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Profile: Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin was a participant or observer in the following events:
Elena Tregubova with Tales of a Kremlin Digger. [Source: Publicity photo]According to journalist Elena Tregubova, Valentin Yumashev, the head of Russia’s Presidential Administration, tells her that secret police reports indicate that the country is on the verge of widespread unrest. In her 2003 book, Tales of a Kremlin Digger, which recounts her years as a member of the Kremlin press pool with access to top officials, Yumashev says to her off-the-record: “The fact is that we have received secret information from the special services that the country finds itself on the eve of mass rebellions, in essence on the verge of revolution… Believe me, the information concerns… secret reports that have been made to the president!” But Tregubova says that when she later discussed this information with Vladimir Putin, the then-head of the FSB (Russia’s intelligence agency), he denies it. “Yumashev could not have imagined that a mere three months later the existence of such ‘secret information’ would be categorically denied in a confidential chat with me by future president of Russia Putin, heading at that period of crisis the chief special service of the country.” According to Russia scholar John Dunlop, Yumashev’s claims suggest that he and other Kremlin figures were already thinking of a destabilization plan. Yumashev’s warning “sounds like advanced advertising for the ‘Storm in Moscow’ scenario”, writes Dunlop (see July 22, 1999). [Dunlop, 10/5/2004, pp. 16 ] Tregubova’s book, which has not been translated in English, is notorious for a scene in which Putin seems to try to seduce her during lunch at an expensive restaurant. (“I couldn’t tell whether he was trying to recruit me, or chat me up.”) Trebugova will loose her job shortly after the book is published. In 2004, a small bomb will explode near her apartment building as she is about to take a taxi. Unhurt but frightened, she will seek political asylum in Britain in 2007. [New York Times, 2/3/2004; Radio Free Europe, 4/8/2008]
Since Chechnya achieved de facto independence from Russia in late 1996, its stability has been slowly unraveling as an Islamist faction led by Shamil Baseyev and Ibn Khattab is undermining the Chechen government led by President Aslan Maskhadov (see 1997-Early 1999). On March 5, 1999, General Gennady Shpigun, the Russian Interior Ministry representative in Chechnya, is kidnapped by masked gunmen just as he is about to board a plane to fly to Moscow from Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The Russian government is outraged, especially since Maskhadov had guaranteed Shpigun’s safety. Sergei Stepashin, who is Russian interior minister at the time of the kidnapping, will later say that the Russian government begins planning a military assault on Chechnya shortly after. Stephashin wants Russia to conquer the flat northern half of Chechnya and then launch strikes into the mountainous southern half. However, Vladimir Putin, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s intelligence agency, advocates invading all of Chechnya. By July, Stepashin has been promoted to Russian prime minister, and he says that in a Kremlin Security Council meeting that month: “we all came to the conclusion that there was a huge hole on our border which won’t be closed if we don’t [advance] to the Terek [a river dividing the flat northern part of Chechnya from the mountainous southern part]. It was a purely military decision.” Stepashin is dismissed as prime minister in early August and replaced by Putin (see August 9, 1999). Chechen raids into the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan in August (see August 7-8, 1999) and a series of mysterious bombings in Moscow in September (see September 13, 1999, September 9, 1999, and September 22-24, 1999) provide the excuses for Russia to attack Chechnya later in September (see September 29, 1999). But Stepashin will later say: “We were planning to reach the Terek River in August or September. So this was going to happen, even if there had been no explosions in Moscow. I was working actively on tightening borders with Chechnya, preparing for an active offensive.” [Washington Post, 3/10/2000]
Yeltsin and Putin [Source: BBC]Russian President Boris Yeltsin dismisses his prime minister, Sergei Stepashin, and the entire Russian government, naming Vladimir Putin as acting prime minister. Putin is the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which is the new name of the KGB. [BBC, 8/9/1999] For many observers, Stepashin was dismissed because he had been unable to become a politically viable heir to Yeltsin, who must step down in 2001. Putin, who is unknown to the public, seems to have been hand-picked mainly for his loyalty. [New York Times, 8/10/1999] The Russian news service Park.ru offers this fairly representative analysis: “Only a trusted person from one of the ‘power ministries’ can ensure the safety of Yeltsin’s entourage after his term in office, and the former FSB boss can prove indispensable.” [BBC, 8/9/1999]
The Kashirskoye Street bombing. [Source: AP/Terror99.ru]A powerful early-morning blast levels an apartment building on Kashirskoye Street, Moscow, killing 118 people. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov blame Chechen terrorists. [New York Times, 9/13/1999; BBC, 9/13/1999] Another Moscow apartment building was bombed on September 9, killing nearly 100 (see September 9, 1999). Later in the month, explosives will be found in an apartment building in the nearby city of Ryazan. The Russian government will initially declare it a foiled bombing until the suspects arrested turn out to be FSB agents. The government will then claim it was merely a training exercise (see September 22-24, 1999). This will lead some to suspect that all three apartment bomb incidents this month were false flag attacks by the FSB (see March 6, 2002, December 30, 2003 and January 2004).
