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16 October 2001
Analysis: Gauging Russian support
By the BBC's James Rodgers

Perhaps the most important role that Russia has played so far in the "war on terrorism" is simply giving its support.

US President George W Bush telephoned his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, about half an hour before the strikes first began. That call underlined the importance which the United States evidently places on keeping Moscow informed of its plans.

Washington's closest ally in the conflict, Britain, has reinforced that with a series of high-profile visits to the Russian capital.

The British Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, said during a visit that the international response to the terrorist attacks on the United States had caused some "unusual alliances" to be formed.

"I think it has been generally agreed that this has been a remarkable response right across all sorts of political divides to get an agreement to root out this global terrorism," he told the BBC.

Russia plays a vital role in that. Mr Prescott described President Putin as a "friend and ally".

But what sort of support can, or will, Russia provide?

Strong rhetoric

Moscow's words so far have been strong. The night the attacks began, the foreign ministry issued a statement describing Afghanistan under the Taleban as an "international centre of terrorism and extremism".

At a Kremlin meeting the next day, Mr Putin described the United States' action as "an appropriate response". The attacks on New York and Washington, had, he said, "been monstrous in their cruelty".

Russia has joined in the humanitarian aid effort. Officials from the Russian embassy in neighbouring Tajikistan are quoted as saying that they are liaising with Afghan officials to identify the people most in need of help.

Moscow has also offered to share intelligence, and open its airspace for humanitarian missions.

Military participation has been ruled out. That position was restated on Monday by Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov. He was quoted as saying that the limits of Russia's co-operation were well-defined.

"Its parameters were clearly stated by Vladimir Putin - we will render assistance to the anti-terrorist coalition but we will not directly participate in combat actions," he said.

Bitter memories

The Soviet Union fought a lengthy campaign in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Their eventual withdrawal was a humiliation for a superpower in its final years.

Despite that, Russia has had no choice but to keep a close eye on the region.

Moscow maintains military bases on the Tajik-Afghan border, knowing that instability in Afghanistan could spill over into former Soviet republics, and perhaps even into the Russian Federation itself.

"From one side, the word Afghanistan hurts," said Colonel Oleg Kulakov, himself a veteran of the Soviet Army's Afghan war.

"From the other side, we have to deal with Afghanistan and with those problems."

Russia's historical and current links with Afghanistan will ensure it remains involved as the campaign continues.

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