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Analysis: The Geopolitical Paradigm Shifts


WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Leaders have to recognize a tectonic plate shift -- a change of paradigm -- when it happens. And one happened on Sept. 11, when terrorist mass murder was committed, apparently by radical Islamic terrorists, in New York and Washington. The anti-jihad war of the 21st century was forced upon the United States just like the anti-Nazi crusade was forced on America by Tokyo and Berlin in December 1941.

Russia reacted with great emotion to the carnage in America. President Vladimir Putin is leading an effort to put Russia squarely in the anti-terrorist camp. Putin talked to President Bush twice on the phone and has reportedly ordered all intelligence information on ties between bin Laden and the Taliban to be passed on the United States.

Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov declared that Russia and NATO are prepared to act jointly with the United States against international terrorism. However, Ivanov clarified that Russia will not participate in retaliatory attacks, especially as long as it is not clear against whom they will be directed.

To take care of the home front, Putin met with Justice Minister Yuri Chaika and Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov to discuss beefing up anti-terrorism measures. Dozens of civilians have been killed in explosions of car bombs throughout the cities of Southern Russia.

Over 300 men, women and children died in explosions in Moscow and other Russian cities during 1999. The Russian government blames Chechen militants for those attacks, while the Chechens have denied responsibility.

According to Boston University researcher Lyuba Schwartzman, who monitors Russian TV, the flag on the Russian White House was lowered to half-staff. At noon on Wednesday, a moment of silence was observed at Putin's Cabinet meeting and around the country.

By that hour, the lawn of the U.S. embassy in Moscow had been covered with flowers placed there by sympathetic Russians. Among those who came to pay their respects were the same Muscovites who protested America's bombings of Belgrade - on Wednesday, they came to mourn the victims. Muscovites, like the Israelis, have come to hospitals donate blood for the victims. This is an unprecedented expression of solidarity.

Thousands of e-mail messages and phone calls expressing condolences crossed the Atlantic. And it is personal: there are almost a million Russian-speakers in this country, many of them in the New York area.

But the leaders of Russia have not missed this opportunity to state their case. Russian General Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov met Thursday with a delegation of the European Assembly and discussed "improvements" in Chechnya.

Ustinov said that Moscow has proof that Chechen fighters undergo training in terrorist camps that are run and financed by Osama bin Laden. And the Russian Ministry of Defense suggested that the United States needs no missile defense when the threat is so low-tech.

Russia is also emphasizing the Taliban-Chechen connection. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan is one of very few which has formally recognized independence of Chechnya. And as the Chechens have a Diaspora throughout the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, it makes them a perfect conduit for a large-scale drug distribution network. Thus, the Afghan-Chechen connection may have as much to do with spreading the opium poppy in Europe as with spreading religion, Russian security experts believe.

Russian goodwill and sympathy may come in handy as the U.S. response develops. It looks increasingly like the United States is planning to put pressure on the military government of Pakistan, where the United States has had extensive ties since the days of the war in Afghanistan (1979-1989), to punish the Taliban and bin Laden, the prime suspect in the New York and Washington calamity.

However, the Northern Alliance, which is Tajik-dominated, is located in the north of the country, along the Tajik-Afghani border. It is the prime opposition against the predominantly Pushtun Taliban. And it is the logical location to develop a staging area for anti-Taliban forces. Russia already has its 201st Division in the area, which is 11,000 strong, and is guarding the Tajik border.

If the U.S. government does not succeed in Islamabad, or if it wants to open a second front from the North against the fundamentalist regime, Washington will need to deal with the Kremlin, as well as with the governments of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, to ensure their cooperation.

Russia and Uzbekistan, both supporters of the Northern Alliance, have good intelligence networks among the anti-Taliban resistance. However, the leader of Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Masoud, the best military commander of the Afghan war, nicknamed the Lion of Panjsher Valley, was killed from a Sept. 10 attack.

The blow against Masoud may have been connected to these plans. As Dmitri Mitin, a Russian scholar at Duke University, recently remarked, the typical U.S. response to an attack by the Taliban would be to arm and train the existing opposition. However, if the Northern enclave is overrun by Kabul in the near future, there will be no opposition left for the United States to ally with in reprisal.

Some analysts suggest that, if it is established that the Taliban knew or cooperated with bin Laden in the attack against American targets, Washington should develop a pincer strategy against the Taliban, working with Pakistan and the governments of Central Asia.

There, they argue, Russia, India and China, can become U.S. partners in the war against terrorism. They suggest Russia might welcome a U.S. offer to cooperate with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is aimed at stemming radical Islam, as an observer, if not a member.

The paradigm has shifted overnight. There are new gaping tectonic chasms where there were none before. And the possibility that the United States and Russia may cooperate in fighting terrorism offers amid all the carnage and heartbreak the possibility that the United States can "clear the air" in its relations with Russia and perhaps even China, and open a new page for relations between the great powers of the 21st century.

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is a Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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