The Person of the Week: Is Osama bin Laden a real person or a myth?

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Since September 11 the world has been concerned with the question “Who did it?” The shock caused by the American Armaggedon required resolute steps from the American administration. Of course, the issue was immediately resolved: bin Laden is to blame for everything. He is an ideologue of terrorism, a billionaire, and a Muslim, which explains a great deal.

Well-known political consultant Vyacheslav Nikonov said in a TV interview that if the US administration fails to find those responsible for the terrorist attacks, “they will be appointed.”

As the newspaper Izvestia has noted, it will be extremely convenient for Russia if the US “appoints” the Taliban and Osama bin Laden as scapegoats, since Taliban “is the worst enemy of the Russian Federation and its CIS neighbors.” The newspaper thinks that the Russian Foreign Ministry should not try to cool the belligerent fervor of the US administration as far as bin Laden is concerned. Izvestia considers that the current actions of Russian diplomats resemble “political amnesia.”

Izvestia notes that it is Russia that wanted to make “preventive strikes” on Taliban bases in Afghanistan, “and only after objections of the West Russia gave up this idea.” Now the same thing may be done by the Americans. “Whatever Washington may be doing, Russia is always displeased.” The newspaper thinks that it is time for Russia to change its attitude toward the West and prove to America and Europe and Russia is their “friend, ally, partner, and supporter.”

Many political analysts are convinced that now the grounds for new alliances may be built for many years. If Moscow manages to convince Washington that it does not bear a grudge against America, a lot of difficult problems may be solved, “including NATO’s expansion, Bush’s national defense system, and Chechnya…”

The newspaper Vremya Novostei notes, in turn, that President Vladimir Putin has not supported the announcement of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who has absolutely denied the possibility of the usage of Russia’s military bases in Tajikistan and Afghanistan by the American armed forces for strikes against Afghanistan. Moreover, the president’s words that the events of September 11 “are comparable to actions of the Nazis” have been interpreted by most political experts as support for actions of the West.

Meanwhile, the reaction of the Defense Ministry is easy to explain: “Russian generals fear that the military operation may continue after the US has its revenge on Talibs and bin Laden.” Therefore, Moscow intends to “minimize its losses if a large-scale force operation starts in the region.”

However, military sources of Vremya Novostei assert that forces of Russia and its CIS allies only fulfill “active defense tasks” near the Tajik-Afghani border. In any case, Russia does not make haste to support the US’ “strikes of revenge”: to all appearances, Moscow is not sure about Americans’ final goals. Besides, as the newspaper has reported referring to a top-ranking military source, “Combating terrorists is like poisoning cockroaches in a multi-story building. While they are being poisoned in one apartment, they are easily moving to other ones.”

The newspaper Vedomosti has noted that Russia “is not ready to help Americans with anything concrete.” The Russian government is to decide how much Russia can be involved in the operation arranged by the US.

If the US only makes air strikes on Afghanistan, Russia will feel only economic outcomes of this operation. These outcomes will be favorable for Russia, since like during the Storm in the Desert operation of 1991, oil prices will rise.

Besides, as Deputy Director of the Center for the Analysis of Strategy and Technology Konstantin Makienko has noted, “intensification of the military hysteria makes countries buy more weapons.” Some customary clients of the Russian federation, like Syria and Iran, may be among the countries that will increase the extent of purchases of weapons.

However, selling weapons to the so-called outcast countries, Russia may get into America’s black list of the countries supporting terrorists. Outcomes of this measure are clear. Meanwhile, helping the US fight Talibs Russia may hope for assistance of international monetary institutions. Furthermore, the American web periodical Stratfor.com asserts that if Russia helps the US, the American administration may recommend to Western commercial banks to cooperate with Russia.

However, Vedomosti also notes that if the US obtains an access to Russia’s sphere of influence in Central Asia, it may be unwilling to leave this sphere. Moreover, the threat of extremist in Russia may emerge not only in the North Caucasus but also in other regions, like Tatarstan or Bashkortostan.