Apartment building in Volgondosk after blast [Source: BBC]A huge truck bomb outside an apartment block in Volgodonsk, Southern Russia, shears off the front of the building, killing 17 people. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declares, “We must stamp out this vermin.” Putin has blamed Chechen separatists for previous attacks. [BBC, 9/16/1999]
A coalition of pro-government parties unexpectedly wins elections to the Duma, the Russian parliament. The Chechnya War, according to all observers, was the main factor in turning the electorate in the Kremlin’s favor. “The Chechen war—loudly criticized in the West for its brutal bombardments of civilians—has galvanized Russian public opinion and, according to most political experts, turned the national debate away from a search for social stability toward an endorsement for a strong state, headed by a strong leader. That shift in the national mood has been answered by [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin”, says the New York Times. [New York Times, 12/20/1999] In addition, during the campaign, the opposition led by Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, and Yevgeny Primakov, a former prime minister removed from office by President Yeltsin in early 1999, was pummeled by hostile media reports from pro-Kremlin news organizations, in particular Boris Berezovsky’s ORT television network. [New York Times, 12/15/1999]
In a New Year’s Eve televised speech that stuns Russians, President Boris Yeltsin announces his resignation and nominates Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as acting president. Yeltsin, who has spent much of the previous months in hospital for a heart condition and alcoholism, begs the Russian people for their forgiveness for his administration’s failings. He also praises Putin as the best man to replace him: “Why hold on to power for another six months, when the country has a strong person, fit to be president, with whom practically all Russians link their hopes for the future today? Why should I stand in his way? Why wait for another six months?” Putin later promises: “There will be no power vacuum even for a moment.” [BBC, 12/31/1999; BBC, 12/31/1999; CNN, 12/31/1999] The BBC’s correspondent later sums up a widespread belief concerning the change-over: “The theory goes that the Family [Yeltsin’s entourage] decided to push Mr. Yeltsin out of office early, in order to make it easier for their chosen successor, Vladimir Putin to take over. Some even believe the Family deliberately started the war in Chechnya, in order to give Mr. Putin a platform, and a cause which would boost his popularity. In return, Mr. Putin would guarantee that the Family has protection from nosy Swiss and Russian investigators.” [BBC, 1/8/2000] In fact, one of Putin’s first acts upon taking over is to sign a decree giving Yeltsin immunity from prosecution. [New York Times, 1/1/2000]
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will later recall, “I talked with the [Clinton] administration and pointed out the bin Laden issue to them. I was surprised by their reaction. They wrung their hands so helplessly and said: ‘the Taliban are not turning him over, what can one do?’ I remember I was surprised: if they are not turning him over, one has to think and do something.” [Interfax, 9/21/2001; Guardian, 9/22/2001] This exchange, if true, must take place in 2000 because Putin becomes acting president of Russia on the first day of 2000 and President Bush replaces Clinton in the US in January 2001. The Washington Post will report in December 2000 that “The United States has quietly begun to align itself with those in the Russian government calling for military action against Afghanistan and has toyed with the idea of a new raid to wipe out Osama bin Laden (see December 19, 2000),” but no such raid takes place.
George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin at the Slovenia summit. [Source: BOBO]Russian President Vladimir Putin warns President Bush about the danger posed by Islamic extremists who he says could cause a “major catastrophe.” [Rice, 2011, pp. 62; Stent, 2014, pp. 60-61] The two leaders are meeting for the first time at a summit in Slovenia, in a castle near the country’s capital, Ljubljana. [New York Times, 6/16/2001] The purpose of the summit is for the American president “to cut through any tension and forge a connection with Putin,” Bush will later write. [Bush, 2010, pp. 195] The two men discuss a wide range of subjects. Among other things, Putin mentions the threat posed by Islamic extremists. He “pointedly warned Bush about the dangers of Islamic fundamentalist-bred terrorism emanating from Russia’s southern rim, a danger that he believed the United States did not take seriously enough,” foreign policy expert Angela Stent will describe. Furthermore, he is particularly critical of the support given by Pakistan to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. He “excoriated the [Pakistani Prime Minister] Pervez Musharraf regime for its support of extremists, and for the connections of the Pakistani army and intelligence services to the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is in Slovenia with Bush, will write. These extremists, Putin tells Bush, are “all being funded by Saudi Arabia” and it is “only a matter of time until it resulted in a major catastrophe.” [Rice, 2011, pp. 62; Stent, 2014, pp. 61] Russia reportedly warns the US of a possible forthcoming terrorist attack around this time. For example, its intelligence agencies tell the US that suicide pilots are training for attacks on American targets at some point this summer, according to Fox News (see August 2001). [Fox News, 5/17/2002] And just two days before 9/11, Putin will call Bush and warn him that something that has been “long in preparation” is “about to happen” (see September 9, 2001). [Baker and Glasser, 2005]
An Indian magazine reports more details of the cooperative efforts of the US, India, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Iran against the Taliban regime: “India and Iran will ‘facilitate’ US and Russian plans for ‘limited military action’ against the Taliban if the contemplated tough new economic sanctions don’t bend Afghanistan’s fundamentalist regime.” Earlier in the month, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a meeting of the Confederation of Independent States that military action against the Taliban may happen, possibly with Russian involvement using bases and forces from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as well. [IndiaReacts, 6/26/2001]
At a joint press conference in Genoa, Italy, US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss the necessity of maintaining the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972), a treaty from which Bush and many American conservatives wish to withdraw (see May 1, 2001 and June 2001). Putin says, “As far as the ABM Treaty and the issues of offensive arms, I’ve already said we’ve come to the conclusion that [the] two of these issues have to be discussed as a set… one and the other are very closely tied.” Bush, who agrees with his administration’s conservatives, counters that the two nations do not need such treaties because they have “a new relationship based on trust.” Putin responds: “The world is far from having international relations that are built solely on trust, unfortunately. That’s why it is so important today to rely on the existing foundation of treaties and agreements in the arms control and disarmament areas.” Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, dismisses the idea that the Russians could distrust the US as “silly.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 175]
