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In an unusual display of rhetorical anger, the Soviet Union’s General Secretary, Yuri Andropov, responds to the US’s announcement of its development of an anti-ballistic missile defense (SDI, or “Star Wars”—see March 23, 1983) by accusing President Reagan of “inventing new plans on how to unleash a nuclear war in the best way, with the hope of winning it.” CIA analyst Benjamin Fischer will later call Andropov’s statement “unprecedented.” Ignoring the counsel of his own advisers to remain calm, Andropov, with unusually heated rhetoric, denounces the US program as a “bid to disarm the Soviet Union in the face of the US nuclear threat.” Such space-based defense, he says, “would open the floodgates of a runaway race of all types of strategic arms, both offensive and defensive. Such is the real significance, the seamy side, so to say, of Washington’s ‘defensive conception.‘… The Soviet Union will never be caught defenseless by any threat.… Engaging in this is not just irresponsible, it is insane.… Washington’s actions are putting the entire world in jeopardy.” Andropov’s statement violates what Fischer will describe as a “longstanding taboo” against “citing numbers and capabilities of US nuclear weapons in the mass media” as well as “referr[ing] to Soviet weapons with highly unusual specificity.” Fischer will go on to note: “[F]or the first time since 1953, the top Soviet leader was telling his nation that the world was on the verge of a nuclear holocaust. If candor is a sign of sincerity, then Moscow was worried.” [Fischer, 3/19/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 134]
The Reagan administration ignores the recommendations of a panel of experts named, at Congress’s behest, to provide alternatives to the stalled START arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union (see January 1983-April 1983). Spurred by hardliners in the administration, President Reagan instead instructs his negotiators to offer, not one unacceptable alternative, as initially offered to the Soviets (see May 1982 and After), but two unacceptable alternatives: either accept drastic limits on “throw weights,” or payloads, of their nuclear missiles, or accept harsh reductions in the number of ICBMs they can deploy, which will also reduce Soviet throw weight. The Soviets retort that the US is again trying to force them to disarm without agreeing to any reductions in their own nuclear arsenal. One Soviet official observes, “Your idea of ‘flexibility’ is to give a condemned man the choice between the rope and the ax.”
'Firing' the Executive Branch - Congressional leaders have had enough of the administration’s obstructionism, and brings in panel leader Brent Scowcroft to craft an alternative. In his 1984 book Deadly Gambits, future State Department official Strobe Talbott will write, “The Legislative Branch had, in effect, fired the Executive Branch for gross incompetence in arms control.” Scowcroft writes a proposal that enables both the US and USSR to reduce their nuclear arsenals with a measure of equivalence, taking into account the disparities between the two.
Misrepresenting the Proposal - The administration accepts Scowcroft’s proposal with some minor amendments, but the Soviets balk at the agreement, in part because chief US negotiator Edward Rowny, a hardliner who opposes arms negotiations on ideological grounds, misrepresents the proposal to his Soviet colleagues. The “basic position of this administration has not changed,” Rowny declares. In turn, the Soviets declare, “Ambassador Rowny is not a serious man.” When the talks come to their scheduled end in December 1983, the Soviets depart without setting a date for resumption.
More 'Sophisticated' Obstructionism - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write of the negotiations: “The conservative position had by now become far more sophisticated. By never rejecting negotiations outright, the administration could always claim that it was pursuing them with vigor, and if critics complained that its proposals were nonnegotiable, it could simply, if disingenuously, claim that it wanted to substantively reduce nuclear arsenals, not just perpetuate the status quo.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 124-125]
The US announces that the Soviet Union has established a large early-warning radar system near the city of Krasnoyarsk. The installation violates the 1972 ABM Treaty (see May 26, 1972), which requires that such installations be located near the nation’s border and oriented outward. It is possible that the Soviet radar installation is built in response to the US’s recent decision to violate the ABM treaty by developing a missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
Korean Airlines Flight 007 before takeoff. [Source: Check-Six (.org)]A Soviet Su-15 fighter plane fires two missiles into a Korean Airlines 747 passenger plane, KAL 007. The plane, en route from Alaska to Seoul, South Korea, had strayed into Soviet air space, had not responded to radio communications, and had either ignored or not seen warning shots fired at it. The 747 crashes into the Sea of Japan, killing all 269 passengers, including conservative House Representative Larry McDonald (D-GA) and 62 other Americans. The Soviets insist that the passenger plane was deliberately sent into their airspace to test their military readiness; later investigation shows that a US spy plane had just left the area, agitating Soviet radar units, and, according to their own radio transmissions, the Soviets had honestly believed the 747 was another spy plane, most likely an American RC-135. Though it has definitely strayed into Soviet airspace at least twice, and flown over a sensitive Soviet airbase on the Kamchatka Peninsula, it is most likely shot down in international airspace. [Fischer, 3/19/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 131]
Angry White House Officials Respond - Reagan administration officials are furious. Secretary of State George Shultz, dubbed “The Sphinx” by journalists for his remote demeanor, rails at the Soviets in a press conference called just four hours after the White House learns of the incident. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 131] Four days later, Reagan will denounce the Soviets in a primetime televised speech (see September 5, 1983).
Massive PR Campaign against USSR - The US will use the shootdown to mount a tremendous public relations campaign against the Soviets, focusing on the Soviet civilian leadership as well as Soviet international business interests; for example, the US will demand a global boycott of the Soviet airline Aeroflot. According to a memo issued to the Politburo by the Defense Ministry and the KGB, the Soviets well understood the political ramifications of the shootdown: “We are dealing with a major, dual-purpose political provocation carefully organized by the US special services. The first purpose was to use the incursion of the intruder aircraft into Soviet airspace to create a favorable situation for the gathering of defense data on our air defense system in the Far East, involving the most diverse systems including the Ferret satellite. Second, they envisaged, if this flight were terminated by us, [the US would use] that fact to mount a global anti-Soviet campaign to discredit the Soviet Union.” In its own counter-propaganda efforts, Soviet leader Yuri Andropov will say that an “outrageous military psychosis” has taken over US foreign policy. He adds, “[T]he Reagan administration, in its imperial ambitions, goes so far that one begins to doubt whether Washington has any brakes at all preventing it from crossing the point at which any sober-minded person must stop.” [Fischer, 3/19/2007]
Exacerbating Tensions - After the shootdown and its aftermath, according to the Soviet ambassador to the US, Anatoly Dobrynin, both sides go “a little crazy.” The shootdown gives the US hard evidence of its worst-case assumptions about the Soviets. For the Soviets, the US reaction gives them hard evidence of their own assumptions about the US’s attempts to provoke the USSR into some sort of confrontation (see 1981-1983) and to embarrass the Soviet Union in the eyes of the world. Reagan’s use of the KAL 007 incident to ask Congress for more defense funding is, in the Soviets’ eyes, proof that the entire incident was engineered by the Americans for just such an outcome. [Fischer, 3/19/2007]
Alternative Accounts - A number of alternative accounts about the incident spring up, in particular concerning McDonald. [Insight, 4/16/2001]
Four days after the Soviet shootdown of a Korean Airlines passenger jet (see September 1, 1983), President Reagan delivers a televised speech from the Oval Office calling the incident a “massacre,” a “crime against humanity,” and “an atrocity.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 131] The shootdown is, Reagan says, “an act of barbarism, born of a society which wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life and seeks constantly to expand and dominate other nations.” [Fischer, 3/19/2007]
A week after President Reagan publicly denounced the Soviet Union for shooting down a Korean Airlines passenger jet (see September 1, 1983 and September 5, 1983), Secretary of State George Shultz meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Gromyko later recalls the conversation as “the sharpest exchange I ever had with an American secretary of state, and I have had talks with 14 of them.” The Reagan administration will deny Gromyko permission to fly into New York City, where he is scheduled to attend the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 131]
Soviet Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov gives a press conference regarding the KAL 007 shootdown. [Source: Central Intelligence Agency]The Soviet Union, flustered and angry at the harsh denunciations heaped on it by the US after their shootdown of a Korean Airlines passenger jet (see September 1, 1983, September 5, 1983, and Mid-September, 1983), reacts badly to the US’s response. Between the KAL incident and other episodes—President Reagan’s terming the USSR an “evil empire” (see March 8, 1983), the refusal of the US to negotiate on arms reduction (see April 1983-December 1983), and the US’s launch of the Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense program (see April 1983-December 1983), the Soviets are not prepared to accept the US’s position on the shootdown, nor are they prepared to accept responsibility for shooting down a passenger plane full of civilians. Instead, the KAL incident provides what Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to the US, will later call “a catalyst for the angry trends that were already inherent in relations during the Reagan presidency.” Newly installed Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov issues a statement saying that US-Soviet relations cannot improve so long as Reagan is president: “If anybody ever had any illusions about the possibility of an evolution to the better in the policy of the present American administration, these illusions are completely dispelled now.” Soviet statements begin referring to the danger of war and US nuclear first strikes. The Soviet press calls Reagan a “madman” and compares him to Adolf Hitler. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko worries that “the world situation is now slipping towards a very dangerous precipice.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 132]
Yuri Andropov. [Source: BBC]Soviet leader Yuri Andropov issues an unusual “declaration” on US-Soviet relations that demonstrates the tension and mistrust between the two countries since the KAL 007 shootdown (see September 1, 1983). “The Soviet leadership deems it necessary to inform the Soviet people, other peoples, and all who are responsible for determining the policy of states, of its assessment of the course pursued in international affairs by the current US administration,” Andropov says. “In brief, it is a militarist course that represents a serious threat to peace.… If anyone had any illusion about the possibility of an evolution for the better in the policy of the present American administration, recent events have dispelled them completely.” According to the Soviet ambassador to the US, Anatoly Dobrynin, the last phrase is the key: the word “completely” was carefully chosen to express the Soviet consensus that the USSR cannot hope to reach any sort of understanding with the Reagan administration. In the following months, a “war scare” mentality engulfs the Soviet populace, fed by Soviet-generated propaganda, until it becomes so widespread that the Kremlin, fearing the agitation will get out of hand, takes steps in early 1984 to calm the fears it has helped generate. [Fischer, 3/19/2007]
In a speech, President Reagan states what later becomes part of the ideology behind the “Reagan doctrine” of American assistance to anti-Soviet insurgencies (see May 5, 1985). “The goal of the free world must no longer be stated in the negative,” he says, “that is, resistance to Soviet expansionism. The goal of the free world must now be stated in the affirmative. We must go on the offensive with a forward strategy for freedom.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 145]
Test firing of a US Pershing II IRBM. [Source: US Army / Public domain]The US and its NATO allies carry out a military exercise called “Able Archer,” or “Able Archer 83,” designed to simulate the use of nuclear weapons in an assault against the Soviet Union, and to test command and control procedures. The military exercise comes perilously close to touching off a real nuclear exchange with the USSR. The exercise—not the first of its kind, but the most expansive—is huge, spanning Europe from Turkey to Scandinavia; it involves the heads of state of countries like Great Britain and Germany; and, perhaps most alarmingly for the Soviets, involves NATO forces escalating their military alert levels to DEFCON-1, at which point NATO nuclear weapons have their safeguards disabled and are ready for launch. The Soviet’s VRYAN program to detect a possible assault (see May 1981) is extremely active. On November 8, Moscow sends high-priority telegrams to its KGB stations in Western Europe demanding information about a possible surprise first attack on the USSR. Though little actual evidence exists, some sources erroneously tell Moscow that NATO ground forces are mobilizing. The KGB concludes that “Able Archer” is a cover for a real military assault; Warsaw Pact fighter units armed with nuclear weapons are put on alert in East Germany and Poland. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 134-135; Cardiff Western News, 11/10/2008]
'Frighteningly Close' to Nuclear War, Says Soviet Intelligence Official - Oleg Gordievsky, the intelligence chief of the Soviet embassy in London and a British double agent, warns the British that the West is entering what he calls a “danger zone.” The Daily Telegraph will later write, “It was on Nov. 8-9 that the Kremlin had pressed what came close to a panic button.” [Washington Post, 10/16/1988] In his memoirs, Gordievsky will write: “In the tense atmosphere generated by the crises and rhetoric of the past few months, the KGB concluded that American forces had been placed on alert—and might even have begun the countdown to war.… [D]uring ABLE ARCHER 83 it had, without realizing it, come frighteningly close—certainly closer than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.” [Fischer, 3/19/2007]
Reagan 'Shocked' at Soviet Reaction - The exercise ends without incident, but National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane will later admit, “The situation was very grave.” Secretary of State George Shultz terms the exercise “a close call” and “quite sobering.” In early 1984, when the CIA reports that the Soviets had been convinced that the US was readying a nuclear strike, President Reagan will be, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “shocked” to realize that he and his administration “had nearly started a nuclear war.” Reagan, in McFarlane’s recollection, will show “genuine anxiety” and begin talking about the concept of Armageddon—the Biblical end times—with his advisers. [Fischer, 3/19/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 134-135]
Poster for ‘The Day After.’ [Source: MGM]The made-for-TV movie The Day After airs on ABC. It tells the story of a group of Americans in Lawrence, Kansas—the geographical center of the continental United States—who survive a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union, and the harrowing days and weeks of their existence afterwards, as they slowly die from radiation poisoning and a lack of food and water. “Bootleged” copies of the movie have been available for months, adding to the anticipation and the controversy surrounding it.