Thus, the newspaper comes to the conclusion that there is not an absolutely profitable position for Russia now. Chief of the Panorama information center Vladimir Pribylovsky has said, “Even if the US defeats Talibs, it is not clear what will take their place.”

The newspaper Kommersant believes that the US may start its attacks on Muslim terrorists in a few days already. However, the very operation called “the Noble Eagle” will start only at the end of September. The US administration cannot give up its belligerent plans now: Bush’s rating has reached the figure of 91% thanks to his promises to put an end to terrorism.

Kommersant has published Saturday’s radio address of the US president to the nation. Our response must be sweeping, sustained and effective. In this address Bush said, “We have much to do and much to ask of the American people. You will be asked for your patience, for the conflict will not be short. You will be asked for resolve, for the conflict will not be easy. You will be asked for your strength because the course to victory may be long.”

Meanwhile, touching on the evidence proving that Arab extremists arranged the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, such as an instruction in Arabian and the Koran left in the automobile near the airport, the last will of a terrorist left in a bag there, etc., the newspaper questions its value for a serious investigation. The terrorist attacks were organized so well that they might have been arranged by some well-trained special service that left the aforementioned traces on purpose. Kommersant believes that this fact suggests that the terrorist attacks were arranged not by Arabs but by those who want to make the US hate Saudi Arabia, the main ally of the US in the region and its main oil deliverer.

In the opinion of Novaya Gazeta, what happened on September 11 “is not like Arabian terrorism but resembles America’s idea of it.” The newspaper called bin Laden “an American myth. The newspaper does not assert that this person does not exist but questions his influence and power. “Americans have made up a legend about a global conspiracy arranged by a global criminal gang headed by an infernal scoundrel manipulating people from a remote refuge.” Novaya Gazeta thinks that this scenario is typical of Americans with their James Bond movies. In reality, bin Laden is “not the organizer but the general sponsor of terrorism.” “He just funds various terrorist gangs located in different parts of the world.”

The newspaper compares America’s tracing the Arabian link to a person seeking the key he has lost under a lantern just because it is more convenient.

The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington have already been compared to Pearl Harbor, explosions in Moscow in 1999, and terrorist attacks in the north Caucasus. However, Novaya Gazeta believes that the most appropriate historical analogy in this connection is the arson of Reichstag, i.e. a well-planned political provocation. “The anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hysteria that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11 resembles the situation of the 1930’s… Ben Laden was called the organizer of the terrorist attacks practically at once; other suppositions have not been considered.”

Yuri Shchekochikhin, political observer of Novaya Gazeta, states that it is clear while Russian “hawks” are glad that American has suffered from terrorism too. “They believe that the Chechen scenario in Russia should become the scenario for the whole world. Indeed, the US Army seems to be ready to repeat the Chechen scenario in Afghanistan.”

Yuri Shchekochikhin calls the terrorist attacks “a war between two civilizations” that have failed to understand each other: “after the tragedy America has come to the conclusion that it can defeat any other civilization.” Of course, this war may have large-scale outcomes. The observer of Novaya Gazeta is convinced that the result of this war will be only mutual hatred to strangers: “Children of the war will avenge themselves when our grandchildren are grown-up.”

The newspaper Vedomosti says that the adequate response to the terrorist attacks has not been found yet. However, there is no time or desire to seek it: the American people wants resolute steps.

Meanwhile, Obshchaya Gazeta was the first periodical that proposed an alternative resolution of the conflict. The newspaper asserts that if the civilized world responds to terror by terror, the best end of this war may be another wall between the North and the South, and “the Berlin wall will look like a wattle in the countryside” compared to it. The newspaper believes that there only one way of avoiding a global catastrophe: “to talk to them, to conduct negotiations. There are always a few people able to hear among a hundred of the deafened by fanatism… Arafat is better than HAMAS or Islamic Jihad, and Maskhadov is better than Khattab.” Obshchaya Gazeta believes that “from now on those sitting in spacious offices against national flags will have to choose between the aforementioned alternatives.”

Then Obshchaya Gazeta comes to a conclusion that sounds surprising for a Russian periodical: it says, “The president of the US must go away. He failed to protect his compatriots from terrorists, although they had entrusted him with their future.”

