Russian President Vladimir Putin made front pages across the United States earlier this month when he announced that Russian intelligence services received several reports before the Iraq war that Iraq was planning terrorist acts against U.S. targets.
To be sure, Mr. Putin did a big favor to the Bush administration, which is struggling to justify the war.
But why make the announcement now, so late into the occupation?
Consider the timing. The United States is about to transfer the power to the Iraqis and is working on different scenarios of military commitment in that country from there on.
Remember Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter? Well, according to an interview of Mr. Brzezinski that appeared in January, 1998, in Le Nouvel Observateur, a Paris weekly, the CIA's aid to the Afghani Mujahadeen did not begin in 1980 after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in December, 1979, as is commonly believed.
"Indeed, it was July 3, 1979, that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul," Mr. Brzezinski said. "And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention."
The war in Afghanistan helped strip the Soviets of cash and self-esteem and pushed the U.S.S.R. a step closer to disintegration.
Alas, Russians did not draw the right conclusions from their mistake, and then let themselves be dragged into a war in Chechnya - this time by militant separatists - in 1994 and again in 1999.
As a Russian saying would put it, Russia "stepped on the same rake twice."
But finally, Mr. Putin got the point and laid out the rake for the United States to step on. He expects the United States to swallow the bait and keep its troops in Iraq indefinitely, draining the U.S. military and diminishing the U.S. influence in the world.
Just about the time Mr. Putin was doing this "favor" to the U.S. administration, he was participating in a summit of Russia, China, and Central Asian states, convened in the name of "the war on terror" but in fact aimed at countering the growing U.S. influence in the world.
The presidents of China, Russia, and four Central Asian states met to resuscitate an old security alliance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, under the pretext of opening an anti-terrorism center. Many international analysts, however, view the event as an effort by Moscow and Beijing to counter the U.S. military presence in Central Asia and increase their own influence in the oil-rich region.
While Mr. Putin was focusing on international intrigue, the Chechen war was spilling into the bordering Russian republic of Ingushetia, where separatists killed 57 people last week. A Russian paramilitary police regiment was stationed in the province.
But what the Russian president is doing on the international arena has very little to do with fighting terrorism. He is focused on exporting his own problems with extremist Muslim minorities to the United States. It would do Russia good if he focused on fighting terrorism at home and gave up international intrigue against the United States. Otherwise he may find himself stepping on a rake one time too many.