Concerns of 'Anti-Nuclear Bias' from White House - The movie, described by Museum of Broadcast Communications reviewer Susan Emmanuel as “starkly realistic,” caused concern in the White House because of what it saw as its “anti-nuclear bias.” (The production had taken place without the cooperation of the Defense Department, which had insisted on emphasizing that the Soviet Union had started the exchange depicted in the movie. The filmmakers did not want to take a political stance, and preferred to leave that question unclear.) To address the White House’s concerns, ABC distributed a half-million viewers’ guides to schools, libraries, and civic and religious groups, and organized discussion groups around the country. It will also conduct extensive social research after the broadcast to judge the reactions among children and adults. A discussion group featuring Secretary of State George Shultz takes place immediately after the broadcast. Its original broadcast is viewed by roughly 100 million viewers, an unprecedented audience. It is shown three weeks later on Britain’s ITV network as part of a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament recruitment drive. Emmanuel will later write, “Not since then has the hybrid between entertainment and information, between a popular genre like disaster, and the address to the enlightened citizen, been as successfully attempted by a network in a single media event. ” [Lometti, 1992; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 133; Museum of Broadcast Communications, 1/26/2008] Even though the filmmakers tried to remain politically neutral—director Nicholas Meyer says his film “does not advocate disarmament, build-down, buildup, or freeze”—proponents of the “nuclear freeze” movement hail the movie and conservatives call it a “two hour commercial for disarmament.” (ABC’s social research later shows that the film does not have a strong impact on viewers either for or against nuclear disarmament.) Conservative evangelist Jerry Falwell threatens, but does not execute, a boycott of the commercial sponsors of the film. Some Congressional Democrats ask that the movie be made available for broadcast in the Soviet Union. [Lometti, 1992]
Powerful Impact on President Reagan - The movie has a powerful impact on one viewer: President Reagan. He will reflect in his memoirs that the film leaves him “greatly depressed” and makes him “aware of the need for the world to step back from the nuclear precipice.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write: “If it seems vaguely ridiculous for a Cold War president to reach this conclusion only after watching a made-for-TV movie, remember that Reagan biographers have long noted that his connection to film was often stronger than his connection to reality. He also became far more intellectually and emotionally engaged when presented with issues framed as personal stories, rather than as policy proposals.” Reagan’s visceral reaction to the film heralds a fundamental shift in his approach to the US-Soviet nuclear arms race. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 133]
President Reagan, still shaken from the near-catastrophe of the “Able Archer” exercise (see November 2-11, 1983) and his viewing of the nuclear holocaust film The Day After (see November 20, 1983), receives a briefing on the nation’s nuclear war plans (see March 1982). Reagan had put off the briefing for almost two years, causing some of his more hardline advisers and officials to wonder if the president was losing his taste for a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. Some of them privately believe that Reagan might never order a nuclear attack on the USSR no matter what the provocation. The briefing is anchored by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Vessey. They explain to Reagan that the US has 50,000 Soviet sites targeted for nuclear strikes; half of those sites are economic, industrial, political, and population centers. If the US launches such a strike, they say, the USSR would almost certainly retaliate, destroying the US as a functional society. Officials at the briefing later recall Reagan appearing “chastened” and brooding afterwards. In his diary, Reagan calls the briefing a “most sobering experience,” and writes of how much the briefing reminds him of The Day After: “In several ways, the sequence of events described in the briefings paralleled those in the ABC movie.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 133] He also writes in his diary how he is “even more anxious to get a top Soviet leader in a room alone and try to convince him we had no designs on the Soviet Union and the Russians had nothing to fear from us.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139]
Though President Reagan has long vowed to reduce the number of nuclear weapons between the US and Soviet Union (see April 1981 and After and March-April 1982), because of a variety of factors—his recalcitrant anti-communism (see May 27, 1981, June 8, 1982, and March 8, 1983), his belief that escalating the arms race between the two countries would force the Soviets to give up their attempt to stay abreast of the Americans (see Early 1981 and After, Early 1981 and After, and Spring 1982), and his aides’ success at sabotaging the US-Soviet arms negotiations (see January 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983)—recent events (see November 2-11, 1983 and November 20, 1983) have convinced him that he must fundamentally change the way he approaches the US’s dealings with the Soviets. He tells reporters that he will no longer refer to the USSR as “the focus of evil.” He drops what is known as “the standard threat speech” and begins speaking more frequently and openly of nuclear disarmament, to the dismay of many of his hardline advisers. In one speech, he says: “The fact that neither of us likes the other system is no reason to refuse to talk. Living in this nuclear age makes it imperative that we do talk.” Speechwriter Jack Matlock, a pragmatist recently put in charge of the National Security Council’s Soviet affairs desk, wins Reagan’s approval to insert a quote from a speech by President Kennedy: “So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.” He stops using terms like “conflict” in favor of terms such as “misunderstandings.” The rhetoric of “good vs evil,” of “us vs them,” is set aside in favor of discussions of mutual interests and problem solving. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 138-139]
Following a March 1985 directive signed by President Reagan that sharply escalates US covert action in Afghanistan, the Pakistani ISI begins training Afghans to launch strikes directly into Soviet territory. Apparently the idea originated with CIA Director William Casey who first proposed harassing Soviet territory in 1984 (see October 1984). According to Graham Fuller, a senior US intelligence official, most top US officials consider such military raids “an incredible escalation” and fear a large-scale Soviet response if they are carried out. The Reagan administration decides not to give Pakistan detailed satellite photographs of military targets inside the Soviet Union. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992] Mohammad Yousaf, a high-ranking ISI officer, will later claim that the training actually began in 1984. “During this period we were specifically to train and dispatch hundreds of mujaheddin up to 25 kilometers deep inside the Soviet Union. They were probably the most secret and sensitive operations of the war.” He notes that, “By 1985, it became obvious that the United States had got cold feet. Somebody at the top in the American administration was getting frightened.” But, he claims, “the CIA, and others, gave us every encouragement unofficially to take the war into the Soviet Union.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 286-287] Casey will approve of such attacks and the first attack inside the Soviet Union will take place in 1985 (see 1985-1987).
President Reagan’s new tone of reconciliation with the Soviet Union (see December 1983 and After) wins a positive response from Soviet Premier Konstantin Chernenko, a pragmatist who has just replaced the far more ideologically hardline Yuri Andropov. Chernonko writes that he sees an “opportunity to put our relations on a more positive track.” The National Security Council and State Department both begin moving to renew serious dialogue with the Soviets. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139]
During a sound check prior to a radio broadcast, Ronald Reagan jokes into the microphone that he has ordered the bombing of the USSR: “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” The gaffe, replayed during news broadcasts for days, cuts heavily into Reagan’s campaign poll lead over Democratic challenger Walter Mondale. [PBS, 2000]
William Casey (left, with glasses) and General Akhtar Abdur Rahman (center) touring Afghan training camps in the 1980s. [Source: Associated Press]CIA Director William Casey makes a secret visit to Pakistan to plan a strategy to defeat Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Casey is flown to secret training camps near the Afghan border where he watches trainees fire weapons and make bombs. According to the Washington Post: “During the visit, Casey startled his Pakistani hosts by proposing that they take the Afghan war into enemy territory—into the Soviet Union itself. Casey wanted to ship subversive propaganda through Afghanistan to the Soviet Union’s predominantly Muslim southern republics.” The Pakistanis agree to the plan and soon the CIA begins sending subversive literature and thousands of Korans to Soviet republics such as Uzbekistan. Mohammad Yousaf, a Pakistani general who attends the meeting, will later say that Casey said, “We can do a lot of damage to the Soviet Union.” [Washington Post, 7/19/1992] This will eventually evolve into CIA and ISI sponsored Afghan attacks inside the Soviet Union (see 1984-March 1985 and 1985-1987).