It is noteworthy that is this thought occurred to someone except for the editor-in-chief of Obshchaya Gazeta, he give up this thought at once, since after Bush announced his intention to declare war against terrorist and “see this conflict through” his rating reached the figure of 90%. Thus, the US administration is beyond any reproaches.

Sergei Nikitich Khrushchev, a son of former Soviet gensec Nikita Khrushchev who now works as a professor in an American university, has told an Izvestia correspondent that negotiations is the best way out now, “like in the times of the Caribbean crisis.” In his opinion, “Sharon and Palestinians should be sat at the roundtable, as well as Putin and Maskhadov. I think it’s better to talk with Maskhadov than Basaev.” However, Khrushchev does not think America will be more tolerant in this situation than Russia. “The US behaves like a juvenile hooligan who walks in the yard offends little ones.”

In the opinion of Khrushchev, the problem is that “the US does not have a distinct position regarding the developing Arabian religious self-esteem.” The political expert asserts that Islam is on the stage that resembles the medieval stage of development of Christianity “Muslims can’t do without an enemy now. But unlike medieval Christians, they don’t fight each other but oppose the rest of the world.” Unfortunately, “Americans have made themselves the object of Muslims’ hatred by their own blunders.” The Soviet Union behaved like this during the war in Afghanistan. “Now America has received a similar Afghanistan, but its scale is larger.”

Sergei Khrushchev thinks it hardly likely that even such a strong shock as the US suffered on September 11 may make it reconsider its positions: “It will take time for America to change.” Therefore, there is no point for Russia to count for equal partnership: “Of course, Americans will try to coordinate their actions with Russia, but these will be merely pro forma attempts. The US will imitate equality, but it is not ready for a fair play today.” Sergei Khrushchev notes that after the end of the cold war the US was calling itself the winner for ten years. In this situation there is no point to talk about equality.

The weekly Vek asserts that the events of September 11 proved that the US is not a superpower: it is as vulnerable as any other country.

At the same time, it is fair to state that if the great American dream of the world domination admitted deaths of peaceful civilians in Libya, Serbia, Sudan, and Iraq, it is naive to be surprised that there are some other forces in the world able to similar actions. However, it is also naive to think that America may change its imperatives and give up the idea of aspiring to the world domination. Vek says that it is ridiculous to believe that Washington will say to Moscow: “OK, old chap, you were right when you warned us about terrorism: let’s forget the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and human rights and start pummeling our enemies in lavatories!” On the contrary, the US is determined to start a counterattack in order to prove to the world and itself that its leadership is unquestionable and revenge is inevitable for anyone who dares attempt at this leadership.”

The weekly notes that the US ambassador to Moscow has made it clear that Moscow should not expect Washington to totally support its actions in Chechnya. Besides, Pentagon is annoyed with Moscow’s evasive position regarding the actions of revenge planned by the US.

Chief of the Effective Politics Foundation Gleb Pavlovsky says in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “American is in a difficult situation. It understands that most people, especially in third world countries, are glad about its humiliation rather than sympathizing with it. The US administration is apparently eager to change the situation by means of terror so that the world will discuss not the events of September 11 but America’s response to them.” Pavlovsky considers that “the US will use the object for the attack according to the principle of political convenience, and so Russia should be extremely cautious. Russia should not become a hostage to America’s politics. We should assist the US in the field of combating terrorism but be careful not to get into an uneasy situation.”

In the opinion of Pavlovsky, “America should be an object of Russia’s sympathy and a partner in combating the true authors of the terrorist attacks, but it should not be viewed as a skilled expert and the leader of the anti-terrorist coalition.” On the contrary, “it has displayed its inability to lead an anti-terrorist coalition. It is necessary to support the US as long as our values and national interests coincide.”

Pavlovsky stresses that the very concept of “pariah states” is just a propaganda invention of American politics, and Pavlovsky views it as a “harmful political metaphor.”

