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To groznify – active verb. Maximum firepower concentrated on an elusive target, with severe collateral damage; derived from Grozny, capital of Chechnya until its destruction in 1996-99; colloquial use, as in “we had to destroy the village in order to save it” (Vietnam 1970).

Following President Vlad-imir Putin’s domestic television speech on Monday, and his address to the German Bundestag on Tuesday, it is being suggested that Russia’s foreign and security strategy has undergone a drastic change in the direction of the United States.

This interpretation is mostly to be found in American newspapers whose reporters and editorialists speak of a “huge shift,” “a fundamental break,” and “watershed.” Naturally, if a man speaks for too long about Russia with his eyes tightly closed, the sudden flash of light upon opening his eyes may produce the illusion that it is others who have changed, not himself.

State interests

In reality, what is happening is a combination of a Russian leader saying aloud what has always been in his mind, and the articulation of Russian policy in pursuit of state interests after a decade of betrayal of those interests for corrupt personal reasons. Those interests have been defined in the short run as a combination of reducing the security threats inside Russia and on its borders, fostering profitable commerce, the relief of debt and the stimulation of business growth wherever possible.

When Putin spoke in Berlin of “common threats,” he meant to identify the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and other sources of terrorism in the Islamic world that threaten Europe, China, and everywhere – including New York and Washington. He did not mean to include, let alone agree to target Yasser Arafat in Palestine, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, or Mohammad Khatami in Iran. To be sure, the traditional Soviet support for the Arab confrontation with Israel is now being tempered by Russian pragmatism, but not abandoned, as Russia’s commercial interests increasingly influence the priorities and methods of Russian statecraft.

In this respect, the Kremlin realizes that Arafat is a corrupt and ineffectual figure who today has almost totally lost control of the Palestinian movement to Hamas and Islamic militants with the will to fight and die for their cause. Russian business interests tie the Kremlin much closer to Ariel Sharon, and the electorate of the Russian diaspora that voted him into power. These interests include diamonds, banking, the arms trade and energy. The warmth of Sharon’s recent reception in Moscow – and Putin’s earlier gesture toward Natan Sharansky – indicate the ascendancy of business as usual over the politics of the past.

Putin accepts that he shares with Sharon the common interest of not allowing the Chechen secessionists to take instruction from the same people who teach the Islamic militants to conduct their war in Palestine. At the same time, Putin is not about to allow the Israeli lobby in Washington to target the big Russian interests in the Middle East.

Cold War stereotypes

These interests include the strategic relationship with Iran, investment in the oil sector of Iraq, and the economic rebuilding of Syria and Libya. One of the Cold War stereotypes Washington continues to cling to, and Putin is now trying to shed, is that the Kremlin backs those who want the destruction of the state of Israel.

So, what is emerging in Moscow is a carefully calibrated policy in which Putin is encouraging President George W. Bush to concentrate on doing to the Taliban, and the guerrilla armies they train and shelter, what Putin believes he has been trying to accomplish in Chechnya. This will require a concentration of American firepower aimed at decapitating the military leadership of the Taliban, as well as all their means to threaten their neighbors to the east, west, north, and south.

The Arab contingent in Afghanistan is a target of equal importance, as Russian official claims of the links between the bin Laden Arabs and the Chechen fighters are now confirmed by U.S. intelligence and the formerly anti-Russian U.S. press.

By encouraging the United States to groznify Afghanistan, Putin is aiming to open up opportunities for the Afghan opposition – the internationally recognized government of Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance – to retake power in Kabul. Putin’s promise of “arms and technological supplies” may be the first time the Kremlin has publicly admitted arming the Afghan opposition. But that is less significant than the hardware that is on its way. This includes anti-aircraft artillery and missiles to match or top the equipment the Taliban uses from the United States. In addition, the Kremlin will deliver helicopters to allow the Afghan opposition to speed up their movement into the holes the Americans will blast in the Taliban’s grip on the country. Air superiority over the Taliban and air cover for the Northern Alliance are also to be provided.

Backdoor victory

For the anti-Taliban Afghans to have a real chance of recapturing Afghanistan, the Cold War fighters in Washington have to be convinced that this would not become a backdoor victory in Kabul for the Kremlin’s candidates. Pakistan’s military junta must be convinced it has more to gain from cutting the Taliban loose, than retaining them in secret. At the same time, to persuade the Bush Administration of its good faith, Putin must offer airspace and ground facilities as platforms for U.S. airstrikes and commando operations.

That gesture is now part of the grand bargain over Afghanistan. It carries the mutual commitment that neither Washington nor Moscow will return to backing surrogates for power in Kabul, as they did 20 years ago.

The reason that Russia and the United States, along with the European powers, can agree to groznify Afghanistan is that everyone realizes that concentrated destruction of the camps, arsenals and troop formations is a precondition for limiting the spread of terrorism. It is a short-term expedient – it is also understood – with a limited effect on global terror risk. The recruitment of terrorism is a generational phenomenon; it takes time to pursue and die out, like teenage violence in the American urban ghettoes. Groznifying the base is only the beginning. It also has the attraction of avoiding damage to the business interests – especially the oilfields and oil supply lanes – that matter far more to everyone than the Afghan cockpit.

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