In 1985, the CIA, MI6 (Britain’s intelligence agency), and the Pakistani ISI agree to launch guerrilla attacks from Afghanistan into then Soviet-controlled Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, attacking military installations, factories, and storage depots within Soviet territory. Some Afghans have been trained for this purpose since 1984 (see 1984-March 1985). The task is given to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan warlord closely linked to the ISI. According to an account in the Washington Post, in March 1987, small units cross from bases in northern Afghanistan into Tajikistan and launched their first rocket attacks against villages there. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001] However, Mohammad Yousaf, a high-ranking ISI officer at the time, will later write a well regarded book about the Soviet-Afghan war and will give a different account. He will claim the attacks in the Soviet Union actually begin in 1985 and are much more numerous. He says, “These cross-border strikes were at their peak in 1986. Scores of attacks were made across the Amu (River)… Sometimes Soviet citizens joined in these operations, or came back into Afghanistan to join the mujaheddin… That we were hitting a sore spot was confirmed by the ferocity of the Soviets’ reaction. Virtually every incursion provoked massive aerial bombing and gunship attacks on all villages south of the river in the vicinity of our strike.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 286] By all accounts, these secret attacks are strongly backed by CIA Director William Casey and come to an end when he dies later in 1987. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992; Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 285-286]
Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko, in office just 13 months, dies of a long illness. Chernenko had moved to reopen talks with the US (see February 23, 1984 and Early 1985). President Reagan sends Vice President George H. W. Bush to the funeral with an invitation to hold a summit meeting with Chernenko’s successor, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev signals his acceptance (see November 16-19, 1985). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139]
The US and the Soviet Union engage in the Nuclear and Space Talks (NST) in Geneva. The US wants to discuss a transition from mutual nuclear deterrence based solely on the threat of nuclear retaliation (the concept of MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction) to increased reliance on ground- and space-based defense systems such as its Strategic Defense Initiative (see March 23, 1983). In its turn, the USSR wants a comprehensive ban on research, development, testing, and deployment of “space-strike arms.” [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
Reagan officials admit the administration’s policy of sponsoring armed insurgencies against Soviet-backed governments in developing nations. This policy is soon labeled the “Reagan doctrine” (see October 1983) [PBS, 2000] and credited with helping bring about the fall of the Soviet Union. However, author J. Peter Scoblic will later write that the “Reagan doctrine” never really existed.
Aid to Anti-Soviet Insurgencies Far Less than Generally Thought - It is true, he will observe, that the US under President Reagan gave some assistance to countries with popular uprisings against Soviet-backed governments, but only in one—the “geostrategically insignificant” Grenada—did he send American troops to overthrow a Cuban-backed government and install a puppet government favorable to the US. In other countries such as Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Poland, and Angola, the US supported anti-communist or anti-socialist movements by funding and supplying arms to insurgents. But there is far more going on with these countries than conservatives will acknowledge. In Afghanistan, for example, the anti-Soviet mujaheddin were backed not only by the Carter administration, but by Chinese communists who opposed Soviet expansion into Central Asia. And Reagan’s support is, in Scoblic’s words, “equivocal”; by the time Reagan officials admit their administration’s policy of supporting anti-Soviet insurgencies, it has already rolled back many of the Carter-era sanctions against the USSR even though Soviet troops still occupied Afghanistan. In 1981, when the USSR ordered the Polish government to crack down on the labor movement Solidarity, the US did little except briefly impose economic sanctions on high-tech goods. And though many Reagan officials and conservatives outside the administration called for military intervention against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, the US never sends troops into that country, even though the idea of Soviet expansionism in Central America—the US’s geopolitical “back yard”—is anathema to most Americans. (Reagan once complained to his chief of staff Donald Regan, “Those sons of b_tches [presumably administration hardliners] won’t be happy until we have 25,000 troops in Managua, and I’m not going to do it.” And it was certainly not in line with conservative thought to sell arms to Iran, even if it was to obtain the release of American hostages.
No Actual Analysis of Support Strategies - Reagan’s National Security Adviser, Robert McFarlane, will later say: “Doctrines are things which come from thoughtful analysis of problems, threats, possible ways of dealing with them.… Not one nanosecond went into any [analysis] associated with the support of pro-democracy insurgent elements through the world.” The Reagan administration reacted to events rather than followed thought-out guidelines laying out a plan of action against Soviet expansionism.
Term Created by Neoconservative Columnist - The term “Reagan doctrine” was actually coined in April 1985 by neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, an obdurate advocate of the Nicaraguan Contras and for escalated US support of anti-Soviet insurgencies. He later explained that he “hoped that a ‘doctrine’ enshrining the legitimacy of overthrowing nasty communist governments would obviate the need for rhetorical ruses… and keep the debate—and the administration—honest.” Scoblic will later write, “In other words, he knew that the administration was not naturally inclined to such an aggressive strategy.”
Policies Aligned with Predecessors - The Reagan policies towards the Soviet Union are actually much in line with those of his predecessors, stretching all the way back to Harry Truman, Scoblic will write. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 145-149]
National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, speaking for the Reagan administration, proposes a new, “broad” interpretation of the US-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972) on national television. McFarlane proposes that space-based and mobile systems and components based on “other physical principles,” i.e. lasers, particle beams, etc., should be developed and tested, but not deployed. (The traditional, “narrow” interpretation of the treaty is more restrictive.) Days later, President Reagan announces that while he and his administration support this “broad” interpretation, as a matter of national policy, the US’s Strategic Defense Initiative (see March 23, 1983) will continue to observe the more traditional interpretation. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
Days before President Reagan’s scheduled Geneva summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985), Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger attempts to sabotage the meeting by leaking to the press a letter he had recently written to Reagan outlining what he called systematic Soviet violations of existing arms treaties, and warning Reagan that if he makes any deal with Gorbachev, he implicitly accepts those infractions. Author J. Peter Scoblic will call it “a clumsy attempt to undermine the talks,” and one that angers the more moderate administration officials. Instead of undermining the negotiations as he had intended, Reagan takes Weinberger off the Geneva delegation. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143]
Reagan and Gorbachev at the Geneva summit meeting. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]The long-awaited summit meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev takes place in Geneva. The meeting, later known as the “fireside summit,” comes after months of Gorbachev’s reforms in the USSR—“glasnost,” or openness to government transparency; “perestroika,” a retooling of the moribund Stalinist economy; and a dogged anti-alcohol campaign, among others. Gorbachev has packed the Kremlin with officials such as new Foreign Minister Edvard Shevardnadze and chief economist Alexander Yakovlev, who back his reform campaigns. (Yakolev has even proposed democratization of the Soviet Communist Party.) Reagan and Gorbachev have exchanged several letters which have helped build relations between the two leaders. Reagan, unlike some of his hardline advisers, is excited about the summit, and has diligently prepared, even holding mock debates with National Security Council member Jack Matlock playing Gorbachev. Reagan has also quietly arranged—without the knowledge of his recalcitrant hardline advisers—for an extension of the scheduled 15-minute private meeting between himself and Gorbachev. The two actually talk for five hours. Nothing firm is agreed upon during this first meeting, but as Reagan later recalls, it marks a “fresh start” in US-Soviet relations. Gorbachev returns to the USSR promoting his and Reagan’s agreement on the need to reduce nuclear arms; Reagan presents the summit as a “victory” in which he did not back down to Soviet pressure, but instead emphasized the need for the Soviets to honor basic human rights for their citizens. Gorbachev realizes that Reagan’s abhorrence of nuclear weapons and his desire for a reduction in nuclear arms (see April 1981 and After) is personal and not shared by many of his administration’s officials, much less the US defense industry. As a result, he focuses on personal contacts and appeals to Reagan, and puts less stock in formal negotiations between the two. [National Security Archive, 11/22/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139-140; Margaret Thatcher Foundation, 1/23/2008]
Samuel Loring Morison is prosecuted by the Justice Department for providing classified pictures of a Soviet nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Jane’s Defense magazine. Morison, a naval intelligence analyst specializing in Soviet amphibious and mine-laying vessels, works part time for Jane’s, and has been warned about potential conflicts of interest. Part of Morison’s motives for passing classified information to the magazine is his belief that the US citizenry, if they knew about the carrier, would demand to “increase the defense budget.” Even though the Justice Department itself acknowledges that Morison did nothing to threaten national security, it successfully prosecutes him under the 1917 Espionage Act. Morison will serve a two-year prison sentence.
Commentary - Former Nixon White House aide John Dean will write in 2004 that if the same standard used to prosecute Morison were to be more widely applied, “several presidents and secretaries of state could have been prosecuted for information in their memoirs.” Before Morison, no one had ever been prosecuted for publishing leaked information. In Dean’s view, Morison is prosecuted under a standard more appropriate to Britain’s Official Secrets Act, not any applicable US law, and is a victim of the worst kind of selective law enforcement. Thirty-four amicus curiae briefs will be filed on Morison’s behalf, from a host of newspapers, television news networks, and news media trade and professional associations.
Pardon - In 1998, Senator Daniel Moynihan (D-NY) will call Morison’s conviction an “anomaly,” the only one of its kind in 81 years, and ask President Clinton to pardon Morison. He will write, “What is remarkable is not the crime, but that [Morison] is the only one convicted of an activity which has become a routine aspect of government life: leaking information to the press in order to bring pressure to bear on a policy question.” Clinton will grant the pardon in 2001. [Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 9/29/1998; Research Foundation of the University of Texas A&M, 1/21/2003; Dean, 2004, pp. 66-67, 221]
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, following up on the successful “fireside summit” between himself and Ronald Reagan (see November 16-19, 1985), sends Reagan a letter calling for drastic reductions in US and Soviet nuclear weapons. He proposes the complete eradication of all nuclear weapons by the year 2000. He proposes cutting strategic arsenals by half, banning space-based weapons outright, and halting nuclear testing. He also proposes the complete dismantlement of all intermediate-range systems in Europe—in essence accepting the US’s “zero option” that was such a sticking point in earlier negotiations (see September 1981 through November 1983). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139-140] One administration hardliner, chief arms negotiator Edward Rowny (see May 1982 and After), warns Reagan that the Soviets are inherently untrustworthy and begs him “not to go soft on this.” Instead of giving Rowny what he wants, Reagan launches into what Rowny will later recall as a Martin Luther King-like speech: “I have a dream. I have a dream of a world without nuclear weapons. I want our children and grandchildren particularly to be free of those weapons.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143]
Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab [Source: Associated Press]Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab are, as a CIA officer puts it, “intricately tied together” in a number of ways. Their relationship apparently begins in the mid-1980s, when Ibn Khattab goes to fight in Afghanistan and reportedly meets bin Laden there. It ends in March 2002 with Khattab’s death (see March 19, 2002). [BBC, 4/26/2002; Independent, 5/1/2002; Washington Post, 4/26/2003; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
They share fundraising and recruiting networks. For example, a Florida cell of radical Sunnis that is monitored by the FBI starting in 1993 is involved with both organizations (see (October 1993-November 2001)). Radical London imam Abu Qatada raises money for jihad in Chechnya (see 1995-February 2001 and February 2001) and is a key figure in al-Qaeda-related terrorism who is in communication with al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida. [BBC, 3/23/2004; Nasiri, 2006, pp. 273] The Finsbury Park mosque of fellow London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is used as a conduit for funds for both jihad in Chechnya and bin Laden’s Darunta camp in Afghanistan (see March 1999 and March 2000-February 2001);
Bin Laden sends hundreds of fighters to help the Chechen cause, and this is publicly revealed no later than August 2000 (see May 2000);
The two leaders debate strategy; [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006] and
Ibn Khattab establishes camps for trainees sent to him by bin Laden, and the US is aware of this no later than October 1998 (see October 16, 1998).
Despite bin Laden’s contribution to the Chechen effort, he does not have control of operations there. [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006] Zacarias Moussaoui will later be linked to Khattab (see August 22, 2001).
Gorbachev and Reagan at the Reykjavik summit. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]President Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Reykjavik, Iceland, for a second summit, to follow on the success of their first meeting almost a year before (see November 16-19, 1985). They base their discussion on Gorbachev’s January proposals of deep cuts in the two nations’ nuclear arsenals (see January 1986).