Leonid Radzikhovsky, observer of the journal Itogi, says, “A new cold war is beginning.” This is the war against Islamic terrorism. This war will be more difficult than the old one against communism, “when the ideology of the West was based on the sacred right of private property.” During the previous cold war everything was simple and both sides spoke the same language: “the language of economic materialism.” Now the West does not understand problems of religious disagreements between Muslims. “It does not see the scale and nature of the threat, which makes this war particularly dangerous.” “Challenges have changed, but generals in Pentagon and Arbat Square are still preparing for the old war that failed to take place.”

Is the West ready for a long and “really cold” war that is nothing like Hollywood blockbusters? Is Russia ready to act as an ally of the West, giving up its “Eurasian dreams”? Radzikhovsky calls these questions childish: “If you want to live, you have to be ready for these things. But if you don’t, you may continue to throw bombs and play at political correctness.”

The newspaper Novye Izvestia poses a rhetorical question: “How is it possible to kill bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan, if he is not there?” The newspaper believes that the problem of “civilized America with its high technologies” is that it is trying to use weapons of the 21st century against a country living according to laws of the 11th century. Modern weapons are meant for striking key centers and infrastructure of the enemy, such as government buildings, power plants, factories, bridges, etc. But there are no such targets in Afghanistan, unlike Serbia or Iraq. Therefore, “spot strikes” will have no effect: “Terrorists have scattered across the country, and it takes one day to restore a wattle and daub building destroyed by a bomb.”

Novye Izvestia also notes that it is unreasonable from the economic point of view to bomb Afghanistan: a modern bomb costs $300,000-$1 million. “Are poor Afghani villages worth this money?” As for a ground attack, the US has forgotten how to do it already. Besides, it is impossible to defeat the Afghani by such methods: “If the main value of a European is a human life, it is of no value for a Muslim human because it is nothing compared to the eternal life in the paradise.” This is what political analysts are calling “the war between civilizations.”

In any case, the issue is now considered in the practical plane: America has already made its decision on the response to the terrorist attacks, and Russia has to determine its own position regarding this situation.

The situation is very difficult. Pavel Felgengauer, correspondent of Moskovskie Novosti, says, “Russia has to choose what side it will support and what it should do.” At the same time, it is clear that Americans will not count with Russia’s opinion. Moskovskie Novosti calls this situation a stalemate: “It would be suicide for Russia to join a nuclear conflict with the US because of Iraq or Iran, and Russian ordinary forces cannot defeat a small gang of Chechen gunmen.” Russia will have to give up new deliveries of weapons, military hardware, and spare parts for it to Iran, Syria, and Libya. Besides, Moscow will have to forget about the construction of the nuclear power plant in Busher: Americans will hardly want a nuclear reactor to work near Persian Gulf. Thus, Pavel Felgengauer considers that Russia is facing a rather unpleasant choice: either to informally enter NATO for a test period (i.e. to fulfill Washington’s orders without a right to vote) or get into international isolation “at the time when Talibs enraged by the US attack Central Asia.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta stresses that it is not easy to make a decision in such a situation. Being a civilized country and bearing a grudge against international terrorism itself, Russia is obliged to join the international community. However, the American formula “who is not with us is against us” is hazardous in this situation. The newspaper believes that the best way out for Russia is “to assume a pro-Western but not pro-American position.”

Prominent political analyst Alexander Tsipko suggests a way of resolving this situation in his article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He says. “Russia just shouldn’t go where it is not welcome. It should learn to respect values and dignity of a different civilization and let it develop according to its own traditions.”

Moskovskie Novosti has not forgotten an earlier method of combating terrorists: “It is impossible to fight terrorists killing them. Their number is unimportant, unlike their thoughts. They may be fought only by spiritual methods… It is necessary to counter their ideal by a different ideal that would be more sublime than theirs.” This is a quotation from Lev Tolstoi’s letter to Emperor Alexander the Third who took the Russian throne after his father Alexander the Second was assassinated by terrorists from the organization People’s Will on March 1, 1881.

However, neither Vladimir Putin nor George W. Bush may be suspected of being adherents of Tolstoi’s ideas. Therefore, there is no point to ask where the front line will run. There will be no safe rear in this war.

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