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Published: Sunday, 9/16/2001 - Updated: 1 year ago

Russia's proclaimed support is suspect

Within hours of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Vladimir Putin was on the phone with President Bush.

The Russian president called the events terrible tragedies and pledged his nation's unwavering commitment to international cooperation in combating terrorism.

Yesterday, Mr. Putin wavered somewhat, saying Russia opposes any indiscriminate retaliation for the attacks and calling instead for careful action based on proof, according to a report by Reuters.

Mr. Putin said Moscow wants a thorough investigation to precede any military action.

Nevertheless, his initial pronouncement of support is questionable.

Experts agree that intelligence gathering is the single most effective tool to prevent terrorist attacks. Cooperation among intelligence agencies, however, can be a double-edged sword if any of the partners has ulterior motives.

To be sure, it's hard to accuse Russia - which is fighting Islamic fundamentalists in Chechnya - of having a hidden agenda.

It's impossible, however, to deny that Russia could compromise shared intelligence.

After all, Russia is notorious for helping rogue states with weapons and scientific research, notably in the nuclear, biological, and chemical spheres.

The Kremlin may not mandate that schoolchildren line the streets along the motorcade routes of visiting dictators to wave flags as it did when this columnist was growing up in Moscow.

But consider this:

w Russia continues to supply Iran with experts and material to develop missiles and is working to equip the Iranians with nuclear warheads.

The issue was raised by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during his meetings with Mr. Putin in Moscow just days before the attacks.

w Scientists in Russia recently developed a type of anthrax that they haven't yet shared with the United States and its allies.

This strain is reportedly capable of overcoming standard vaccines, which obviously wasn't lost on the Bush administration in July when it rejected a draft agreement to enforce an international ban on biological weapons.

I wouldn't trust such a “friend” with my weekend plans, let alone intelligence data on international terrorism.

Moreover, Mr. Putin's offer of cooperation, along with his decree to lower national flags to half-staff Thursday and observe a moment of silence to honor the victims of Tuesday's attacks may be largely a self-serving political gesture.

The observance coincided with the anniversary of an alleged terrorist strike in Russia that killed at least 124 people. A bomb went off in an apartment building in Moscow just days after another apartment building explosion killed 93 people.

The Kremlin used the Moscow apartment bombings, as well as two others in southern Russia, to justify the start of its second war in Chechnya after losing the first one of 1994-96. Many Russian analysts have since insinuated that the blasts were the work of Russian security services.

Characteristically, pro-Kremlin commentators in Russia have been alleging that the same international terrorist groups that have sent fighters to assist Chechen rebels conducted last week's attacks. Some of the commentators have been giddily concluding that the international criticism of Russia's handling of the secessionist Islamic province will ease.

Finally, the official Kremlin reaction to the attacks may differ from that of the unofficial one voiced by analysts known to side with Russian chauvinists in the military and security services.

“Today's events [the Tuesday attacks] demonstrate that the western civilization is in deep crisis ...”says a popular Moscow editor-turned-publisher in an interview by StranaRu, Russia's main pro-Kremlin web site.

“The liberal value system in America appears ephemeral. It's killing itself from within.”

What he's trying to say is that the freedoms that the United States holds so dearly - transparency of borders and easy travel - aren't worth the price.

With this in mind, I hope the U.S. administration acts as deliberately in picking its allies as it does in its eventual response to last week's tragedy.

Mike Sigov, a Russian-born journalist, is a staff writer for The Blade. Email him at msigov@theblade.com.



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