Elimination of All Nuclear Weapons by 1996 - Gorbachev and his negotiators begin by reiterating Gorbachev’s proposals for a 50 percent cut in all nuclear weapons, deep reductions in Soviet ICBMs, and the elimination of all European-based intermediate nuclear weapons. Reagan and his negotiators counter with a proposal for both sides to destroy half of their nuclear ballistic missiles in the next five years, and the rest to be destroyed over the next five, leaving both sides with large arsenals of cruise missiles and bomber-based weapons. Gorbachev ups the ante, proposing that all nuclear weapons be destroyed within 10 years. Reagan responds that it would be fine with him “if we eliminated all nuclear weapons,” implicitly including all tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and everywhere else. Gorbachev says, “We can do that,” and Secretary of State George Shultz says, “Let’s do it.”
Agreement Founders on SDI - The heady moment is lost when the two sides fail to reach an agreement on SDI—the Americans’ “Star Wars” missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). Gorbachev cannot accept any major reductions in nuclear weapons if the US has a viable missile defense system; Reagan is convinced that SDI would allow both sides to eliminate their nuclear weapons, and offers the SDI technology to the Soviets. Gorbachev finds Reagan’s offer naive, since there is no guarantee that future presidents would honor the deal. Reagan, in another example of his ignorance of the mechanics of the US nuclear program (see April 1981 and After), does not seem to realize that even a completely effective SDI program would not defend against Soviet cruise missiles and long-range bombers, and therefore would not end the threat of nuclear destruction for either side. Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, “[SDI] would have convinced the Soviet Union that the United States sought a first-strike capability, since the Americans were so far ahead in cruise missile and stealth bomber technology.” Gorbachev does not ask that the US abandon SDI entirely, but simply observe the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty (see May 26, 1972) and confine SDI research to the laboratory. Reagan refuses. Gorbachev says that if this is the US’s position, then they would have to “forget everything they discussed.” Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze breaks in, saying that the two nations are “so close” to making history that “if future generations read the minutes of these meetings, and saw how close we had come but how we did not use these opportunities, they would never forgive us.” But the agreement is not to be.
Participants' Reactions - As Shultz later says, “Reykjavik was too bold for the world.” Shultz tells reporters that he is “deeply disappointed” in the results, and no longer sees “any prospect” for a third summit. Gorbachev tells reporters that Reagan’s insistence on retaining SDI had “frustrated and scuttled” the opportunity for an agreement. Gorbachev says he told Reagan that the two countries “were missing a historic chance. Never had our positions been so close together.” Reagan says as he is leaving Iceland that “though we put on the table the most far-reaching arms control proposal in history, the general secretary [Gorbachev] rejected it.” Scoblic will later write, “In the end, ironically, it was Reagan’s utopianism, hitched as it was to a missile shield, that preserved the status quo.” [Washington Post, 10/13/1986; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 140-142]
Hardline Sabotage - One element that contributes to the failure of the negotiations is the efforts to undermine the talks by hardline advisers Richard Perle and Ken Adelman, who tell Reagan that confining SDI to research facilities would destroy the program. Perle and Adelman are lying, but Reagan, not knowing any better, believes them, and insists that SDI remain in development. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143-144]
Going Too Far? - Reagan’s negotiators, even the most ardent proponents of nuclear reduction, are shocked that he almost agreed to give up the US’s entire nuclear arsenal—with Shultz’s encouragement. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand are horrified at the prospect, given that NATO’s nuclear arsenal in Europe is the only real counterweight to the huge Red Army so close to the borders of Western European nations. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 140-142]
Failure of Trust - The US-Soviet talks may well have foundered on an inability of either side to trust the other one to the extent necessary to implement the agreements. During the talks, Soviet aide Gyorgy Arbatov tells US negotiator Paul Nitze that the proposals would require “an exceptional level of trust.” Therefore, Arbatov says, “we cannot accept your position.” [National Security Archives, 3/12/2008]
Edvard Shevardnadze. [Source: US Defense Department]The Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party decides that the Soviet-Afghan War should end “within one year or two.” This follows on from a tentative and secret agreement within the Politburo the previous year to eventually withdraw from Afghanistan. The withdrawal will be formalized in an agreement signed in Geneva in April 1988 (see April 1988) and the last troops with leave Afghanistan in February 1989 (see February 15, 1989). Soviet Foreign Minister Edvard Shevardnadze will inform US Secretary of State George Shultz of the decision the year after it is taken and the CIA will learn of it by November 1987. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 132-3, 486]
Mathias Rust Landing in Moscow. [Source: sssss]In a quixotic attempt to ease Cold War tensions, a German teenager named Mathias Rust penetrates Soviet air defenses and flies all the way from Helsinki to Moscow, finally landing within yards of the Kremlin. His success in defeating Soviet air security is called “a national shame” by Mikhail Gorbachev, who promptly sacks a number of top military officers.
Entering Soviet Airspace - According to a detailed recounting of Rust’s flight in Air & Space Magazine, his small Cessna is seen on Soviet radar as soon as he enters Soviet air space in what—after the break-up of the Soviet Union—is Estonia and, since he is not on a pre-approved flight, “three missile units were put on alert.” Throughout his flight, Rust takes no special measures to evade radar and simply flies straight toward Moscow at about 1,000 feet above ground. As he flies deeper inland, Soviet controllers continue to monitor his progress; “army units [are] put on high alert and two fighter-interceptors [… are] scrambled to investigate.” One of the interceptors reports seeing a small plane but takes no further action. It is unclear why Rust is not immediately forced to land or simply shot down.
More Fighters Scrambled - About two hours later, as Rust enters another radar sector, the same sequence of events takes place: he is seen on radar, two fighters are scrambled. “A Soviet MIG-23 pull[s] up beside him.” Once again, for reasons that will not be established, the commander on the ground takes no further action: “the fighter pilot’s commander either did not believe the pilot’s report or did not think it was significant, so the information was never passed up the chain of command.” As he continues to Moscow, Rust’s plane is never lost to radar, but controllers fail to realize that he is an unauthorized foreign plane—there are no such things in the Soviet Union—and conclude that he must be a “student” or “a helicopter on a search-and-rescue mission.”
"Ring of Steel" - Although Rust has turned off his transponder, air controllers decide to assign him a “friendly” designation, assuming he is a Soviet pilot who has forgotten to turn it on. As he approaches Moscow, Rust “pass[es] the outermost belt of Moscow’s vaunted ‘Ring of Steel,’ an elaborate network of anti-aircraft defenses that since the 1950s had been built up as a response to the threat of US bombers. The rings of missile placements circle the city […] but were not designed to fend off a single, slow-flying Cessna.” Finally, Rust reaches the outskirts of Moscow. The city’s airspace is restricted, with all overflights prohibited. “At about this time, Soviet investigators would later tell Rust, radar controllers realize[…] something [is] terribly wrong, but it [is] too late for them to act.”
Mass Firings - The Soviet leadership’s reaction to the military’s bungling will be swift. Within days, the defense minister and air defense chief will be sacked and later “hundreds of other officers [will be] fired or replaced […]. It will be the biggest turnover in the Soviet military command since Stalin’s bloody purges of the 1930s.” [New York Times, 6/7/1987; Air & Space Magazine, 6/1/2005; Washington Post, 5/27/2007]
President Reagan speaking before the Brandenberg Gate. [Source: Public domain]In one of the most iconic moments in modern history, President Reagan, in a speech before the Brandenberg Gate in the Berlin Wall, challenges Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to raze the wall and allow East and West Berlin to become one city again. Reagan says: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan’s speech is widely, if perhaps simplistically, credited for bringing about the end of the Soviet Union. [PBS, 2000]
Gorbachev and Reagan sign the INF treaty. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sign a fundamental disarmament agreement. The two sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has been stalled for years (see September 1981 through November 1983). The INF Treaty eliminates an entire class of intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles. It also provides for on-site verifications for each side (which agrees with Reagan’s signature quote, “Trust but verify”). And it marks the first real multi-lateral reduction of nuclear weapons, even if it is only a 5 percent reduction.
Strong Approval from American Public - Reagan’s approval ratings, weakened by public outrage over the Iran-Contra affair, rebound, and Gorbachev becomes a celebrity to many Americans (he causes a near-riot in Washington when, the day before signing the treaty, he spontaneously leaps out of his limousine and wades into the gathered crowd of well-wishers). Altogether, some 80 percent of Americans support the treaty.
Unable to Continue Longer-Range Negotiations - Reagan wants to build on the INF agreement to reopen the similarly moribund START negotiations (see May 1982 and After), but recognizes that there is not enough time left in his administration to accomplish such a long-term goal. Instead, he celebrates his status as the first American president to begin reducing nuclear arms by scheduling a visit to the Soviet Union.
Conservative Opposition - Hardline conservatives protest Gorbachev’s visit to Washington, and the signing of the treaty, in the strongest possible terms. When Reagan suggests that Gorbachev address a joint session of Congress, Congressional Republicans, led by House member Dick Cheney (R-WY—see 1983), rebel. Cheney says: “Addressing a joint meeting of Congress is a high honor, one of the highest honors we can accord anyone. Given the fact of continuing Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, Soviet repression in Eastern Europe, and Soviet actions in Africa and Central America, it is totally inappropriate to confer this honor upon Gorbachev. He is an adversary, not an ally.” Conservative Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Committee is more blunt in his assessment of the treaty agreement: “Reagan is a weakened president, weakened in spirit as well as in clout, and not in a position to make judgments about Gorbachev at this time.” Conservative pundit William F. Buckley calls the treaty a “suicide pact.” Fellow conservative pundit George Will calls Reagan “wildly wrong” in his dealings with the Soviets. Conservatives gather to bemoan what they call “summit fever,” accusing Reagan of “appeasement” both of communists and of Congressional liberals, and protesting Reagan’s “cutting deals with the evil empire” (see March 8, 1983). They mount a letter-writing campaign, generating some 300,000 letters, and launch a newspaper ad campaign that compares Reagan to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Steven Symms (R-ID) try to undercut the treaty by attempting to add amendments that would make the treaty untenable; Helms will lead a filibuster against the treaty as well.
