America and Russia may be recast as partners and allies. (International).

ON THAT SWEET AND BALMY SEPTEMBER NIGHT TWO YEARS ago when everything changed, Alyona Morozova, then 23, was watching a soccer game on TV with her new boyfriend, Sergei. They lived in separate apartments in a huge south Moscow housing complex--a hulking concrete box 18 stories tall. It was exactly two seconds before midnight when Sergei walked out of the room to have a smoke.

The bomb exploded at that moment. Alyona remembers only the groan of twisting steel and the crash of collapsing floors, the chaos of flying glass and furniture.

Above the screams of the injured and dying, sirens finally blared. A searchlight spiked through the dust and spotted her. "The fireman said, `Don't look back,'" she recalls. "I knew something was wrong. So I turned my head, and I saw in the building a huge hole. And I knew that in the middle was where my apartment and my mother were supposed to be."

Ninety-four people--including Sergei and Alyona's mother--died in the bombing of 17 Guryanova Street in the final seconds of September 8, 1999. Five days later, 120 more perished in a second apartment blast. In all, terrorist bombings claimed more than 300 Russian lives that autumn.

Americans barely noticed.

Russia, after all, was no longer the Soviet Union, the military colossus and America's nemesis during 45 years of Cold War. An empire that once sprawled from the Pacific Ocean to the Italian border had disintegrated with Communism's collapse in 1991, liberating one third of Europe and 14 Soviet republics from dictatorship--and easing the threat of nuclear war. Physically, Russia remained the world's largest nation. But in other respects, Russia in 1999 had shriveled into a corrupt, destitute ghost of a superpower--its economy no larger than North Carolina's, its once-mighty army reduced to foraging for mushrooms, its people desperately poor.

The Moscow apartment bombings seemed irrelevant until another September day, almost exactly two years later, when a series of carefully coordinated terrorist attacks changed everything for Americans. Suddenly, it seems Russia has more in common with the United States--and is far more important globally. In the new war on international terror, the United States has canvassed the world for allies--and found a willing and potent one in Moscow.

Like the U.S., Russia views terrorism as an issue of national survival. Authorities there are convinced that the 1999 apartment bombings were the work of Islamic extremists who have played a growing role in a long festering nationalist rebellion in Chechnya, a mostly Muslim province on Russia's southwest border. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin says the extremists are predominantly outsiders, from Islamic fundamentalist sects in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. And he argues that their goal is to split Chechnya and other Muslim provinces away from Russia, and draw many of the nation's 13 million Muslim citizens into a new, extremist-controlled state between the Black and Caspian seas.


For years, the U.S. viewed Chechnya primarily as a human-rights problem, involving brutality by Chechnya's guerrillas and Russian troops alike. But in the wake of September's attacks, the U.S. is taking Putin's claims more seriously.

"It's the first time we've both had what might be called a transcendent common enemy," says Robert Legvold, a Columbia University historian and Russia scholar, about the terrorist threat. "It's created the possibility for real changes."

In this budding alliance, each nation has something the other needs. Russia is too weak to wage a solo anti-terror campaign. But it has a wealth of spying resources and political clout; it has the experience of fighting a 10-year war in Afghanistan; and surrounding nations, such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, are former Soviet republics that remain close allies. Russia also has close ties to nations like Iran and China that hold America at arm's length, but could provide crucial support in a global anti-terror struggle.

For its part, the U.S. has little military experience in Central Asia, and barely a decade of diplomatic relations with the ex-Soviet nations there. What it can offer is the military and technological might to wage a new kind of war against a shadowy enemy.

These complementary interests have begun to sweep aside the animosities that have clouded Russian-American relations since the Cold War ended. Consider: Before September 11, Putin and President George W. Bush were disagreeing on practically every major issue. Bush insisted on junking the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, a cornerstone of nuclear arms control, to build an American missile shield; Putin said the move would trigger a new nuclear arms race. Bush endorsed expanding the NATO military alliance to Russia's border; Putin said that would put U.S.-Russian relations into a deep freeze. Putin even committed Russia to a strategic alliance with China, clearly trying to counterbalance an America that seemed intent on single-handedly running the planet.

Now fast-forward to late October. Meeting in Shanghai, Bush and Putin said a missile treaty compromise was in the works. In Germany, Putin hinted that Russia might drop its opposition to enlarging NATO, and the White House hinted in return that Russia might eventually join NATO itself. Putin even overrode his own military's protests last month and asked the leaders of several former Soviet republics--in Russia's Central Asian backyard--to allow American troops and planes onto their soil for the anti-terror campaign.


