Cottrell is obviously mistaken when he writes that Putin's decision to acquiesce to American requests was the "easy bit"; he's ignoring history. After all, all of Russia was aghast at America's behavior during the Kosovo conflict, and at the very least, Putin's cozying up to the American military was a serious political risk. Beyond that, the issue of allowing the United States to build up a presence in Central Asia has hardly been a non-issue with the Russian people. I myself was interviewed by NTV this past weekend as part of an alarmist report about America's plans to set up camp permanently in Uzbekistan. Make no mistake about it, for a politician who plays on his credentials as a nationalist during a time of increasing concerns about expanding American influence, Putin was taking a big risk by stepping aside in Central Asia to make way for Our Boys.
Another frequent theme in the Western press lately is the impugning of Russia's anti-terrorist credentials. Cottrell puts the issue as follows:
"Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya and Syria, for example, are all countries viewed by the US as state sponsors of terrorism. Russia views them as friends...Russia's ties to the rogue states are based partly on political calculation. By cultivating such countries, Russia shows independence and gains influence. But hard cash is also a big factor. The rogue states and the rest of the developing world are potential markets for Russia's arms and nuclear technology."
This small passage reveals a lot about Western attitudes toward Russia. When America deals with terrorist states, this is totally acceptable politics, but when Russia does it, it is either out of sinister calculation or out of economic necessity brought on by its shameful poverty (note the pitying reference to "hard cash"). Cottrell fails to note that the U.S. itself made overtures to Iran, Syria and Libya in the weeks leading up to the attack in Afghanistan. He also ignores the fact that, from a Russian point of view, America has been equally guilty of sponsoring terrorist states hostile to Russia over the years. In the 1980s, with the aim of overturning Soviet influence in the area, the U.S. massively funded the Islamic extremist "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan that eventually became the Taliban and the groups loyal to bin Laden.
These groups have been a headache to the Russians through the present day; not only have they created havoc on the southern border of the CIS, but Stinger missiles and other weapons that the U.S. gave to these groups have been observed in action in the battles in Chechnya. The U.S. (George W. Bush's father, to be exact) also traded arms with Iran in order to fund "freedom fighters"—terrorists in the eyes of many outside of the U.S.—in a Soviet client state in Nicaragua.
And yet, Russia now has to listen to criticism of its government for selling arms to places like Iraq and Iran, which before the U.S. deemed them terrorist states were regular recipients of U.S. support.
There have been other criticisms leveled at Russia; that its stonewalling in the ABM matter is proof of its reluctance to combat rogue states (this despite the fact that the 9/11 incident hideously exposed the Missile Defense Program as being irrelevant in this kind of warfare), that its "loose" domestic intelligence capability may make it a haven for terrorists (this despite the fact that the Russians pioneered the police state, are still fairly strong in this area, and thoroughly kicked the American intelligence community's ass for decades after World War II), even for its "insincerity" in providing assistance to the U.S. in the attack against Afghanistan.
As bad as Cottrell's piece was, it doesn't even begin to compare to the extremely bitter essay written last week by one David Plotz (what the hell kind of name is Plotz?), the Washington Bureau Chief of Microsoft's sickly web-zine slate.com. The piece covered in one 1500-word essay all the main themes of the recent anti-Putin movement, and features the baldly unambiguous title, "Russian President Vladimir Putin: Why is he on our side?" From the get-go the piece is oddly vicious and abusive: