Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Russia, UBL, and the Crusades??
The cover of Moscow News reported the day after the death of Usama Bin Laden how proud they were that President Obama informed The Russian leadership (I would say President Medvedev, but let's get real...he probably called Putin) of the death of the terrorist before his speech to the American People. The article referenced the famous called made by the then-President Putin to President Bush to express condolonces on 9/11. While these chat lines between world leaders make for feel-good stories, and good line-fillers for poor graduate students writing about international relations and diplomacy, some associated themes including the Eagle and the Bear.
Included in the Moscow Times article and further discussed here was some comparison between UBL's death and the deaths of key terrorist leaders associated with the Caucasus situation. One was Shamil Basaev. Basaev made a name for himself after the First Chechen War seemed to be calming down. After the Chechen rebels lost the region's capital, Grozny, the resistence faded into the mountains with the Russian forces believing that the war was coming to an end. In 1996, however, Basaev led a band of rebels back into the city after collected signifant intelligence on Russian psitions and overwhelmed the Interior Ministry forces. This resulted in a stalemate, with Chechnya maintaining an autonomous status within the Russian borders. He also took credit for the deadly and heartbreaking Beslan School massacre. The Russians hunted Basaev with similar zeal as the US did UBL, finally killing him in Ingushetia. The Russian's similarly targeted de facto President of Chechnya Dzhokar Dudayev using SIGINT and capitalizing with a guided missile.
The Russians have made clear that they believe that, like these Chechen characters, that retribution and justice against UBL was well deserved and well served. They further caution that their problems in the Caucasus did not disspate after these individuals were killed. Though our EComCon colleague points out, expertly, that this may provide an opportunity to use this as an excuse to get out of Afghanistan, our rhetoric should not affect how we focus on the strategic threat posed by Al Qaeda and similar terrorist organizations.
In stark contract to the support quietly put forward by the Russians regarding this fantastic execution of a special raid, former President Putin has been very vocal on his distaste for the ongoing NATO operation in Libya. This is not a surprising siezure by the "future President" as he will take any opportunity he can to stick it to NATO. Some of these tensions come from the ongoing process to induct Georgia into the alliance and the previous efforts to do the same with Ukraine. Early in the implementation of the NATO operation in Libya, Putin controversially likened the military efforts against Qadaffi to another Western Crusade.
If the Obama administration delays for too long before finally releasing the photos of UBL's corpse, I would not be surprised if Putin is the first to make snide remarks about a possible conspiracy by the US. Not to say that their handling of the Basayev operation was all that great. "Basayev's body has been identified through some of the fragments, including his head."
As the Russians have alluded, the US should continue to focus on the Al Qaeda threat, but can consider options that this victory has affored. As for Russia...hopefully we will stop enabling their fantasy that they are a strong state and adjust our policies accordingly. See my previously posting colleague.