Russia and the Middle East
An Interview with General Anthony Zinni
Washington ProFile News Agency
May 19, 2003
General Zinni is the former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command and served as a special envoy to the Middle East.
What is Russia's peacekeeping role in the Middle East?
Well, Russia is part of the quartet, or quad. In my time over there, for example, the Russian envoy Andrei Vdobin was very helpful, very supportive of our efforts, and the sense of cooperation, the sense of the same objectives and goals were very evident to me.
Is there any tension with Russia over US military bases in Central Asia?
I was the commander-in-chief of Central Command when Central Asia was part of our responsibility for US military-to-military relations with those states, and the purpose of our engagement was to help them with the military reforms they wanted to go through - they wanted to redesign their military to meet their security needs. In many cases, for example, they had motorized rifle divisions, but that's not what they needed - they needed mountain troops, infantry, security forces for the borders. They saw the threat as the drug trade and the extremist trend coming out of Afghanistan and from the South, which actually is the same threat that, I think, eventually makes its way to Russia. Our engagement efforts there were basically designed to help them with the reform, to professionalize their military, help their military understand how to function in democracies, and then on the ground, to construct the kind of military that helped them with the kind of security issues that they had to deal with. And that's what they sought from us. In some cases, in some of the exercises we did like, there was Russian involvement with us, so I didn't see as a confrontation or an area of influence where there was competition. Right now the military presence is designed to support the operations in Afghanistan. I think the conduct of those operations against terrorism, and eventually dealing with the drug trade is both in the United States and Russian interests. I think we're careful to try to keep our military involvement down there in a way that doesn't look like we're trying to get into an area that has traditionally presented a security problem for Russia or one where we're in competition in any way, or working at cross purposes.
I think the same thing for the Caucasus. Both these areas have a chance now to develop the energy resources in the Caspian. I think the market forces will decide where pipelines go and how things turn out. The security for that and the ability of those resources to help the people is what's important. And I think security is going to be part of that, not only physical security, but also the arrangements that are made in the region. It's high competition - the Chinese have a great reliance on energy and want access, and Russia wants the same thing, the US wants the same thing. Even from the South - Iran and Pakistan want to see those pipelines coming down their way for their economic benefit. So I think you're going to have a lot of people involved in this. The more stable we can make the region and reform Iran, the more we can cooperate in this region, the more we can encourage democratic reform in this region, then I think this contributes to overall stability. I wouldn't want this to be a place where we go into competition with each other, and I don't think that will be necessary, because we all have the same motivation and objective.
Describe the Role of Russia within the Quartet.
As I said, the envoy there, Andrei Bidovin, became a very close friend of mine, we shared everything we did together. He and I supported each other in our efforts. I don't think there was one issue where we didn't see the objective and the way to go about it the same way. That relationship, along with the EU and the UN, was very strong and very supportive and to me personally I was very appreciative of Andrei's support, as well as the Russian ambassador, whom I met on a number of occasions In Israel. So I'd say that's definitely one place where our cooperation and our objectives were very much in line.