Presidents Bush and Putin during the summit. [Source: BBC]The first summit meeting between US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin goes well, with the two apparently forming a warm working relationship. Both say they have found the basis for a relationship of mutual respect. Bush describes Putin as straightforward and trustworthy, and says: “I looked the man in the eye.… I was able to get a sense of his soul.” No real progress is made on the issues that divide the two nations—particularly US plans to enlarge NATO and expand its defense capabilities—but Bush says the two sides are resolved to put aside Cold War-era attitudes and differences, and to move away from the concept of “mutually assured destruction” and towards “mutually earned respect.” [BBC, 7/16/2001]
Russian President Vladimir Putin warns the US that suicide pilots are training for attacks on US targets. [Fox News, 5/17/2002] The head of Russian intelligence Nikolai Patrushev also later states, “We had clearly warned them” on several occasions, but they “did not pay the necessary attention.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/16/2001] A Russian newspaper on September 12, 2001, will claim, “Russian Intelligence agents know the organizers and executors of these terrorist attacks. More than that, Moscow warned Washington about preparation to these actions a couple of weeks before they happened.” Interestingly, the article will claim that at least two of the militants were Muslim radicals from Uzbekistan. [Izvestia, 9/12/2001]
Russian President Vladimir Putin warns President Bush that a terrorist event that has been “long in preparation” may be about to happen. Putin calls Bush with an urgent message. He says General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, has been assassinated (see September 9, 2001). [Stent, 2014, pp. 62-63] The goal of the assassins, he says, was to weaken the Northern Alliance. [Primakov, 2004, pp. 77] He also warns Bush that the assassination may be a precursor to something bigger. Russian intelligence authorities have concluded that it could signify the beginning of a broader terrorist campaign and, he says, he has “a foreboding that something [is] about to happen, something long in preparation.” [Stent, 2014, pp. 63] He says that “further action of this kind could be expected from the Taliban.” Bush agrees to Putin’s proposal for a deputy-level foreign affairs meeting on Afghanistan between the US and Russia. However, he seems indifferent to the warning. “[H]is overall reaction indicated that he did not fully grasp the seriousness of the issue,” Yevgeny Primakov, a former Russian prime minister who is now an adviser to Putin, will later write. [Primakov, 2004, pp. 77] Putin will be the first world leader to try to reach Bush in the hours following the terrorist attacks on September 11 (see Between 10:32 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). “I didn’t allow myself to say, ‘We did warn you about this,’” he will subsequently comment. [Baker and Glasser, 2005, pp. 122]
Russian President Vladimir Putin phones the White House, wanting to speak with the US president. With Bush not there, Condoleezza Rice takes the call. Putin tells her that the Russians are voluntarily standing down a military exercise they are conducting, as a gesture of solidarity with the United States. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] The Russian exercise began on September 10 in the Russian arctic and North Pacific oceans, and was scheduled to last until September 14. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001; Washington Times, 9/11/2001] It involved Russian bombers staging a mock attack against NATO planes that are supposedly planning an assault on Russia. [BBC, 2001, pp. 161] Subsequently, Putin manages to talk to Bush while he is aboard Air Force One (see (After 11:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Russian President Vladimir Putin phones President Bush while he is aboard Air Force One. Putin is the first foreign leader to call Bush following the attacks. He earlier called the White House to speak with the president, but had to speak with Condoleezza Rice instead (see Between 10:32 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). Putin tells Bush he recognizes that the US has put troops on alert, and makes it clear that he will stand down Russian troops. US forces were ordered to high alert some time between 10:10 and 10:46 a.m. (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001) Bush later describes, “In the past… had the President put the—raised the DEF CON levels of our troops, Russia would have responded accordingly. There would have been inevitable tension.” Bush therefore describes this phone call as “a moment where it clearly said to me, [President Putin] understands the Cold War is over.” [US President, 10/1/2001; US President, 11/19/2001; CNN, 9/10/2002] Putin also sends a telegram to Bush today, stating: “The series of barbaric terrorist acts, directed against innocent people, has evoked our anger and indignation.… The whole international community must rally in the fight against terrorism.” [Russian Embassy, 9/17/2001]
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the Russian government realizes the US will attempt to push into the Central Asian “Stans”—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—as part of the US effort to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the region. But these countries had been part of the Soviet Union ten years before, and Russia does not want the US increasing its influence there. On September 13, 2001, Russian intelligence officials hold a meeting with Northern Alliance figures and the other governments that support the Northern Alliance—Iran, India, and Uzbekistan. They promise to increase support to the Northern Alliance in an attempt to outbid the US and keep the US military out of the region. Soon after, Tajikistan announces that it will not allow its airspace to be used by US aircraft. But Uzbekistan is the key country, since it has the most military bases inherited from the Soviet era, the largest population, and also a key strategic location. It also has been working with the CIA against al-Qaeda and the Taliban for several years (see 1998 and After). Uzbekistan indicates it is going to allow the US to base some of its military operations there. Realizing that the other countries are likely to follow Uzbekistan’s lead, Russia switches positions and attempts to make a collective offer to the US. On September 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting in Moscow with the leaders from all the “Stans” in an attempt to reach a joint agreement about allowing the US to use former Soviet military bases. A formal deal is reached between the US and Russia on September 22 after Putin speaks to President Bush on the telephone.
