It would be good if the Boston attacks were to lead to serious cooperation. It is possible this will happen. I hope it will. It would also be good if Americans came to understand that almost everybody in Chechnya’s leadership today fought against Moscow in the first war. A fact that shatters the conventional view.
But we have seen this movie before.
Moscow warned the West about the common enemy it was fighting at the Munich Security Conference in 2001, no reaction. Putin told Bush the USA was on the target list, no reaction. Taliban sought an anti-American alliance with Moscow and was stoutly rejected. After 911 Putin used Moscow’s considerable influence with the Northern Alliance to establish cooperation and, it was the Northern Alliance, using weapons provided by Moscow, which actually overthrew Taliban – admittedly with considerable US support. Without Moscow’s influence the swift overthrow of Taliban would have been much harder, if not impossible. The two then tackled another problem: for years Moscow had been saying that jihadists had infiltrated the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia and for years Washington accepted Tbilisi’s claims that this was just another lie. But Moscow was telling the truth; a joint operation drove the jihadists out of Pankisi.
This was Washington’s opportunity to learn that Russia has the two essential requirements to make it an ally: a common enemy and experience and knowledge to bring to the alliance.
But, if learned, this was forgotten as Washington reverted to its instinctive anti-Russian position. Jihadists in Chechnya were called “rebels” as if it was just a revolt against Russian heavy-handedness; Russian elections were excoriated; the “human rights” weapon was deployed; “colour revolutions”, missile defence and NATO expansion continued; Russian concerns were contemptuously ignored or re-branded as “threats” (as in Russia threatens to react to missile defence). American animosity to Russia seems impenetrable to reality.
The “Rose Revolution” was especially hallucinatory: Bush was completely taken in by Saakashvili. (Medvedev tells us the first thing Bush ever said to him was: “You know, Misha Saakashvili is a great guy.” During the South Ossetia war Bush said: “It was clear the Russians couldn’t stand a democratic Georgia with a pro-Western president”. Pretty foolish sounding these days as the new government in Tbilisi reveals the reality of Saakashvili’s regime.) The jihadist centre in Pankisi, Tbilisi’s lies and Moscow’s truth, were forgotten and further chances for cooperation against the common enemy were lost as Washington believed everything Saakashvili told it. The US training program for Georgia’s armed forces – begun when Moscow’s allegations about Pankisi were confirmed – transformed into encouragement for Saakashvili’s military ambitions.
So here we are again: Boston has shown that the North Caucasus is a theatre of the world-wide jihad: after all, the Tsarnaevs may have hated Russia but they actually attacked the USA. Jihadists driven by the familiar ideology from ibn Taymiyya, through al-Wahhab, through Qutb, to Khattab and bin Laden; their Chechen connection is as incidental as the “underwear bomber’s” Nigerian origin or the “beltway sniper’s” American origin. Again Russia’s warnings were dropped; again Putin offers cooperation.
Will this opportunity for improving mutual security be dribbled away again? Perhaps the climate is better in that NATO expansion is dead and Saakashvili is gone.
But I expect little: the causes of these errors – anti-Russia bias and political correctness – are too deeply embedded to be overcome yet and we will never know, therefore, what true cooperation could achieve.