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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Russians find new empathy with US
Flowers left at US embassy in Moscow
The US embassy in Moscow is a focal point for grief
By Robert Parsons in Moscow

At the foot of the walls of the US embassy in Moscow, mounds of flowers glow in the sunlight.

A week has passed since this country watched in horror as the images of terror poured in from Washington and New York, but Muscovites are still laying their bouquets of sympathy.

And laying them by the very walls where two years ago I watched them burn American flags and hurl missiles and abuse.

Anti-America protest at Moscow embassy
The embassy saw protests after Nato strikes against Serbia
It has been a remarkable turn around, but not entirely inexplicable.

One difference now is that Russia is also grieving for its dead.

The Russian embassy in Washington says that more that 100 of its nationals are still missing following the attacks on the World Trade Center.

And it may also be that Russians empathise with the Americans because of their own recent experience of terror.

When explosives ripped apart two housing blocks in September 1999, 300 Muscovites died.

But it is not unqualified support - old resentments still linger.

Harsh judgement

More than 20% of Russians believe the US brought tragedy upon itself through its bombardments of Yugoslavia and Iraq.

In Moscow the figure is even higher - 35% say the Americans got what they deserved.

It is a harsh judgement which is not, it seems, shared by the ever pragmatic President Vladimir Putin.

Emotion does not enter into it. He senses an opportunity to promote the national interest.

Bush and Putin
Vladimir Putin is supporting President George Bush's coalition
From the outset Mr Putin has offered sympathy and assistance in finding the perpetrators of the attacks.

But he has also reminded Washington that he has been calling for an international struggle against terrorism for more than a year.

The Kremlin believes it may at last have a more responsive audience for its argument that the war in Chechnya is part of the same struggle against international terrorism.

It has long been telling anyone who is prepared to listen that the Chechen rebels are directly linked to Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden.

But Mr Putin won't want to highlight the more unpalatable fact that Russia's own abuse of human rights in Chechnya has spawned part of the problem.

The BBC's Robert Parsons
reports on Russia's disastrous ten year war in Afghanistan
See also:

17 Sep 01 | Europe
US says Russia rules nothing out
11 Jul 01 | Media reports
Russian media mull Chechnya abuses
23 Apr 01 | Europe
Analysis: Chechnya's endless war
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