Senate Ratification and a Presidential Rebuke - All the protests from hardline opponents of the treaty come to naught. When the Senate votes to ratify the treaty, Reagan says of his conservative opposition, “I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting an understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the superpowers.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 142-145]
As the end of President Reagan’s final term approaches, conservatives and hardliners have radically changed their view of him. They originally saw him as one of their own—a crusader for good against evil, obstinately opposed to communism in general and to any sort of arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union in specific. But recent events—Reagan’s recent moderation in rhetoric towards the Soviets (see December 1983 and After), the summits with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985 and October 11-12, 1986), and the recent arms treaties with the Soviets (see Early 1985 and December 7-8, 1987) have soured them on Reagan. Hardliners had once held considerable power in the Reagan administration (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After), but their influence has steadily waned, and their attempts to sabotage and undermine arms control negotiations (see April 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983), initially quite successful, have grown less effective and more desperate (see Before November 16, 1985). Attempts by administration hardliners to get “soft” officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz fired do not succeed. Conservative pundits such as George Will and William Safire lambast Reagan, with Will accusing him of “moral disarmament” and Safire mocking Reagan’s rapport with Gorbachev: “He professed to see in Mr. Gorbachev’s eyes an end to the Soviet goal of world domination.” It will not be until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) that conservatives will revise their opinion of Reagan, in the process revising much of history in the process. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143-145]
In an agreement signed in Geneva, Switzerland, the Soviet Union pledges to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by February 15, 1989. They will end up withdrawing the last of their soldiers on that exact date (see February 15, 1989). At the time, the Soviets have slightly over 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 2/16/1989]
Mercy International USA’s logo. [Source: Mercy International USA]The 1999 book Dollars for Terror will allege that in 1989, Mercy International, a “subsidiary of the Muslim Brotherhood, was able to establish its headquarters in the United States, in the state of Michigan, with the assistance of the CIA. The Agency provided significant logistical and financial support to this ‘humanitarian’ organization, enabling it to act clandestinely in the various Balkan conflicts as well as within the Muslim communities of several Russian republics.” [Labeviere, 1999, pp. 364] Mercy International will later be tied to al-Qaeda in a number of ways. For instance, in the mid-1990s its Pakistan branch will be headed by Zahid Shaikh Mohammed, brother of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see 1988-Spring 1995). [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Its Kenya branch will be tied to the 1998 US embassy bombing there. Its Philippine branch is tied to Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 128, 188-189] Branches of this charity in different countries have slightly different names such as Mercy International-USA and Mercy International Relief Agency, and it has been claimed that the US branch has no connection with the terrorism-related branches. However, a 2003 article will draw links between the US branch and other branches. [National Review, 9/4/2003]
A convoy of Soviet tanks leaving Afghanistan. [Source: National Geographic]Soviet forces withdraw from Afghanistan, in accordance with an agreement signed the previous year (see April 1988). However, Afghan communists retain control of Kabul, the capital, until April 1992. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992] It is estimated that more than a million Afghans (eight per cent of the country’s population) were killed in the Soviet-Afghan War, and hundreds of thousands had been maimed by an unprecedented number of land mines. Almost half of the survivors of the war are refugees. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] Richard Clarke, a counterterrorism official during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the counterterrorism “tsar” by 9/11, will later say that the huge amount of US aid provided to Afghanistan drops off drastically as soon as the Soviets withdraw, abandoning the country to civil war and chaos. The new powers in Afghanistan are tribal chiefs, the Pakistani ISI, and the Arab war veterans coalescing into al-Qaeda. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 52-53]
Kosovo’s Assembly, in a highly irregular vote on March 23, approves the new Serbian constitution, already approved by the Assembly of the Republic of Serbia on February 3. The Kosovo vote does not meet the three-fourths majority necessary for amendments and is not held with a quorum, people from Belgrade and security personnel vote, and the votes are not actually counted. Assembly members are threatened if they vote no. The vote occurs under “a state of exception,” with disorder in the province and mobilization of the military.
Kosovo's Position under the New Serbian Constitution - Under the new Serbian constitution, the province is again called Kosovo and Metohija, and the autonomous provinces are defined as “a form of territorial autonomy,” regulated by the Serbian constitution. The 1968, 1971, and 1974 constitutional changes opposed by Serbs are nullified and Kosovo is in about the same position as it was under the 1945 and 1963 Yugoslav constitutions. The province loses its Executive Council and Assembly, and autonomy in police, courts, finance, and planning. Kosovo can pass statutes with the approval of Serbia’s Assembly.
Kosovar Demonstrations - Following the vote, hundreds of thousands protest, saying, “Long live the 1974 Constitution!” and “Tito-Party!” resulting in the declaration of martial law. Twenty-four civilians and two police are killed, but Paulin Kola will later put the number at over 100 killed and hundreds injured, while Miranda Vickers will say 28 are killed. Kola will refer to The Times’s March 31 issue, saying 12 police are critically injured and 112 less seriously injured on March 23; Radio Ljubljana says 140 Albanians are killed and 370 wounded through April; Albanian academic Rexhep Qosja will say in 1995 that 37 are killed, hundreds injured, and 245 intellectuals and 13 leaders arrested; The Times of June 2 says 900 are arrested, and on April 22 the Union of Kossovars writes to UN Secretary General Javier Peres de Cuellar, saying over 1,000 were killed and thousands hurt. More than 1,000 are tried in Ferizaj, according to a 1998 book by Noel Malcolm. Kosovo is again placed under a state of emergency. Workers who do not work are fired or arrested.
Slovenian Reaction - About 450,000 Slovenians sign a petition supporting their government’s views and opposing the crackdown in Kosovo.
Serbian Reaction - Hearing of the Slovenian petition, over 100,000 demonstrate the following day around Serbia, Vojvodina, Skopje, and Titograd.
Albania's Reaction - Albania’s relations with Yugoslavia had been deepening in the late 1980s, but Albania reacts more strongly to the March events. Foto Cami condemns Yugoslavia’s “erroneous policies” on the ethnic Albanians and says it will damage regional cooperation. Protests follow throughout Albania. Yugoslavia blames Albania for the violence in Kosovo. Ramiz Alia, now general secretary of the PLA, will say at a Political Bureau session in August 1990 that Western governments told Kosovar Albanians that to solve the problems in Kosovo, Albania had to change its government.
Soviet Reaction - Soviet media support the Serbs and refer to violence by Albanian nationalists, while saying that the majority in Kosovo and Vojvodina support the new Serbian constitution.
Western European Reactions - The UK says nothing. Although Yugoslavia’s Foreign Minister, Budimir Loncar, meets with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in April, the contents of their talks are unknown to the public. Three years in the future a high-ranking official in Germany will regret this inaction.
American Reaction to the Turmoil in Kosovo - On March 9, three US senators proposed Senate Concurrent Resolution 20—Relating to the Conditions of Ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia, which was passed prior to March 23. US policy supports Kosova’s position under the 1974 Constitution and the resolution asked President George H. W. Bush to reiterate this to the Yugoslav leadership. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted a hearing on March 15. [Vickers, 1998, pp. 234-238; Kola, 2003, pp. 180-184, 190]
Entity Tags: Yugoslavia, United States of America, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Foto Cami, Germany, Javier Peres de Cuellar, Budimir Loncar, Josip Broz Tito, Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, Albania, 1945 Yugoslav Constitution, 1963 Yugoslav Constitution, 1974 Yugoslav Constitution, Assembly of the Province of Kosovo, United Kingdom, London Times, Miranda Vickers, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US Senate, Union of Kossovars, Margaret Thatcher, Rexhep Qosja, Radio Ljubljana, Ramiz Alia, Noel Malcolm, Paulin Kola, Party of Labor of Albania
Timeline Tags: Kosovar Albanian Struggle
When Dick Cheney becomes defense secretary (see March 20, 1989 and After), he brings into the Pentagon a core group of young, ideological staffers with largely academic (not military) backgrounds. Many of these staffers are neoconservatives who once congregated around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s). Cheney places them in the Pentagon’s policy directorate, under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, himself one of Jackson’s cadre. While most administrations leave the policy directorate to perform mundane tasks, Wolfowitz and his team have no interest in such. “They focused on geostrategic issues,” one of his Pentagon aides will recall. “They considered themselves conceptual.” Wolfowitz and his team are more than willing to reevaluate the most fundamental precepts of US foreign policy in their own terms, and in Cheney they have what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman call “a like-minded patron.” In 1991, Wolfowitz will describe his relationship to Cheney: “Intellectually, we’re very much on similar wavelengths.”
A Different View of the Soviet Union - Cheney pairs with Wolfowitz and his neoconservatives to battle one issue in particular: the US’s dealings with the Soviet Union. Premier Mikhail Gorbachev has been in office for four years, and has built a strong reputation for himself in the West as a charismatic reformer. But Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the others see something far darker. Cheney opposes any dealings with the Soviets except on the most adversarial level (see 1983), and publicly discusses his skepticism of perestroika, Gorbachev’s restructing of the Soviet economy away from a communist paradigm. In April, Cheney tells a CNN news anchor that Gorbachev will “ultimately fail” and a leader “far more hostile” to the West will follow in his footsteps. Some of President Bush’s more “realistic” aides, including James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and Condoleezza Rice, as well as Bush himself, have cast their lot with Gorbachev and reform; they have no use for Cheney’s public advocacy of using the USSR’s period of transitional turmoil to dismember the nation once and for all.
Cheney's Alternative Policy - Cheney turns to the neoconservatives under Wolfowitz for an alternative strategy. They meet on Saturday mornings in the Pentagon’s E ring, where they have one maverick Sovietologist after another propound his or her views. Almost all of these Sovietologists echo Cheney and Wolfowitz’s view—the USSR is on the brink of collapse, and the US should do what it can to hasten the process and destroy its enemy for good. They assert that what the Soviet Union needs is not a reformer guiding the country back into a papered-over totalitarianism, to emerge (with the US’s help) stronger and more dangerous than before. Instead, Cheney and his cadre advocate enforced regime change in the Soviet Union. Supporting the rebellious Ukraine will undermine the legitimacy of the central Soviet government, and supporting Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, will strike at the heart of the Gorbachev regime. Bush and his core advisers worry about instability, but Cheney says that the destruction of the Soviet Union is worth a little short-term disruption.
Failure - Bush will not adopt the position of his defense secretary, and will continue supporting Gorbachev through the Soviet Union’s painful transition and eventual dissolution. After Cheney goes public one time too many about his feelings about Gorbachev, Baker tells Scowcroft to “[d]ump on Dick” with all deliberate speed. During the final days of the Soviet Union, Cheney will find himself alone against Bush’s senior advisers and Cabinet members in their policy discussions. [New Republic, 11/20/2003]
Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Boris Yeltsin, Franklin Foer, US Department of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James A. Baker, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, Mikhail Gorbachev, Spencer Ackerman
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
West and East Germans come together as the Berlin Wall is torn down. [Source: FreedomAgenda (.com)]The Berlin Wall, the fortified network of guarded walls and fences that separates East and West Berlin, is officially breached. East Germany’s communist government gives reluctant permission for gates along the Wall to be opened after hundreds of protesters in the East, and thousands in the West, converged on crossing points and demanded that the Wall be opened. When the gates open, hundred of East Berliners surge through to be welcomed by their Western fellows; shortly thereafter, crowds of people clamber atop the Wall and begin tearing it apart, chunk by chunk. The 28-mile Wall has stood since 1961, and has served as a symbol of the so-called “Iron Curtain” forcibly separating the communist East from the democratic West. The Wall became symbolically breached days before when a new and more liberal regime in Hungary opened its border and allowed its citizens to flee into West Germany. Czechoslovakia followed suit shortly thereafter. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl calls the decision to open the Wall “historic.” [BBC, 11/9/1989; Chronik Der Mauer, 2/9/2008]
Symbolic End to Cold War - Many reporters and historians will mark the “Fall of the Wall” as the date, symbolic or real, when the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union officially ended. [US News and World Report, 11/13/2008]
American conservatives, recently contemptuous of former President Ronald Reagan (see 1988), use the fall of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) to resurrect the image of Reagan as the victorious Cold Warrior who triumphed over world communism.