The US agrees that its bases in the region will only be temporary.
Bush will stop criticizing Russia for its war in Chechnya.
The US will consult with Russia before taking further steps in Central Asia.
The US will help accelerate Russian integration into Western economic institutions.
Russian commanders who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s give extensive briefings to US Army generals.
By this time, CIA teams are already moving into the K2 air base in southern Uzbekistan. Tajikistan also reverses course and allows the US to use bases there as well. Deals between the US, Russia, and Central Asian countries are initially kept secret from the public. But within days of the agreement between Putin and Bush, newspapers begin to report that US forces are moving into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Other countries make similar deals later (see September 22, 2001-December 2001). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 69-71]
Nine Republican senators, led by conservatives Jesse Helms (R-NC), Trent Lott (R-MS), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), send a letter to President Bush urging him to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972, May 1, 2001, and June 2001). They explain their position by arguing that the ABM Treaty has become “the most significant obstacle to improved relations between the United States and Russia.” This argument is a complete reversal of conservatives’ earlier positions: that arms control agreements such as the ABM Treaty did nothing to stabilize relations between the US and its nuclear-armed opponents. The argument also flies in the face of public and private statements by Russian leaders, who consider the treaty one of the key elements of stable US-Russian relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed the importance of the treaty in maintaining nuclear parity between the two nations (see July 2001), even as Russia seeks to reduce its nuclear arsenal from 6,000 to 1,500 deployed missiles. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will speculate as to why conservatives wish to withdraw from the treaty: “For isolationists, missile defense renewed the dream of Fortress America, allowing us to retreat even further from crises abroad. For nationalists and moralists, missile defense was a shield against engagement and detente in the event that, say, North Korea was to develop a nuclear-armed ICBM (see August 31, 1998). For neoconservatives, missile defense was a necessary adjunct to their proactive vision of changing regimes and democratizing the world” (see March 12, 2001). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 174-176]
US nuclear missiles such as this one will no longer be restricted under the ABM treaty. [Source: Associated Press / CNN]President Bush announces that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972). The treaty, negotiated with the former Soviet Union in 1972, sets strict limitations on missile and missile defense developments by both Russia and the US. After the six-month withdrawal period is concluded in mid-2002, the US will begin developing an anti-missile defense system, an outgrowth and extension of the old “Star Wars” system (see March 23, 1983). Bush tells reporters: “Today I am giving formal notice to Russia that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year-old treaty.… I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.” Bush explains: “The 1972 ABM treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world. One of the signatories, the Soviet Union, no longer exists and neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, pointed at each other.… Today, as the events of September 11 made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or from other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the treaty “outdated.” [White House, 12/13/2001; CNN, 12/14/2001]
Follows Failure to Persuade Russia to Drop Treaty - The decision follows months of talks in which Bush officials attempted without success to persuade Russia to set the treaty aside and negotiate a new one more favorable to US interests. Bush says that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin “have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not in any way undermine our new relationship or Russian security.” Putin calls Bush’s decision a “mistake,” and says the two nations should move quickly to create a “new framework of our strategic relationship.” Putin says on Russian television that the US decision “presents no threat to the security of the Russian Federation.” He also says that the US and Russia should decrease their present stockpiles of nuclear weapons. He wants what he calls “radical, non-reversible and verifiable reductions in offensive weapons”; in turn, the Bush administration is against any sort of legally binding agreements. Putin says, “Today, when the world has been faced with new threats, one cannot allow a legal vacuum in the sphere of strategic stability.” [CNN, 12/14/2001; CNN, 12/14/2001]
'Abdication of Responsibility' - Senate Democrats (see December 13-14, 2001) and non-proliferation experts (see December 13, 2001) strongly question the decision to withdraw. Singapore’s New Straits Times writes: “History will one day judge the US decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the same way it views the US failure in 1919 to join the League of Nations—as an abdication of responsibility, a betrayal of humankind’s best hopes, an act of folly. By announcing the decision now, in the midst of a war on terrorism that commands worldwide support, the Bush administration has also displayed a cynicism that will adversely affect the mood of cooperation that has characterized international relations since September 11.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 272-273] Sweden’s foreign ministry warns of possibly “serious consequences for the future of international disarmament.” [BBC, 12/13/2001]
Seizure of Presidential Power - Regardless of the wisdom of withdrawing from the treaty, Bush’s decision has another effect that is subjected to far less public scrutiny: by unilaterally withdrawing the US from the treaty on his own authority, Bush, in the words of author Charlie Savage, “seized for the presidency the power to pull the United States out of any treaty without obtaining the consent of Congress.” Savage, writing in 2007, will note that the Constitution does not provide a clear method of withdrawing the US from an international treaty. However, he will write, judging from the fact that the US Senate must vote to ratify a treaty before it becomes binding, it can be inferred that the Founders intended for the legislature, not the executive branch, to have the power to pull out of a treaty. In Volume 70 of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote that treaties are far too important to entrust to the decision of one person who will be in office for as few as four years. Hamilton wrote, “The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a president of the United States.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 140]
