On September 9, 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to as his American counterpart George W. Bush with an pressing message: Ahmad Shah Massoud, chief of the anti-Taliban and Moscow-supported Northern Alliance, had been assassinated in Afghanistan by two suicide bombers posing as journalists. Putin warned Bush of “a foreboding that one thing was about to occur, one thing lengthy in preparation.” Two days later al-Qaida struck the USA.
The interval instantly after 9/11 was on reflection the excessive level in U.S.-Russian relations within the three many years for the reason that Soviet collapse. U.S.-Russian cooperation within the preliminary levels of the Afghan conflict gave the impression to be transformative, and Moscow likened the anti-terror cooperation to the anti-Hitler coalition in World Conflict II. The widespread enemy was Islamic fundamentalism and collectively the 2 nice powers would defeat it. As we speak, as Afghanistan is as soon as once more dominated by the Taliban and U.S.-Russian relations stand at their lowest ebb in many years, it’s instructive to ask why the anti-terror partnership collapsed and what the Taliban’s victory may imply for future relations.
The aftermath of 9/11
Afghanistan was a fancy subject for Washington and Moscow as a result of the U.S. had been instrumental in serving to defeat the Soviets of their Afghan conflict by supporting the mujahideen — thereby serving to to create what in 1994 grew to become the Taliban. However 9/11 occurred one 12 months into Putin’s first time period in workplace, when he was concerned with bettering ties with the West. Putin believed that the street to restoring Russia as a affluent nice energy lay although enhanced financial cooperation with the U.S. and Europe. The terrorist assaults supplied a chance to companion with America and elevate Russia’s worldwide standing.
Moscow was in a singular place to supply recommendation and help given its detailed data of Afghanistan and expertise working with the Northern Alliance. Nonetheless, Putin initially balked on the concept of the U.S. establishing bases in Russia’s “yard” to help its army marketing campaign. Certainly, he unsuccessfully tried to dissuade Central Asian leaders from accepting the bases, then modified course after realizing that he couldn’t forestall their institution, and the U.S. opened two bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Throughout fall 2001, Russia shared intelligence with the U.S., together with knowledge that helped American forces discover their method round Kabul and logistical details about Afghanistan’s topography and caves. U.S. officers agreed that this data had contributed to the preliminary success of Operation Enduring Freedom and the rout of the Taliban. However 20 years in the past, it was already clear that the Kremlin’s definition of who was a terrorist and methods to perceive the “international conflict on terror” differed from that of the U.S. authorities. Because the Russian ambassador to Israel later stated in affirming why Russia doesn’t regard Hamas or Hezbollah as terrorist organizations, Russia defines a terrorist as somebody who “deliberately conducts acts of terror in Russian territory, or towards Russian pursuits overseas.” In 2001, the Kremlin was preoccupied with the terrorist risk from Russia’s restive North Caucasus. In as a lot as there have been Chechens combating with al-Qaida in Afghanistan and there have been al-Qaida operatives within the North Caucasus, Moscow was keen to acknowledge the worldwide nature of the terrorist risk. However it was unwilling to take part in counterterrorism cooperation the place terrorists didn’t straight threaten Russian pursuits.
However, throughout fall 2001 it appeared that the U.S.-Russian relationship had entered a brand new period of cooperation. This was Vladimir Putin’s reset, his try to make use of the terrorist assaults on the U.S. by partnering with America because the cornerstone of his bid to revive Russia to its rightful place as a serious international participant. Putin secured an Oval Workplace assembly with Bush and visited the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. Throughout his speech on the Russian Embassy in Washington in November 2001 he stated, “I’m certain that at the moment, when our ‘future once more meets historical past’ we shall be not solely companions, however we might be mates.”
Misplaced expectations and altering narratives
The issue with the post-9/11 honeymoon was that U.S. and Russian expectations from the brand new partnership have been significantly mismatched. An alliance based mostly on one restricted aim — to defeat the Taliban — started to fray shortly after they have been routed. The Bush administration’s expectations of the partnership have been restricted. In return for Moscow’s help within the conflict on terror, Washington believed that it had enhanced Russian safety by “cleansing up its yard” and lowering the terrorist risk to the nation. The administration was ready to remain silent concerning the ongoing conflict in Chechnya and to work with Russia on the modernization of its financial system and vitality sector and promote its admission to the World Commerce Group.