Historical Revisionism - In doing so, they drastically revise history. In the revised version of events, Reagan was a staunch, never-wavering, ideologically hardline conservative who saw the Cold War as an ultimate battle between good (Western democracy) and evil (Soviet communism). As author J. Peter Scoblic will describe the revision, it was Reagan’s implacable resolve and conservative principles—and the policies that emanated from those principles—that “forced the Soviet Union to implode.” Conservatives point to the so-called “Reagan Doctrine” of backing anti-Soviet insurgencies (see May 5, 1985) and to National Security Decision Directive 75, accepting nuclear war as a viable policy option (see January 17, 1983), as evidence of their assertions. But to achieve this revision, they must leave out, among other elements, Reagan’s long-stated goal of nuclear disarmament (see April 1981 and After, March-April 1982, November 20, 1983, and Late November 1983), and his five-year history of working with the Soviet Union to reduce nuclear arms between the two nations (see December 1983 and After, November 16-19, 1985, January 1986, October 11-12, 1986, and December 7-8, 1987).
USSR Caused Its Own Demise - And, Scoblic will note, such revisionism does not account for the fact that it was the USSR which collapsed of its own weight, and not the US which overwhelmed the Soviets with an onslaught of democracy. The Soviet economy had been in dire straits since the late 1960s, and there had been huge shortages of food staples such as grain by the 1980s. Soviet military spending remained, in Scoblic’s words, “enormous, devouring 15 percent to 20 percent of [the USSR’s gross national product] throughout the Cold War (meaning that it imposed three times the economic burden of the US defense budget, on an economy that was one-sixth the size).” Reagan did dramatically increase US military spending during his eight years in office (see Early 1981 and After), and ushered new and potentially devastating military programs into existence (see 1981 and March 23, 1983). Conservatives will assert that Reagan’s military spending drove the USSR into implicit surrender, sending them back to the arms negotiation table with a newfound willingness to negotiate the drawdown of the two nations’ nuclear arsenals (see Early 1985). Scoblic will characterize the conservatives’ arguments: “Whereas [former President] Carter was left playing defense, the Gipper [Reagan] took the ball the final 10 yards against the Reds, spending them into the ground and leading the United States into the end zone.” Scoblic calls this a “superficially… plausible argument,” but notes that Carter, not Reagan, began the tremendous military spending increase (see Late 1979-1980), and more importantly, the USSR made no effort to match Reagan’s defense spending. “Its defense budget remained essentially static during the 1980s,” he will write. “In short, the Soviet Union suffered no economic distress as a result of the Reagan buildup.” Scoblic will also note that conservatives had long insisted that the USSR could actually outspend the US militarily (see November 1976), and never predicted that increasing US military spending could drive the Soviet Union into bankruptcy. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 145-149]
Conservative defense analyst Frank Gaffney calls for a second round of “Team B” competitive intelligence exercises (see November 1976), writing, “[N]ow is the time for a new Team B and a clear-eyed assessment of the abiding Soviet (and other) challenges that dictate a continued, robust US defense posture.” [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 ]
The Pentagon, citing top-secret satellite images, claims that some 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks are gathering on Saudi Arabia’s border in preparation for an attack. But two commercial Soviet satellite images of the border area, taken at the same time, obtained by Florida’s St. Petersburg Times, show only an empty desert. “The bulk of the mighty Iraqi army, said to number more than 500,000 in Kuwait and southern Iraq, couldn’t be found,” Newsday reports. [St. Petersburg Times, 1/6/1991; Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 1/5/2003]
An ‘exo-atmospheric kill vehicle,’ or EKV, part of the ‘Brilliant Pebbles’ space-based missile defense system. [Source: Claremont Institute]In his State of the Union address, President Bush announces a drastic revision of the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or “Star Wars”) missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). The system, still in its research and development stages, will no longer attempt to protect the majority of the US population from nuclear assault. Now, Bush says, SDI will be retooled to “provid[e] protection against limited ballistic missile strikes—whatever their source.” The system, called Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS), will include some 1,000 space-based “Brilliant Pebbles” interceptors, 750 to 1,000 long-range ground-based interceptors at six sites, space-based and mobile sensors, and transportable ballistic missile defenses. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008] The concept is based on an earlier proposal by nuclear weapons experts Edward Teller, Lowell Wood, and Gregory Canavan of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who came up with the idea of a “Smart Rocks” defense system based on thousands of small rocket-propelled canisters in Earth orbit, each capable of ramming an incoming ballistic missile and exploding it outside the lower atmosphere. The “Smart Rocks” concept was one component of the original SDI concept, but was retooled, upgraded, and renamed “Brilliant Pebbles” to be the main component of the program. It will never be deployed, and will be defunded entirely during the first year of the Clinton administration. [Claremont Institute, 12/24/2007]
President Bush rejects a peace plan proposed by Iraq and the Soviet Union. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996] This is not the only peace proposal from Iraq and its various friends and allies rejected by the US. The US insists on a full, immediate, and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Iraq’s peace proposals contain various conditions, mostly involving the withdrawal of Syrian and/or Israeli troops from other Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
Russian President Boris Yeltsin proposes that the US and Russia engage in a “joint” global defense system that would supplant the US-only Strategic Defense Initiative (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). He says that Russia will continue to honor the US-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972), and proposes that all existing anti-satellite (ASAT) programs be eliminated and banned. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah, a Soviet puppet in power since 1988, is finally ousted by Ahmed Shah Massoud in February 1992. US aid to the mujaheddin continues during this period, but at a lower level. There are disagreements about which leaders should be receiving support. The CIA favors Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an extreme Islamist closely associated with bin Laden (see 1983), while the State Department favors the much more Westernized and well educated Massoud. [Coll, 2004, pp. 205-207, 225]
Paul Wolfowitz. [Source: Boston Globe]A draft of the Defense Department’s new post-Cold War strategy, the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG), causes a split among senior department officials and is criticized by the White House. The draft, prepared by defense officials Zalmay Khalilzad and Lewis “Scooter” Libby under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, says that the US must become the world’s single superpower and must take aggressive action to prevent competing nations—even allies such as Germany and Japan—from challenging US economic and military supremacy. [New York Times, 5/23/1992; Rupert and Solomon, 2005, pp. 122; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 165] The views in the document will become known informally as the “Wolfowitz Doctrine.” Neoconservative Ben Wattenberg will say that its core thesis is “to guard against the emergence of hostile regional superpowers, for example, Iraq or China.” He will add: “America is No. 1. We stand for something decent and important. That’s good for us and good for the world. That’s the way we want to keep it.” [AntiWar (.com), 8/24/2001] The document hails what it calls the “less visible” victory at the end of the Cold War, which it defines as “the integration of Germany and Japan into a US-led system of collective security and the creation of a democratic ‘zone of peace.’” It also asserts the importance of US nuclear weapons: “Our nuclear forces also provide an important deterrent hedge against the possibility of a revitalized or unforeseen global threat, while at the same time helping to deter third party use of weapons of mass destruction through the threat of retaliation.” [New York Times, 3/8/1992] The document states, “We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” [New York Times, 3/8/1992] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that deterring “potential competitors” from aspiring to a larger role means “punishing them before they can act.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 116]
US Not Interested in Long-Term Alliances - The document, which says the US cannot act as the world’s policeman, sees alliances among European nations such as Germany and France (see May 22, 1992) as a potential threat to US supremacy, and says that any future military alliances will be “ad hoc” affairs that will not last “beyond the crisis being confronted, and in many cases carrying only general agreement over the objectives to be accomplished.… [T]he sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the US will be an important stabilizing factor.” [New York Times, 5/23/1992] Conspicuously absent is any reference to the United Nations, what is most important is “the sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the US… the United States should be postured to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated” or in a crisis that demands quick response. [New York Times, 3/8/1992] Unger will write of Wolfowitz’s “ad hoc assemblies:” “Translation: in the future, the United States, if it liked, would go it alone.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 116]
Preventing the Rise of Any Global Power - “[W]e endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union and Southwest Asia.” The document advocates “a unilateral US defense guarantee” to Eastern Europe, “preferably in cooperation with other NATO states,” and foresees use of American military power to preempt or punish use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, “even in conflicts that otherwise do not directly engage US interests.” [Washington Post, 3/11/1992]
Containing Post-Soviet Threats - The document says that the US’s primary goal is “to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.” It adds, “This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to general global power.” In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, “our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve US and Western access to the region’s oil.” The document also asserts that the US will act to restrain what it calls India’s “hegemonic aspirations” in South Asia [New York Times, 5/23/1992] , and warns of potential conflicts, perhaps requiring military intervention, arising in Cuba and China. “The US may be faced with the question of whether to take military steps to prevent the development or use of weapons of mass destruction,” it states, and notes that these steps may include pre-empting an impending attack with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, “or punishing the attackers or threatening punishment of aggressors through a variety of means,” including attacks on the plants that manufacture such weapons. It advocates the construction of a new missile defense system to counter future threats from nuclear-armed nations. [New York Times, 3/8/1992]
Reflective of Cheney, Wolfowitz's Views - Senior Pentagon officials say that while the draft has not yet been approved by either Dick Cheney or Wolfowitz, both played substantial roles in its creation and endorse its views. “This is not the piano player in the whorehouse,” one official says.
Democrats Condemn Policy Proposal - Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), an advocate of a reduction in military spending, calls the document “myopic, shallow and disappointing,” adding: “The basic thrust of the document seems to be this: We love being the sole remaining superpower in the world.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) attacks what he sees as the document’s emphasis on unilateral military action, and ridicules it as “literally a Pax Americana.” Pentagon officials will dispute characterizations that the policy flatly rejects any idea of multilateral military alliances. One defense official says, “What is just dead wrong is this notion of a sole superpower dominating the rest of the world.” [New York Times, 3/8/1992; Washington Post, 3/11/1992]
Abandoned, Later Resurrected - Wolfowitz’s draft will be heavily revised and much of its language dropped in a later revision (see May 22, 1992) after being leaked to the media (see March 8, 1992). Cheney and Wolfowitz’s proposals will receive much more favorable treatment from the administration of George W. Bush (see August 21, 2001).
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Ben Wattenberg, Craig Unger, Robert C. Byrd, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Bush administration (41), United Nations, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, US Department of Defense, Joseph Biden
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Dick Cheney and Colin Powell. [Source: Representational Pictures]The Defense Department issues a revised draft of its post-Cold War strategy, a “Defense Planning Guidance” (DPG) for the fiscal years 1994-1996, which abandons confrontational language from an earlier draft. The earlier draft said the US, as the world’s lone superpower, should prevent any other nation from challenging its dominance in Western Europe and East Asia (see February 18, 1992), and caused a public uproar when leaked to the press (see March 8, 1992). The revision is authorized by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Joint Chiefs chairman General Colin Powell, and written by the original version’s co-author, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. The revision focuses on building alliances and using collective, internationalist military actions coordinated by the United Nations as “key feature[s]” of US strategy, elements not found in the earlier draft.
