Speculation has been rife over just what Russian leader Vladimir Putin whispered in US President George W. Bush’s ear in their late-night talk in Moscow on May 24. Only top cabinet ministers, such as US secretary of state Colin Powell, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Russian defense chief Sergei Ivanov may have the answer, together with US and Russian intelligence chiefs.
World leaders, especially the Europeans and the Chinese, have been pressing their intelligence agencies to dig hard for any scrap of information available on this conversation as clues to the direction of the next global geostrategic developments. Despite the general assumption that the two leaders reached no tangible decisions, they want to find out how far Putin and Bush see eye to eye so as not to be caught napping again. Europe and China were totally ignorant of the secret personal alliance the two leaders formed shortly after the 9/11 suicide attacks on America – as first revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly. It took them two months to discover that the first Bush-Putin entente made Moscow Washington’s premier partner in the global battle against terrorism, the war in Afghanistan and in the future of Central Asia, placing it at the apex of the foreign influence pyramid in Washington.
Last month, no sooner had Bush and his entourage landed in Moscow, when Putin demanded an immediate private interview with the US president without advisers. Those advisers took it for granted that the Russian president sought to hit back at Bush for his complaints against the military and technological assistance Russia was extending for Iran’s nuclear reactor and ballistic missile program.
In the event, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources reveal here exclusively for the first time, Putin delivered to the US president a hard-hitting lecture on how America ought to – and was not – fighting world terrorism. He also presented his perception of the way the US-Russian strategic alliance should evolve. First, he said bluntly that he had been convinced by the intelligence reports reaching his desk that it was in the best interests of the United States to gradually stop deferring to European and Chinese interests. Both those powers, he said, had chosen self-serving paths irrespective of Washington’s agenda and were resolved to do business with the dominant Islamic powers, the Saudi-Iranian-Iraq-al Qaeda axis.
Putin then dropped his bombshell. According to Russian intelligence European governments, egged on by local financial, banking and political interest groups, are bent on challenging American pre-eminence in the world economy and international markets. To this end, such countries as Belgium, France, the UK and certain business circles in Berlin, had engineered the collapse of the US energy giant Enron in order to get at Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush’s own family. Exploiting their superior economic intelligence facilities, these European groups had blown the whistle on the mammoth company’s weaknesses, its poor management and greedy senior executives, in order to effect its demise as a body blow to the Bush administration.
To substantiate his accusation, the Russian leader handed the US president some extremely revealing documents on the Enron affair. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Moscow and Washington delved for details of how the European Enron conspiracy was managed, but ran into a brick wall.
Five days later, Bush and Putin turned up looking tense at the signing ceremony in Rome of the Russian-NATO accords, effectively economic and military cooperation pacts between Russia and Europe. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources quote participants in the ceremony as noting that while the two leaders appeared comfortable with each other, they were edgy in the company of European colleagues. The sources report that Bush was deeply affected by Putin’s disclosures of European attempts to undermine his administration, especially by the Enron documents. The strong impact Putin’s information had on the US president manifested itself during his appearance in Rome and when he called on French President Jacques Chirac at the Elysee before returning to Washington.
During their one-on-one encounter, Putin went on to criticize the strategy of the US president’s war on terror, claiming it lacked clarity. Saying the global war was directed against terrorism left his antagonists in Beijing and West Europe free to argue that Muslim countries and groups ought not to be targets. Their approach, the Russian leader insisted, was unreal. He pointed squarely to the enemy as being Islam in its radical and fundamental guises. As such, it must be fought to the finish. Europe, he said, was wrongly providing the Islamists and their terrorist branches with financial, political and territorial bases, playing ball with Saudi Arabia, the foremost vehicle of Islamic terrorists.
Admitting that, given the current power structure in the United States, Bush might find his revelation hard to swallow, Putin nevertheless insisted it was important for his American guest to understand that the Saudi kingdom and its intelligence services have secretly taken over as the invisible wire-pullers of the al Qaeda movement. Riyadh, he charged, directly funds al Qaeda’s terrorist activities against America and Russia. Crown Prince Abdullah knows that the key to his hold on power is in the hands of the imams and Saudi intelligence. Both, like the Pakistan intelligence agency, the ISI, are hotbeds of Osama bin Laden’s partisans. As long as the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, the Saudis openly aided the regime in Kabul as a counterweight to Iranian Shiite influence. That aid program served as a front for secretly supporting bin Laden ever since the 1980s. But now, Riyadh’s true role in the world of terror has been laid bare by the involvement of Saudi hijackers in the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington last September, and the mass flight of al Qaeda Afghan veterans to Saudi Arabia. Since then, American business interests in the oil kingdom must find it harder than ever before to turn a blind eye.
To drive his point home, Putin described the role of Saudi intelligence in the al Qaeda hierarchy. The Saudis do not want Iranian or Iraqi fighters in combat roles in al Qaeda’s rank and file because they cannot control them, so they are kept away from action in the upper echelons of the network. This is evidence that Saudi intelligence is in effective command of al Qaeda recruitment with a say in the assignments given the various nationals. It was decided in Riyadh, said Putin, that Arabs would take over the armed religious-separatist revolt against Moscow in Chechnya. They are all Osama bin Laden’s men, funded by Saudi Arabia.
Putin handed Bush, courtesy of Russian intelligence, a list of 100 Saudi societies and charities aiding Islamic terror around the world, including al Qaeda, Hamas, Jihadi Islami and many militant groups. The Saudi Jamayat El-Haramein (Mecca and Medina Society) and Jamayat el-Ighatha Islamiya (Aid Society) and their dozens of branches worldwide were marked down with the names of their branch directors, the sums they donated and the purposes to which the money was put in sponsoring terrorist operations.
The Russian president warned that West Europe was infected with Islamist cells, which potentially menaced the continent as a whole, as well as Russia. West European governments trusted in their ability to ward off the evil by kowtowing to the core governments of the Gulf, especially the Saudis and Iranians. Putin’s advice was for the US to strike at Islamic terror through its Persian Gulf sponsors, thus also hitting back at the European interests heavily invested in the region. It was also vital, he said, to break the stranglehold Muslim oil producers exert on the world oil industry.
In the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence experts, by leveling with Bush, Putin hoped to attain two primary goals:
1. To demonstrate that Moscow was willing to join America in fighting Saddam Hussein – provided Bush campaigned against global terror in earnest.
2. To ascertain that the American strike against Iraq was designed not only, as Bush explained, to remold Middle East frontiers, but also the world energy map. In Moscow’s view, once Iraqi and Saudi oil resources are removed from the grasp of their incumbent rulers, al Qaeda’s financial lifeblood can be shut off.
The Russian ruler was moved by a sense of urgency in view of the Saudi-Muslim plans afoot for his country. He reported that Saudi intelligence has begun financing a large-scale international recruitment program for Muslim volunteers, who are being mustered for an attempt to seize the Lower Volga region of Russia. Vanguard groups are gathering in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Chechnya. The plan is to send those volunteers into southern and central Russia for terrorist attacks against the country’s soft underbelly – primarily the key rail links buttressing the country’s economic and military infrastructure. The terrorists would also target oil and gas pipelines.