The warming in relations comes at a crucial time for Russia, which has begun under Putin's strong hand to build a new economy, a new social system and a new nation that looks far less chaotic than the Russia of 1999. The historic question is whether this nation will resemble the Russia of the last thousand years--inward-looking, xenophobic, anxious to buffer its borders with captured nations--or whether it will join the family of Western-style democracies. Many experts believe Putin, realizing Russia no longer has the money or power to go it alone in an increasingly dangerous world, has seized on the terrorism crisis to push the Western option.

"Russia is basically turning toward Europe," says Dmitri Trenin, an expert on Russian strategic policy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Moscow Center. "It's a decision that is just as important ... as the British realization after World War II that they were no longer an imperial power, and that they had to ally themselves with others. I think Russia is now going down the same path."

But it is unclear where that path will lead. Putin may be pushing Russia westward, but not all Russians want to go there. Russia's military and espionage establishments have largely kept a Cold War mindset, and anti-Western Communists and ultranationalists make up a significant minority of Russia's Parliament.

The Russian people, meanwhile, have mixed, and often contradictory, views about America. In today's Russia, American music, consumer goods, movies--and the English language--have a substantial and growing presence. Yet some Russians feel betrayed to a certain degree by the West. With the fall of Communism, many hoped capitalism would bring instant security and prosperity. When the road to a market economy turned out to be potholed with economic collapse, crime, and social disorder, they accused the U.S. of duping Russia--and even plotting its demise. American military actions in Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan are widely seen as evidence of Washington's desire to become the globe's dictator.

While 48 percent of Russians interviewed in an opinion poll said they felt sympathy for the U.S. following the September 11 attacks, 50 percent said that the attacks "served them right." And nearly one third said Americans were striking back merely to show the world who is master.

Roman Videnen, a 25-year-old military engineer, says he was surprised that America hadn't suffered a terrorist attack earlier. Still, he supports joint U.S.-Russian military action against terrorism: "radical measures, measures taken quickly, tough measures, because it's difficult for one state to act alone."


Alyona Morozova, who moved to Milwaukee after the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings, hopes the U.S. and Russia will draw on common tragedies to work toward a common goal. "I think this will bring us closer together. I think we will work together," she says. "I know what these people [in the U.S.] are feeling."

Though Russian and American experts alike hope she is right, few are willing to bet on it yet. "In the short term, tactically, the Taliban and [Osama] bin Laden are our common enemies," says Sergei Rogov, director of the U.S.A. and Canada Studies Institute, a Moscow think tank that studies U.S.-Russian relations. But beyond the short term, he's not so sure.

The real issue, many say, is whether deeds can repair the decades of suspicion and resentment that the Cold War etched into the Russian mind, and which a decade of Russian democracy has done little to erase.

"Some things that were unthinkable just six months ago are thinkable now," says a senior American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We've created, finally, a zone of trust between the senior officials of both governments. The challenge, over time, is to deepen that zone, and expand it to other issues."

lesson plan 3 * INTERNATIONAL * pages 15-17


FOCUS: U.S. and Russia Become Allies in the Fight Against Terrorism


To help students understand how a shared experience with terrorism is bringing Russia and the U.S., long bitter enemies, together to fight a common foe.

Discussion Questions:

* Can you think of one or two ways in which Russia and the U.S. could cooperate in the fight against international terrorism?

* Do you agree that terrorism is an issue of national survival?

* Should the U.S. overlook instances of human rights abuses committed by Russia in its breakaway province of Chechnya?


Critical Thinking: One way to pique students' interest in the new Russia-U.S. anti-terrorism alliance is to note the 50 percent of Russians polled who said the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon "served them right."

Beyond this, there is also a split among Russians, between those like President Vladimir Putin who favor a turn toward the West and those, like Communists in the government, who oppose it. How should these facts influence U.S. policy makers as they pursue cooperation with Russia in the fight against terrorism?

The article mentions the Cold War mindset of Russia's anti-Western Communists. Explain that "mindset" means a fixed, unchanging state of mind. Ask students whether Americans have an anti-Russian mindset. What do students know about this longtime U.S. adversary? Do they have a positive or negative view of Russia?

Debate: Break the class into two groups. Have one group defend statement 1 and the other defend statement 2:

(1) Russia is clearly a country that has mixed feelings about the U.S. The U.S. should be very wary about cooperating with this longtime adversary.

(2) Russia has expertise the U.S. needs in the terrorism fight. It is time to solve our common problem. Cooperation now could lead to cooperation on other issues.

Web Watch: For a wealth of economic and social data on Russia, see cia/publications/factbook/geos/rs.html. For news about human rights abuses in Chechnya, see www.humanrightswatch .org/campaigns/russia/chechnya/. MICHAEL WINES is a correspondent for The New York Times in Moscow.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:war against terrorism
Author:Wines, Michael
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Nov 26, 2001
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