Less Focus on Allies as Potential Threats - Many Pentagon officials were critical of the earlier draft’s assertion that the US should work to contain German and Japanese aspirations for regional leadership. The new draft does not see the ascension of foreign allies as a threat, though it does advocate the US retaining a leadership role in strategic deterrence and leading regional alliances; together, the two policies will deter hostile and non-democratic nations from seeking to dominate individual regions.
More Focus on Economic Stability and Security Cooperation - The draft is the first document of its kind to note that while a strong defense is important, it is also important to level off military spending and increase economic and security cooperation for greater world stability. The new proposal emphasizes the importance of increased international military cooperation, and emphasizes cooperation with Russia, Ukraine, and other nations of the former Soviet Union in order to provide “security at lower costs with lower risks for all.” It retains the right of the US to act unilaterally if necessary. Support for Israel and Taiwan are considered key to US interests in the Middle East and East Asia, and a continued heavy US military presence in Europe will continue. The DPG continues to advocate a “base force” military of 1.6 million uniformed troops, and rejects Congressional calls for a greater “peace dividend” funded by deeper military cuts. The entire document is not made public, and parts of it are classified. [New York Times, 5/23/1992]
'Sleight of Hand' - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write that Libby engaged in what he calls “a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand, making the document’s language more diplomatic while actually strengthening its substance, further emphasizing the role that military dominance would play in dissuading potential rivals.” According to Scoblic, “Those who read it closely would discover that Libby had emphasized American freedom of action, proposing that the United States act preemptively to shape ‘the future security environment’ and do so unilaterally if ‘international reaction proves sluggish or inadequate.” Cheney is so happy with the document that he asks for it to be released under his name, and tells the co-author of the original document, Zalmay Khalilzad, “You’ve discovered a new rationale for our role in the world.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 165-166]
The Chechen delegation on the terrace at the House of Commons in London.
From the left: Eduard Khachilaev, Sir Gerrard Neale, Berkan Yashar, Dzhokhar Dudaev, Den Dover, and Yusef Shamsuddin.
[Source: Pan Books]Osama bin Laden visits the city of Grozny, Chechnya, according to a claim made 19 years later by Berkan Yashar, who will be identified in the media as “a Turkish politician and a former US intelligence agent.” Bin Laden resides downtown, on the first floor of a two-story building, with the second floor being occupied by the deposed president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and his family. Yashar, whose operational name is “Abubakar,” will claim that in the early 1990s he is employed by the CIA for subversive operations against Russia in the Northern Caucasus. He is currently the deputy minister of foreign affairs under Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev. [Channel One (Russia), 4/22/2008; Pravda, 5/19/2011]
President-elect Bill Clinton announces that his administration rejects the idea of a US-only space-based defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991) and would instead support the development of what he calls “a limited missile defense system within the strict framework” of the ABM Treaty (see May 26, 1972). He announces that his administration also supports the development and deployment of theater missile defense (TMD) systems “to protect our troops from short- and medium-range missiles.” [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
Nawaf Alhazmi (left), and Khalid Almihdhar (right). [Source: FBI]Of all the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar have the longest records of involvement with al-Qaeda. CIA Director Tenet calls them al-Qaeda veterans. According to the CIA, Alhazmi first travels to Afghanistan in 1993 as a teenager, then fights in Bosnia with Alhazmi (see 1995). Almihdhar makes his first visit to Afghanistan training camps in 1996, and then fights in Chechnya in 1997. Both swear loyalty to bin Laden around 1998. Alhazmi fights in Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance with his brother, Salem Alhazmi. He fights in Chechnya, probably in 1998. [Observer, 9/23/2001; ABC News, 1/9/2002; US Congress, 6/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ] He then returns to Saudi Arabia in early 1999 where he shares information about the 1998 US embassy bombings. However it is not clear what information he disclosed to whom or where he obtained this information. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ] It is possible that some or all of this information came from the NSA, which is intercepting some of Alhazmi’s phone calls at this time (see Early 1999).
The Clinton administration rejects the Reagan/Bush “broad interpretation” of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972 and October 6-11, 1985) in favor of the narrow, “traditional” interpretation. A senior government official informs Congress that “it is the position of the Clinton administration that the ‘narrow,’ or ‘traditional,’ interpretation of the ABM Treaty is the correct interpretation and, therefore, that the ABM Treaty prohibits the development, testing, and deployment of sea-based, air-based, space-based, and mobile land-based ABM systems and components without regard to technology utilized.” [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
Conservative New York Times columnist William Safire calls for a second “Team B” competitive intelligence analysis exercise (see November 1976), urging that “a prestigious Team B” be formed “to suggest an alternative Russia policy to Mr. Clinton.” Safire ignores the fact that the Team B procedures and findings were discredited almost immediately (see Late November, 1976). [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 ]
American researcher John Hines and his team complete a five-year study of Soviet nuclear plans, based on interviews with 22 senior Soviet military personnel. The study finds that by the early 1970s, the Soviets realized that any possible nuclear exchange with the US would have been so cataclysmically devastating to both nations that no one could “win” such a war in any real sense. The Soviets never accepted the doctrine of MAD—“mutually assured destruction”—in an official sense, but, like the US, their policy was deterrence based on retaliation. Like the US, they believed that any “limited” nuclear exchange in Europe would quickly escalate into global thermonuclear holocaust, but they planned for it because they needed a strategy for a European conflict. In 2008, American author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “In short, Soviet nuclear doctrine was remarkably like our own.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 109]
Ukraine agrees to give up its nuclear weapons. It is the last of the former Soviet states to give up its nuclear arsenal, and, as the New York Times’s Bill Keller will later observe, “probably the only one with the technological wherewithal to override Moscow’s centralized control systems and become an overnight nuclear state.” The Bush and Clinton administrations used a combination of diplomatic promises and pressure to convince Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons; the US has agreed to funnel large amounts of financial aid into the country as well as entering into a military partnership with it. Keller will note that at this time: “possession of nuclear weapons [i]s still understood as a serious impediment for a country seeking admission into the Western world. If you want… to join the party, you checked your nukes at the door.” [New York Times, 5/4/2003] Ukraine will ship the last of its nuclear weapons to Russia in June 1996. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/2/1996]
Iraq receives its last shipment of almost 50 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from Russia and France. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verifies and accounts for this uranium. [International Atomic Energy Agency, 1997]
Yeltsin and Clinton share a laugh. [Source: Associated Press / BBC]US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin issue a joint statement that they have “agreed on the fundamental importance of preserving the viability and integrity of the ABM Treaty” (see May 26, 1972). In the statement, Clinton and Yeltsin state: “Both sides have an interest in developing and fielding effective theater missile defense systems on a cooperative basis. The presidents agree that the two sides will conduct a joint exercise of theater missile defenses and early warning. This exercise would contribute to providing a basis for US and Russian forces to operate together, for example, in peacekeeping operations.” [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
A Chechen rebel looks at the government palace in Grozny, Chechnya, in January 1995. [Source: Mikhail Evstafiev]In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dzhokhar Dudayev won an election in Chechnya, which is a region within Russia and not a republic like Ukraine or Kazakhstan. Nonetheless, Dudayev proclaimed Chechnya independent of Russia. The next year, Chechyna adopted a constitution defining it as an independent, secular state. But Russia did not recognize Chechnya’s independence. In November 1994, Russia attempted to stage a coup in Chechnya, but this effort failed. The next month, on December 11, Russian troops invade Chechnya. This starts the first Chechen war. Up to 100,000 people are killed in the 20-month war that follows. The war will end in August 1996 (see August 1996). [BBC, 3/16/2000; BBC, 3/12/2008]
Said Chedadi. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Beginning in 1995, Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, Spain, begins traveling frequently to Britain. Yarkas is being constantly monitored by Spanish intelligence (see 1995 and After) and they learn that his cell is raising money for the Islamist militants in Chechnya who are fighting the Russian army there. Yarkas and fellow cell member Said Chedadi solicit funds from Arab business owners in Madrid and then take the cash to radical imam Abu Qatada in London. Abu Qatada is coordinating fundraising efforts, and from June 1996 onwards, he is also working as an informant for British intelligence, although just how long and how closely he works for them is unclear (see June 1996-February 1997). [Irujo, 2005, pp. 64-65] According to a later Spanish government indictment, Yarkas makes over 20 trips from Spain to Britain roughly between 1995 and 2000. He mostly meets with Qatada and Abu Walid, who an indictment will later call Abu Qatada’s right-hand man. From 1998 onwards, Spanish militant Jamal Zougam also travels occasionally to London to meet with Qatada. Investigators later suspect he travels with Yarkas on at least one of these trips. [Independent, 11/21/2001; El Mundo (Madrid), 7/8/2005] From 1996 to 1998, an informant named Omar Nasiri informs on Abu Qatada and Walid for British intelligence (see Summer 1996-August 1998). Nasiri sometimes passes phones messages between the both of them and al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, and also reveals that Walid has been to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 265-282] Waild, a Saudi, apparently will be killed in Chechnya in 2004. [Guardian, 10/3/2006] In February 2001, British police will raid Abu Qatada’s house and find $250,000, including some marked “for the Mujaheddin in Chechnya” (see February 2001). However, he will not be arrested, and it is not clear if he and/or Yarkas continue raising money for Chechnya after the raid. Chedadi will later be sentenced to eight years and Zougam will get life in prison for roles in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see October 31, 2007). [Agence France-Presse, 1/26/2006]
The new peace accords and arms reductions negotiations between the US and Russia (see November 3, 1992, July 13, 1993, and September 28, 1994) are severely tested when the Russian military informs President Boris Yeltsin that it has detected a missile launch bound for Russian territory—possibly a nuclear missile from a US submarine launched to destroy the Russian government in Moscow. With the missile in flight, Yeltsin convenes an emergency teleconference of his senior defense officials and discusses launching a nuclear counterstrike against the US. Two minutes before the missile is to detonate on Russian soil—and the Russians are to launch the counterstrike—the Russians realize the “missile” is actually a Norwegian scientific rocket that poses no threat to their nation. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 175]
Shamil Basayev (left) and Ibn Khattab. [Source: Associated Press]A Saudi named Ibn Khattab becomes the central point for a foothold gained by radical Islamists in the conflict in Chechnya. Ibn Khattab had fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980s while still in his teens, and also with Arab units in Bosnia in the early 1990s. [New York Times, 12/9/2001] In addition, he had spent some time in Afghanistan in the early 1990s and met Osama bin Laden, whom he will later call “a good man.” [US Department of State, 2/28/2003] Continuing to follow radical Islamist causes, Khattab led an Arab unit in the civil war in Tajikistan in the early 1990s. In February 1995, he travels with seven other veteran mujaheddin fighters to Chechnya, which had been invaded by Russia two months earlier. At this time, the number of Islamist fighters is quite small, less than 100. But Khattab takes command of this group and the group makes a reputation as fierce fighters. Khattab also befriends Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who later declares him his brother. In March 1994, Basayev had attended a training camp in Afghanistan, then come back later in the year, bringing more Chechen fighters to train as well. [US Department of State, 2/28/2003] Khattab extensively videotapes the activities of his small fighting unit, making numerous videotapes and CDs. This gives them an influence far outweighing their numbers, and the video footage is especially effective in raising money for the Chechen cause from rich donors in the Middle East. While Khattab’s military influence is negligible within the larger effort of the first Chechen war, Khattab’s acceptance into the rebel command structure and his alliance with Basayev will allow him to have a larger political and societal influence when the war ends in late 1996. [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006]
US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin issue a joint statement announcing that they endorse a set of principles for negotiating the deployment of “theater missile defense” systems (TMD), designed for protection from intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and smaller “tactical” or “battlefield” nuclear weapons. TMD systems will not be designed and implemented in a manner that poses a serious threat to either side’s nuclear arsenals. They both agree that the 1972 ABM Treaty (see May 26, 1972) “does not apply to theater missile defense systems that may simply have a theoretical capability against some strategic missiles but which would not be militarily significant in the context of operational considerations.” They agree that “theater missile defense systems will not be deployed by the sides for use against each other,” and that “the scale of deployment—in number and geographic scope—of theater missile defense systems by either side will be consistent with theater missile defense programs confronting that side.” The two nations will develop their respective TMD systems “on a cooperative basis.” [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
The US and Russia agree on a framework for anti-ballistic (ABM) and theater missile defense (TMD) systems similar to the proposal issued by their respective leaders in May (see May 9-10, 1995). They consent to a number of restrictions on TMD capabilities and mutual verification protocols. The US declares that “with respect to those TMD systems with higher velocity interceptors, the status quo continues, which is to say that the United States will make compliance determinations based on the relevant provisions of the ABM Treaty.” [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
The “Shanghai Five” is formed in Shanghai with China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan as its founding members.
