US president Barak Obama's offer to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev of condolences and cooperation in bringing to justice the culprits behind the Moscow attacks was followed smartly by a positive Russian response. The exchange occurred on Monday, March 29, just hours after two female suicide bombers killed 39 Russian commuters at two crowded subway stations.
Addressing the G8 foreign ministers meeting in the Canadian town of Gatineau, Quebec, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cited new possibilities for cooperation between the United States and Russia in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including possibly the dispatch of Russian special forces to fight alongside American and NATO units.
Global Islamic terror has many intersecting lines, as Lavrov pointed out: The Islamic terrorists from the troubled [North Caucasus] region could have helped organize the attacks," he said adding: "We know that many terrorist attacks – not only in Afghanistan, but in other countries too – are plotted in that area… Sometimes, the trail leads to the Caucasus."
It was the first time Moscow had linked Islamic terror based in the North Caucasus to the war in Afghanistan and to other lands and it was not the only intersecting line he had in mind to warrant a crack in the wall of non-cooperation.
Al Qaeda's massive intervention in the North Caucasian insurgency, starting in Chechnya more than a decade ago is a matter of historical record. Today, fresh al Qaeda forces from their strongholds in Yemen and the Sahil region of the African Sahara are making a beeline for southern Russia to reinforce the Islamic organizations led by the Caucasian Emirate.
Moscow wants recognition of its North Caucasus campaign
But while Moscow is eager to throw in its lot with the global war on terror, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Moscow report the Russians want the West to change its attitude toward their war on terror before committing their military and intelligence resources to the US-led counter-terror effort.
The Russians insist they are fighting the Islamist extremists behind the uprisings rippling through the North Caucasus regions of Chechnya, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus. They bitterly resent Western sermonizing, which blames Moscow's heavy-handed suppression of ethnic separatist movements resisting "military occupation" for the rise of the Islamic terrorist drive for theocratic rule in the Caucasus.
If the Americans do not change this tune, the Russians will continue to fight their battles alone.
The Kremlin appeared cheered, however, by the US offering of joint action against the terrorists who bombed Moscow Metro just four days after Presidents Obama and Medvedev concluded a deal to reduce by one-third the warheads mounted on their intercontinental missiles or bombers to 1,550 on each side.
Moscow saw another positive sign in the decisions in New York and Washington D.C to elevate the terror alert level in their public transport systems after the attacks on the Moscow subway.
It was the first time major US cities had responded directly to terrorist strikes in Russia.
The Moscow attack drank from the same extremist well as 9/11
That said, the Kremlin expects Washington to accept Moscow's position that an Islamic hand was behind this week's suicide bombings in Moscow and other such attacks like, for example, the November 28, 2009 attack on the upscale Nevsky Express train en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg – in both of which 78 people died. Moscow wants its battle against Islamic terror respected as such on a par with the 9/11 attack on America, following which the US and NATO went to war in Afghanistan, and the bombings in Europe like the 2004 and 2005 terrorist strikes in Madrid and London.
If the Obama administration chooses to pick up the gauntlet which Lavrov laid down in Canada Monday, Moscow will reciprocate by pooling its military and intelligence resources with the US-led military effort in Afghanistan and other terrorist bastions.
But faced with a one-way street, the Russians will turn aside and settle for their present limited contribution of a transit corridor through its air space for necessary supplies to US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.