Boris Berezovsky. [Source: BBC]At a well-publicized press conference in London, where he now lives in self-imposed exile, Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky accuses President Putin of involvement in an alleged FSB plot behing the 1999 apartment bombings (see September 22-24, 1999, September 9, 1999 and September 13, 1999). After an overview of many well-known facts about the bombings and the controversial Ryazan security exercise, as well as a documentary called “The Assassination of Russia”, Berezovsky introduces the testimony of Nikita Chekulin. According to Chekulin, an explosive expert who says he was recruited by the FSB, large quantities of hexogen were purchased through his research institute, the Russian Conversion Explosives Center (Rosconversvzryvtsenter), and shipped under false labels in 1999-2000 out of military bases to cover organizations linked to the FSB. Chekulin says the FSB suppressed a governmental investigation into the scheme. “I am sure the bombings were organized by the FSB,” Berezovsky declares. “The FSB thought that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin would not be able to come to power through lawful democratic means.” [BBC, 3/6/2002; Guardian, 3/6/2002; Washington Post, 3/6/2002; Kommersant (Moscow), 3/6/2002; Monitor (Jamestown Foundation), 3/6/2002; SBS, 5/21/2003]
Bush and Putin at a Kremlin news conference announcing the SORT signing. [Source: September 11 News (.com)]Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin sign a joint US-Russian treaty, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), agreeing to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals from some 6,000 warheads, respectively, to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads apiece. Bush allies hail the agreement as evidence of Bush’s willingness to negotiate with other nations and his desire to reduce and perhaps end the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation. However, the treaty is very similar in content to an informal agreement between Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in 1997. And SORT has far more flexibility built into its framework than either Clinton or Yeltsin had discussed: it does not call for the destruction of delivery vehicles, as the START I and II agreements had (see May 1982 and After), nor does it call for the destruction of warheads themselves, as START III had. In reality, either side can merely remove weapons from missiles and bombers, store them, and redeploy them in the future. Secretary of State Colin Powell will reassure conservative senators in June that “the treaty will allow you to have as many warheads as you want.” Arms reduction opponent John Bolton (see June 2001) approves the treaty, later noting that it “provided ‘exit ramps’ to allow for rapid change.” The treaty—only 500 words long—provides for no verification protocols whatsoever. And, as author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, “in a bit of diplomatic quantum mechanics, the treaty’s warhead limit was slated to take effect on the very day that it expired—December 31, 2012—meaning it would be valid for no more than twenty-four hours.” Scoblic will conclude that the treaty, in line with Bush’s “new strategic framework” (see May 1, 2001), is “still designed to fight nothing less than an all-out nuclear war with Russia.” [Federation of American Scientists, 5/24/2002; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 177-178] Bush sees little need for the treaty, or any treaty, saying that “mutual trust” between the US and Russia should suffice (see July 2001). He agrees to this treaty in what Scoblic later calls a “condescending” manner, saying, “If we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I’ll do that.” Bolton will later call the treaty “the end of arms control.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 184]
The US and Britain present a jointly drafted UN resolution to Russia, China, and France that goes “far beyond anything previously agreed to by America’s partners on the UN Security Council.” The draft resolution seeks to authorize the use of military action against Iraq in the event that Saddam’s regime fails to comply with the new demands outlined in the draft resolution. The draft, which is not immediately made public, is reportedly three and a half single-space typed pages. [New York Times, 9/28/2002; Daily Telegraph, 9/29/2002]
Iraq in Repeated Violation of US Resolutions - In its opening paragraph, the draft resolution summarizes how Iraq is in violation of numerous past United Nations resolutions. [New York Times, 9/28/2002; New York Times, 10/2/2002]
7 Days to Open Country for Inspections - The draft resolution proposes giving Iraq seven days “to accept the resolution and declare all of its programs of weapons of mass destruction, and a further 23 days to open up the sites concerned and provide all documents to support the declaration.” [New York Times, 9/28/2002; New York Times, 10/2/2002]
Inspectors Protected by US Forces - Weapons inspectors would operate out of bases inside Iraq, where they would be under the protection of UN troops. UN military forces or those of a “member state” (presumably the US or Britain), would enforce “no-fly” and “no-drive” zones along the roads on the way to and around alleged weapons sites to be visited by the inspectors. This would discourage Iraqis from removing anything before inspections. “Diplomats at the UN said there was no doubt that US troops would play a leading role in any such enforcement, allowing the Pentagon to deploy forces inside Iraq even before hostilities got under way,” reports the Guardian. [New York Times, 10/2/2002; Guardian, 10/3/2002 Sources: Unnamed UN Diplomats]
Open Skies - The US-British draft resolution includes provisions that would demand that Iraq permit the free and unrestricted landing of aircraft, including unmanned spy planes. [New York Times, 10/2/2002; Guardian, 10/3/2002]
UN Can Remove Anyone for Interrogation - The UN inspections teams would be authorized to remove anyone it wishes to a location outside out of Iraq, along with his or her family, for interrogation. The stated reason for this would be to remove the person’s fear of possible Iraqi government reprisals. [New York Times, 10/2/2002; Guardian, 10/3/2002]
Overrides Resolution 1154 - The draft resolution would override the provisions of UN Resolution 1154, requiring inspectors to notify Iraqi authorities prior to inspecting presidential sites and to perform the inspections in the presence of Iraqi diplomats. That provision applies to eight such sites in Iraq, spanning about 11.5 square miles. [New York Times, 9/28/2002; Associated Press, 9/30/2002; New York Times, 10/2/2002]
