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Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Attacks aftermath: Russia repositions
Russian police outside US embassy in Moscow
Russian church leaders prayed for the plane attack victims
As the world comes to terms with the attacks on the United States, Russia finds itself in a unique position to understand what the US is going through - and to reposition itself diplomatically, reports the BBC's Sarah Nelson in Moscow.

Russians have known random terrorist violence - this month they mark the second anniversary of bombings in Moscow and elsewhere, attacks which brought panic and fear.

Putin's TV address
President Putin condemned the attacks in his TV address
Then President Putin blamed Islamic fundamentalists operating out of Chechnya. This week, when he addressed the nation on TV in the wake of the attacks on the US, he said simply that Russia understood.

For the Kremlin, the events in America have provided an opportunity to set the rest of the world straight.

President Putin sent troops into Chechnya after the bombings two years ago, citing the international terrorist threat. But the military operation has been routinely criticised by the West.

Calls from Moscow for the international community to tackle the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists in Chechnya and beyond have gone unheeded.

Now it appears there is a quid pro quo - greater understanding of President Putin's policy in the region in return for Russian support and intelligence.

Threat from the south

And Russia has much to share.

The authorities have been aware of Osama bin Laden for years. He fought against the disastrous Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and he is also widely thought to have been responsible for supporting and financing the Chechen rebels in the current conflict.

Volgodonsk explosion
The apartment block blasts put Russian public opinion behind a new Chechen war
And, though this has never been officially confirmed, Russia is believed to have been backing the main opposition to the Taleban, the Northern Alliance.

Chechnya is not seen as an isolated problem, but symptomatic of a much greater threat to Russian security: "the threat to the south" as its referred to by security officials, who see different Islamic fundamentalist groups destabilising countries like Uzbekistan along Russia's southern border.

Kremlin strengthened

Moscow's hope too is that the attacks in America will make Washington rethink its plans for a national missile defence system.

Russian flags at half-mast
Flags flew at half-mast as far away as Russia's Pacific port of Vladivostok
Russia strongly opposes any changes to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and has already made clear that it believes NMD would pave the way for a new arms war.

So far Washington has resisted - insisting that there is a threat from rogue states.

The argument from the Kremlin that missile defence is the wrong way to deal with challenges to security after this week will be far more powerful.

So how far would Russia go in supporting any American military action?

Certainly the events of the last few days have brought the two countries much closer together.

President Putin and President Bush have spoken several times, and the Kremlin appears to be in a strong position to influence US thinking.

Russians do not see Osama bin Laden or the Taleban as the only threats to their security - but if Afghanistan is the target, it would certainly fit in with Russian foreign policy.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Russian Foreign Ministry adviser, Yevgeny Bazhanov
"We are ready to fight him, as much as possible"
Sergei Yastrzhambsky, Senior Aide to Pres. Putin
"These people represent a constant threat to many countries"
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