Putin’s expectations have been significantly extra intensive. He primarily sought what Dmitri Trenin referred to as an “equal partnership of unequals,” hoping that Russia’s assist for the U.S. would return it to the worldwide board of administrators after a humiliating post-Soviet decade of home and worldwide weak spot. The anti-terrorist coalition was the car, however the longer-term aim was to hunt U.S. recognition of Russia as an ideal energy with the suitable to a sphere of affect within the post-Soviet house. Putin additionally sought a U.S. dedication to eschew any additional japanese enlargement of NATO. From Putin’s standpoint, the U.S. failed to satisfy its a part of the post-9/11 discount.
The Kremlin’s narrative concerning the root causes of the deterioration in relations since 9/11 is intensive: Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the invasion of Iraq, Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” and U.S. assist for “coloration revolutions” in Eurasia, and the enlargement of NATO to the Baltic states. In different phrases, the U.S. failed to understand what Russia noticed as its reliable safety pursuits. But all through the 20 years since 9/11, counterterrorism has remained an space the place the international locations have generally cooperated. The U.S. supplied Russia with data which helped thwart home terrorist assaults in 2017 and 2019; Moscow warned Washington concerning the Tsarnaev brothers who detonated bombs on the Boston Marathon in 2013, though that data was not acted on. Joint counterterrorism work stays difficult as a result of each international locations’ intelligence companies are cautious of sharing an excessive amount of data. But historical past reveals its worth, and it may present a attainable avenue for cooperation vis-à-vis a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
U.S-Russian relations in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal
The Kremlin has adopted a dualistic strategy towards the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. On the one hand the Schadenfreude on the U.S. defeat is palpable. The Kremlin and its media shops have crowed over the chaotic scenes at Hamid Karzai Worldwide Airport, declared the U.S. an unreliable companion, and argued that Taliban victory reveals a Western system can’t be imposed on a rustic with such a unique tradition. However, the Russians would have most well-liked that the U.S. keep in Afghanistan with a small army power to fend off terrorists and preserve stability. Russia’s neighborhood will change into extra harmful now. Moscow has been negotiating with the Taliban for some years in anticipation of the U.S. leaving and hosted a delegation in March, however nonetheless designates the group as a terrorist group. The Kremlin is to this point non-committal about whether or not it will acknowledge a Taliban-led authorities, though the Russian ambassador in Kabul has stated that Russia can work with the Taliban.
When Putin met U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva in June, he made clear that Russia would object to any new American army presence in Central Asia. Moscow believes the U.S. overstayed its welcome in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and actively contributed to the U.S. dropping its bases there. It want to use the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan to extend its affect in Central Asian international locations, promising safety towards extremist teams to bind them extra intently to Russia. But Russia itself fears the impression of terrorist teams growing their presence in Afghanistan. Fighters from the North Caucasus and Central Asian migrants based mostly in Russia have joined the Islamic State Khorasan and different teams and will as soon as once more goal Russia and its neighbors. An unstable Taliban-led Afghanistan may pose a direct risk to Russian safety.
U.S. withdrawal implies that Afghanistan will change into a regional somewhat than worldwide subject going ahead. It alerts the top of the U.S. as a serious presence in Central Asia and the fact that Russia and China, together with Pakistan and Iran, are the important thing outdoors gamers. However it’s too early to conclude that Russia is a winner from the U.S. withdrawal. That may rely on what sort of authorities the Taliban is ready to set up and the way concerned Russia is keen to change into in Afghan affairs.
The demise of the publish 9/11 U.S.-Russian partnership reveals that Moscow and Washington have labored collectively greatest after they have a transparent, restricted aim involving related pursuits, be it the defeat of Nazi Germany or the defeat of the Taliban 20 years in the past. As soon as these targets have been achieved with the defeat of the widespread enemy, and within the absence of broader widespread pursuits and values, additional partnership has foundered on basically completely different worldviews and mutual suspicions.