Complete Openness or 'Material Breach' Allowing for Overthrow - The document stipulates that errors in a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects” of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction or “failure by Iraq at any time to comply and cooperate fully” would constitute “a further material breach… that authorizes member states to use all necessary means to restore international peace and security in the area,” which the New York Times notes is “a diplomatic euphemism for American and British military action to remove Mr. Hussein from power.” As one US official explains to the Times, “If we find anything in what they give us that is not true, that is the trigger. If they delay, obstruct or lie about anything they disclosed, then this will trigger action.” [New York Times, 9/28/2002; New York Times, 10/2/2002] The BBC reports that Russia, China, and France suspect “that the ultimatum is really designed to be turned down, leaving the way open for military operations during the December to February period.” [BBC, 9/30/2002]
US Nationals On Inspection Teams - The draft resolution would also allow the permanent members of the UN Security Council to place their own nationals on the inspection teams. This is significant because the current inspections team, UNMOVIC, currently does not have any US officials in high positions. The reason for this is because the last UN inspections team, UNSCOM, had been sabotaged by US spies (see December 17, 1999). [London Times, 9/18/2002; BBC, 10/1/2002; New York Times, 10/2/2002]
Iraqis, Allies Find Resolution Unacceptable - Iraq is infuriated by the draft resolution and calls it “unacceptable.” Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan states, “The position on the inspectors has been decided and any new measure intended to harm Iraq is unacceptable.” French President Jacques Chirac immediately expresses his opposition to the US-proposed draft resolution and seeks to form a coalition to prevent its passing. He explains that France favors the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq absent of any ultimatums because of “the seriousness of the decisions to be taken and the consequences.” He meets with Chinese premier Zhu Rongji and calls Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. Russia is also upset with the proposed draft resolution. “In its current form, this resolution cannot be implemented by its very nature,” a source tells Reuters. [New York Times, 9/28/2002; Daily Telegraph, 9/29/2002; Reuters, 9/29/2002; Sydney Morning Herald, 9/30/2002]
An enhanced photo of the variola virus, which causes smallpox. [Source: University College London]New York Times reporter Judith Miller reports that the CIA is investigating an anonymous report that Iraq has obtained a virulent strain of smallpox from a Russian scientist. According to the anonymous informant, the smallpox may have come from Nelja N. Maltseva, a virologist who worked for over 30 years at the Research Institute for Viral Preparations in Moscow before her death in 2001. The CIA has briefed President Bush about the investigation, though, as Miller notes, “The attempt to verify the information is continuing.” Maltseva visited Iraq in 1972 and 1973, according to intelligence officials, and may have visited as recently as 1990. The facility where she worked housed what Russia has claimed was its entire national collection of some 120 strains of smallpox. Miller writes, “[S]ome experts fear that she may have provided the Iraqis with a version that could be resistant to vaccines and could be more easily transmitted as a biological weapon.” In response, the White House may decide that 500,000 military personnel and another 500,000 civilian medical workers should be vaccinated against smallpox, a disease officially eradicated in 1980. The White House says that despite promises made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia has not cooperated with US requests for information about its smallpox strains. “There is information we would like the Russians to share as a partner of ours,” says William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “Because if there are strains that present a unique problem with respect to vaccines and treatment, it is in the interests of all freedom-loving people to have as much information as possible.” Recently declassified Soviet-era records show that in 1971, Maltseva was sent to Aralsk, a port city in what was then the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, to help stop an epidemic of smallpox. That outbreak was possibly the result of open-air tests of a Soviet smallpox strain. Some scientists worry that Maltseva may have shared the Aralsk strain with Iraqi scientists in 1990, according to administration sources. David Kelly, a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, says there was a “resurgence of interest” in smallpox vaccine in Iraq in 1990, “but we have never known why.” Both Maltseva’s daughter and her deputy in the Moscow laboratory deny that Maltseva ever went to Iraq. [New York Times, 12/3/2002]
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. [Source: Broadcatching (.com)]The media response to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003) is overwhelmingly positive. Of his entrance in a fighter jet, the Detroit Free Press writes that Bush brought his “daring mission to a manly end.” The Washington Post’s David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, says that the “president has learned to move in a way that just conveys a great sense of authority and command.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 304]
Matthews Lauds Bush's 'Guy' Status - One of the most effusive cheerleaders for Bush is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On an episode of his Hardball broadcast, Matthews gushes about Bush’s “amazing display of leadership” and his appearance as a “high-flying jet star.” Bush “deserves everything he’s doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief?” Matthews compares Bush, who sat out Vietnam in the Texas Air National Guard, with former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded US forces in Europe during World War II. But, Matthews observes: “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West.” His “performance tonight [is] redolent of the best of Reagan.” Guest Ann Coulter, a staunch conservative, calls Bush’s performance “huge,” and adds: “It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself.” Democratic pollster Pat Caddell says when he first heard about it, he was “kind of annoyed” because “[i]t sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there’s a real—there’s a real affection between him and the troops.… He looks like a fighter pilot.” Matthews continues, “[H]e didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.” Later that night, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, Matthews waxes poetic about Bush’s manly qualities: “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern [whom Matthews does not identify as a pilot during World War II]. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits. We don’t want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.”
'Fighter Dog' - CNN’s Wolf Blitzer refers several times to Bush’s days as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, without referring to the swirling controversy over whether he used the Guard to get out of serving in Vietnam, and calls Bush “a one-time fighter dog.” Other media pundits and journalists use Bush’s appearance and service record to laud his performance. NBC’s Brian Williams says: “And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign art farm—art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.” Fox News’s Jon Scott says that Bush “made just about as grand an entrance tonight as the White House could have asked for.… Now, of course, President Bush flew fighters in the Air National Guard, but no pilot, no matter how experienced, can land on an aircraft carrier first time out. The president did take the stick for a short time during his flight, but he let another pilot handle the landing.” Fox’s Wendell Goler continues the tale of Bush actually flying the fighter plane by saying that Bush “took a 20-minute flight to the ship during which he briefly called on his skills as a pilot in the National Guard.” Goler quotes Bush as saying “he flew the plane about a third of the way from North Island Naval Air Station to the carrier Lincoln. He says the pilot asked him if he wanted to do some maneuvers, but he flew it mostly in a straight line.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Media Matters, 4/27/2006]
Dowd's Rhetorical Excesses - One of the more extreme reactions comes from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She writes of the jet landing and Bush’s exit from the plane: “The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the fighter jet from 150 mph to zero in two seconds. Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity. He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick [a reference to the iconic action film Top Gun] was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ‘revvin’ up your engine’ myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies [Bruckheimer produced Top Gun] look like Lizzie McGuire (a Disney Channel show). This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.” [Editor & Publisher, 5/3/2008]
Press Coverage and Later Response - The next day’s press coverage is equally enthusiastic. PBS reporter Gwen Ifill says Bush was “part Tom Cruise [another Top Gun reference], part Ronald Reagan.” The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller calls Bush’s speech “Reaganesque.” New York Times reporter David Sanger writes that Bush’s entrance echoed the movie Top Gun. The Washington Post also reports Bush’s claim of having actually flown the fighter for a period of time. On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer calls the image of Bush in the flight suit “one of the great pictures of all time,” and adds, “[I]f you’re a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.” Schieffer’s guest, Time columnist Joe Klein, adds: “[T]hat was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day.… And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb.” Fox News anchor Brit Hume says Bush was brave for risking the “grease and oil” on the flight deck while “[t]he wind’s blowing. All kinds of stuff could have gone wrong. It didn’t, he carried it off.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells CNN viewers: “Speaking as a woman… seeing President Bush get out of that plane, carrying his helmet, he is a real man. He stands by his word. That was a very powerful moment.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Media Matters, 4/27/2006; Editor & Publisher, 5/3/2008]
Entity Tags: David S. Broder, Chris Matthews, Tom Cruise, Texas Air National Guard, Ronald Reagan, Public Broadcasting System, Walter Mondale, Washington Post, Wendell Goler, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Ann Coulter, Bob Schieffer, Pat Caddell, Brian Williams, CBS News, Wolf Blitzer, Brit Hume, New York Times, Vladimir Putin, Michael Dukakis, George S. McGovern, Fox News, CNN, Elisabeth Bumiller, Detroit Free Press, David Sanger, Dwight Eisenhower, George W. Bush, NBC News, Jerry Bruckheimer, Keith Olbermann, Gwen Ifill, Karl C. Rove, Laura Ingraham, Jon Scott, MSNBC, Joe Klein, Maureen Dowd
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Irina Khakamada. [Source: Associated Press]Irina Khakamada, a leading liberal, pro-Western candidate for the Russian presidency, accuses Putin’s government of possible involvement in terrorist attacks blamed on Chechen rebels. The Los Angeles Times reports, “The implication of Khakamada’s accusations was that in both the 2002 theater crisis and the 1999 apartment bombings, authorities backing Putin may have wanted to see Russian citizens die and Chechen fighters painted as terrorists to boost support for military action in Chechnya and enhance the get-tough leader’s popularity.” Khakamada, a member of the anti-Putin Union of Right Forces party, says “there are a lot of suspicious things” about the 1999 apartment bombings and calls for an independent investigation. “This is a feature of real democracy, especially when it comes to investigations connected with actions of officials and special services,” she says. (She will earn 3.9 percent of the vote.) [Los Angeles Times, 1/19/2004; Guardian, 3/11/2006]
Russian President Vladimir Putin dismisses Israeli concerns that Russian sales of nuclear components to Iran represent a threat to Israel’s security. According to the terms of Russia’s agreement with Iran, Putin explains, Iran must return all of its spent nuclear fuel to Russia so it cannot be used for military purposes. [Associated Press, 4/28/2005]
Former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), one of the nation’s most respected defense experts, is critical of the Bush administration’s wholesale failure to work to help Russia secure its “loose nukes” (see January 10, 2001 and After and August 2002). “In measuring the adequacy of our response to today’s nuclear threats,” he says, “on a scale of one to ten, I would give us about a three.” Nunn adds that a recent summit between Presidents Bush and Putin moves the US “closer to a four.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 210]
Osama bin Laden is again rumored to be dead. The rumor is first sparked by the French newspaper L’Est Republicain, which publishes what it describes as a confidential document from the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure saying that bin Laden died of typhoid on August 23. The report is apparently based on information from Saudi Arabian intelligence. The issue becomes, as Time magazine puts it, “the question of the day,” but the accuracy of the report is questioned by French President Jacques Chirac, Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki al-Faisal, CIA Director Michael Hayden, and others, who all tell the media they think bin Laden may still be alive. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, remarks that leaks can be used for manipulation, saying, “When there are leaks… one can say that [they] were done especially.” [Time, 9/23/2006; MSNBC, 9/24/2006] Another video of bin Laden footage will be released a week later (see September 30, 2006), apparently by the US. A rumor of bin Laden’s death also preceded an audiotape released earlier in the year (see January 16, 2006, January 19, 2006, and January 19, 2006).
Russia strenuously objects to US plans to deploy 10 missile interceptors and an advanced radar system in Eastern Europe—in essence creating a missile defense system in several former Soviet satellite states. Russia says that those installations will be targeted by Russian nuclear weapons, and hints that it will accelerate its development of new ICBMs and new submarine-launched ballistic missiles, threatening a new, post-Cold War arms race. The US protests that the weapons systems are not intended for use against Russian targets, but the Russian government is not mollified. “In questions of military-strategic stability there are… immutable laws, actions, counteractions, defense, offensive systems,” says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “These laws operate regardless of how somebody would like to see this or that situation. The military has its own duty, to figure out threats and take countermeasures.” Russian President Vladimir Putin says that the US missile defense system plans are “destroying the strategic equilibrium in the world,” and adds, “In order to restore that balance without setting up a missile defense system, we will have to create a system to overcome missile defense, and that is what we are doing now.” If the US continues with its planned deployment, Russia says it will stop observing the limits on conventional arms in Europe, an agreement negotiated by George H. W. Bush, and will consider withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (see December 7-8, 1987). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 190-191]
George W. Bush warns that world leaders are risking World War III unless they work to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Bush makes his remarks at the White House, remarks timed to coincide with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran. Russia has in recent weeks warned the US about moving too quickly towards a violent confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program; Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush officials have responded by escalating their rhetoric towards Iran (see October 21, 2007) and requesting funding for weapons that could be used against Iran’s nuclear facilities (see Mid-October, 2007). “We’ve got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel,” Bush says. “So I’ve told people that, if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” In fact, Putin and Russian officials have repeatedly said that Iran is not building nuclear weapons, Russia has pledged to continue helping Iran develop its nuclear power technology, and Russia has led a coalition of Caspian nations who vow to prevent the US from using that region to launch any attacks against Iran. [Daily Telegraph, 10/20/2007]
Russian President Vladimir Putin says, rhetorically, that the new US sanctions against Iran are the work of a “madman.” Responding to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s announcement of the harsh new sanctions, Putin asks, “Why worsen the situation and bring it to a dead end by threatening sanctions or military action? Running around like a madman with a razor blade, waving it around, is not the best way to resolve the situation.” Instead, Putin says, the standoff between Iran and the US needs to be resolved diplomatically. He points to the recent agreement over North Korea’s nuclear program as an example. “Not long ago it didn’t seem possible to resolve the situation with North Korea’s nuclear program, but we have practically solved it relying on peaceful means.” The US insists the sanctions are warranted by what they call Iran’s refusal to shelve its nuclear program, and its support of Islamist terrorism. Russia is providing critical assistance in the construction of Iran’s first nuclear power plant, and has actively opposed further UN sanctions against that nation. [Associated Press, 10/25/2007; Press Association Group, 10/26/2007]
After spending a year traveling through the Middle East and writing about his experiences, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland says there is an “unmistakable effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons.” He adds: “That Iran has gone to great, secretive lengths to create and push forward a bomb-building capability is not a Bush delusion.… [T]ime is running out on the diplomatic track.” In late October, Hoagland dismissed Russian Premier Vladimir Putin’s doubt that Iran would be able to turn enriched uranium into a usable weapon (see October 26, 2007) as “implausible.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin calls officials in the government of South Korea to get them to influence a forthcoming vote to be cast by South Korean FIFA executive committee member Mong Joon Chung. Putin wants Chung to vote for Russia’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup. The leverage Putin uses to get the officials to pressure Chung is that South Korea needs Russian support in dealings with North Korea. Chung, a hugely wealthy member of the Hyundai dynasty with close links to South Korea’s ruling party, is then asked to vote for Russia. He has a pact with England to vote for its bid (see Before December 1, 2010), but does as he is now asked and votes for Russia (see Around 2:00 p.m. December 2, 2010). [Guardian, 12/4/2010]
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