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Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 22:08 GMT 23:08 UK
President Putin's promises to Washington
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Mr Putin's offer may have a price tag
By the BBC's Russian affairs analyst Stephen Dalziel

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has given the United States a clear idea of what it can expect, both from his own country in the struggle against terrorism, and from Russia's former Soviet Central Asian neighbours.

Russian troops will not be following in the footsteps of their Soviet predecessors and fighting in Afghanistan.

But the US-led coalition will be able to use Russian air space for ferrying humanitarian aid to Afghanistan should it attack the country.

Mr Putin's televised declaration also seemed to suggest that Russia will be allowed to deal with the situation in Chechnya without criticism from Washington.

Mixed signals

Mr Putin's statement came after two weeks of sometimes contradictory comments from Moscow.

A fighter from the opposition Northern Alliance
Moscow will help the Afghan opposition
Last week, the Chief of the General Staff, General Anatoly Kvashnin, stated categorically that Russia would offer no military help to the US, just hours before the Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, announced that Russia would give the US any help deemed necessary.

This seems to reflect a debate among the military, who were determined that Russia would not be drawn into any scenario which might resemble the - ultimately humiliating - Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, from 1979 to 1989.

Mr Putin's solution - which has publicly had the total support of politicians of all shades of opinion - seems to be worded to satisfy the army, too.

Moscow has promised military help, by way of arms and technological supplies, to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, the main opposition group to the Taleban.

Again, this will not cause problems for the army, as Russian troops are not being deployed.

Valuable guarantee

The Americans probably did not expect great military support from Russia, given the Soviet Army's record in Afghanistan and the current huge problems faced by the Russian armed forces.

But the US seems to have a far more valuable guarantee: that Moscow will share its intelligence with Washington, on areas such as, in Mr Putin's words, "international terrorist infrastructure, whereabouts and training bases".

A Russian tank rolls through a Chechen village
Moscow may be expecting a free hand in Chechnya

Of great military and political significance is that Mr Putin has given the green light to the former Soviet Central Asian states to offer the Americans the use of their air bases in any campaign.

The military benefit to the US will be enormous. But the political significance is that this underlines just how dependent these states are on Moscow, almost 10 years after the collapse of the USSR.

So what is in it for the Kremlin?

Give and take

Certainly Mr Putin is keen to underline that the Cold War conflict between Russia and the West is a thing of the past.

He is very keen that Russia is seen to be on the same side as the West.

At the same time, Moscow has certain interests which it hopes it can use the current situation to improve.

Mr Putin did not mention anything in his address about the American plan to build a national missile defence shield; nor did he bring up the subject of the possibility of Nato expanding up to Russia's border by incorporating the ex-Soviet Baltic States.

But Moscow remains vehemently opposed to both ideas, and it is likely that the Russian President will seek to continue discussions about them, and has not given up all hope of having them stopped.

But for now, Mr Putin seems to have been granted the chance to try to sort out the problem of Chechnya without outside interference or criticism.

In his speech he made an offer to Chechens to hand in their weapons within 72 hours, and thus distance themselves from those he labels "terrorists".

No-one expects this to lead to a mass surrender in the next three days.

But it does appear to suggest a tacit recognition by the US that Chechnya is Moscow's problem, and Moscow will be allowed to sort it out as it sees fit.

And that, in itself, is seen in Moscow as a big step forward.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Stephen Dalziel
"Russia seems to have a long term aim"
Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute
discusses what Mr Putin will be hoping to gain in return for his support for President Bush.
See also:

25 Sep 01 | Europe
A significant step for Russia
19 Sep 01 | Europe
Russians find new empathy with US
17 Sep 01 | Europe
US says Russia rules nothing out
23 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan opposition 'gaining ground'
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
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