Its purpose is to resolve old Soviet-Chinese border disputes between the countries and ease military tension in the border regions. An agreement titled “Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions” is signed at this time. The five members are said to be bound together by mutual distrust of US hegemony in the region. [BBC, 6/21/2001; Jane's Intelligence, 7/19/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 7/4/2005] In early 2001 the group will morph into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (see June 14, 2001).
Movladi Udugov. [Source: Public domain]According to Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russian intelligence, “In 1996, one of the ideologists of Wahhabism, Movladi Udugov stated that an air attack on the Kremlin was possible and even then we treated that statement seriously.” Udugov is considered the chief public spokesperson for the Chechen rebels. He threatens that the rebels would hijack a civilian airplane and then have a suicide pilot fly it into the Kremlin to protest Russian actions in Chechnya. Fighting between Russia and the rebels is particularly intense in 1996, which is the end of the first Chechen war from 1994 to 1996 (see December 11, 1994 and August 1996). [United Press International, 9/15/2001] The Chechen rebels and al-Qaeda are loosely linked at the time, especially through Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see 1986-March 19, 2002).
In 1996, Zacarias Moussaoui begins recruiting other young Muslims to fight for Islamic militant causes in Chechnya and Kosovo. [Time, 9/24/2001] He recruits for Chechen warlord Ibn Khattab, the Chechen leader most closely linked to al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001). Details on his Kosovo links are still unknown. For most of this time, he is living in London and is often seen at the Finsbury Park mosque run by Abu Hamza al-Masri. For a time, Moussaoui has two French Caucasian roommates, Jerome and David Courtailler. The family of these brothers later believes that Moussaoui recruits them to become radical militants. The brothers will later be arrested for suspected roles in plotting attacks on the US embassy in Paris and NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. [Scotsman, 10/1/2001] David Courtailler will later confess that at the Finsbury Park mosque he was given cash, a fake passport, and the number of a contact in Pakistan who would take him to an al-Qaeda camp. [London Times, 1/5/2002] French intelligence later learns that one friend he recruits, Masooud Al-Benin, dies in Chechnya in 2000 (see Late 1999-Late 2000). Shortly before 9/11, Moussaoui will try to recruit his US roommate at the time, Hussein al-Attas, to fight in Chechnya. Al-Attas will also see Moussaoui frequently looking at websites about the Chechnya conflict. [Daily Oklahoman, 3/22/2006] Moussaoui also goes to Chechnya himself in 1996-1997 (see 1996-Early 1997).
According to British intelligence, Zacarias Moussaoui fights in Chechnya with Islamist militants there. Using previously gained computer skills, he mostly works as an information specialist. He helps militants forge computer links and post combat pictures on radical Muslim websites. It is not known when British intelligence learns this. [USA Today, 6/14/2002] Moussaoui also helps recruit militants to go fight in Chechnya (see 1996-2001). He likely assists Chechen warlord Ibn Khattab, the Chechen leader most closely linked to al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001).
A young Ahmed Alnami in Saudi Arabia. [Source: Boston Globe]At least 11 of the 9/11 hijackers travel or attempt to travel to Chechnya between 1996 and 2000 (see 1999-2000):
Nawaf Alhazmi fights in Chechnya, Bosnia, and Afghanistan for several years, starting around 1995. [Observer, 9/23/2001; ABC News, 1/9/2002; US Congress, 6/18/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Khalid Almihdhar fights in Chechnya, Bosnia, and Afghanistan for several years, usually with Nawaf Alhazmi. [US Congress, 6/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Salem Alhazmi spends time in Chechnya with his brother Nawaf Alhazmi. [ABC News, 1/9/2002] He also possibly fights with his brother in Afghanistan. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Ahmed Alhaznawi leaves for Chechnya in 1999 [ABC News, 1/9/2002] , and his family loses contact with him in late 2000. [Arab News, 9/22/2001]
Hamza Alghamdi leaves for Chechnya in early 2000 [Washington Post, 9/25/2001; Independent, 9/27/2001] or sometime around January 2001. He calls home several times until about June 2001, saying he is in Chechnya. [Arab News, 9/18/2001]
Mohand Alshehri leaves to fight in Chechnya in early 2000. [Arab News, 9/22/2001]
Ahmed Alnami leaves home in June 2000, and calls home once in June 2001 from an unnamed location. [Arab News, 9/19/2001; Washington Post, 9/25/2001]
Fayez Ahmed Banihammad leaves home in July 2000 saying he wants to participate in a holy war or do relief work. [Washington Post, 9/25/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 9/27/2001] He calls his parents one time since. [Arab News, 9/18/2001]
Ahmed Alghamdi leaves his studies to fight in Chechnya in 2000, and is last seen by his family in December 2000. He calls his parents for the last time in July 2001, but does not mention being in the US. [Arab News, 9/18/2001; Arab News, 9/20/2001]
Waleed M. Alshehri disappears with Wail Alshehri in December 2000, after speaking of fighting in Chechnya. [Arab News, 9/18/2001; Washington Post, 9/25/2001]
Wail Alshehri, who had psychological problems, went with his brother to Mecca to seek help. Both disappear, after speaking of fighting in Chechnya. [Washington Post, 9/25/2001]
Majed Moqed is last seen by a friend in 2000 in Saudi Arabia, after communicating a “plan to visit the United States to learn English.” [Arab News, 9/22/2001]
Clearly, there is a pattern: eleven hijackers appear likely to have fought in Chechnya, and two others are known to have gone missing. It is possible that others have similar histories, but this is hard to confirm because “almost nothing [is] known about some.” [New York Times, 9/21/2001] Indeed, a colleague later claims that hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh wanted to fight in Chechnya but were told in early 2000 that they were needed elsewhere. [Washington Post, 10/23/2002; Reuters, 10/29/2002] Reuters later reports, “Western diplomats play down any Chechen involvement by al-Qaeda.” [Reuters, 10/24/2002]
Entity Tags: Hamza Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alnami, Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, Mohamed Atta, Khalid Almihdhar, Ziad Jarrah, Nawaf Alhazmi, Waleed Alshehri, Salem Alhazmi, Wail Alshehri, Majed Moqed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
In August 1996, fighting between Russian forces and Chechen separatists increases as Chechen rebels launch a successful attack on Grozny, which is by far the largest town in Chechnya. Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev had been killed in a Russian missile attack in April 1996, after which he was succeeded by Zemlikhan Yandarbiyev. Shortly after the attack on Grozny, Russian and Chechen leaders agree to a ceasefire. A further agreement on Russian troop withdrawals will be signed in November. In January 1997, Aslan Maskhadov wins presidential elections in Chechnya, and Russia recognizes his government. A formal peace treaty will be signed that May. However, the issue of independence for Chechnya will remain unresolved. [BBC, 3/12/2008] Islamist influence in the first Chechen war is minimal, and the number of foreign militants fighting in the war is small. Dudayev is said to be afraid of accepting money from terrorist sources out of fear this would demonize the rebel movement. But after Dudayev’s death and the end of the war, the Islamists will grow in power in Chechnya. [Washington Post, 4/26/2003]
Ahmed Rashid. [Source: Jane Scherr/ University of California, Berkeley]Ahmed Rashid, correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Daily Telegraph, conducts extensive investigative research in Afghanistan after the Taliban conquest of Kabul. As he will later write in his 2000 book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, he sees a “massive regional polarization between the USA, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Taliban on one side and Iran, Russia, the Central Asian states and the anti-Taliban alliance on the other. While some focused on whether there was a revival of the old CIA-ISI connection from the Afghan jihad era, it became apparent to me that the strategy over pipelines had become the driving force behind Washington’s interest in the Taliban, which in turn was prompting a counter-reaction from Russia and Iran. But exploring this was like entering a labyrinth, where nobody spoke the truth or divulged their real motives or interests. It was the job of a detective rather than a journalist because there were few clues. Even gaining access to the real players in the game was difficult, because policy was not being driven by politicians and diplomats, but by the secretive oil companies and intelligence services of the regional states.” [Rashid, 2001, pp. 163]
The United Nations adopts the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) banning the testing of nuclear weapons. The UN General Assembly votes 158-3 to adopt the CTBT, with India (see June 20, 1996), Bhutan, and Libya voting against it, and Cuba, Lebanon, Syria, Mauritius, and Tanzania abstaining. US President Bill Clinton will be the first to sign the treaty, followed by 70 other nations, including Britain, China, France, and Russia. By November 1997, 148 nations will sign the treaty. [Nuclear Threat Initiative, 4/2003; Federation of American Scientists, 12/18/2007] In 1999, the Times of India will observe that from the US’s viewpoint, the CTBT will primarily restrict India and Pakistan from continuing to develop their nuclear arsenals (see May 11-13, 1998 and May 28, 1998), and will delay or prevent China from developing more technologically advanced “miniaturized” nuclear weapons such as the US already has. It will also “prevent the vertical proliferation and technological refinement of existing arsenals by the other four nuclear weapons states.” [Times of India, 10/16/1999] Two years later, the US Senate will refuse to ratify the treaty (see October 13, 1999).
Ibn Khattab, the Saudi mujaheddin fighter who recently became a leader in the rebel movement in Chechnya (see February 1995-1996), establishes some militant training camps in Chechnya after the first Chechen war ends in late 1996 (see August 1996). The camps mostly train Chechens and others from nearby regions in the Caucasus Mountains. But a trickle of Arab fighters continues to arrive and join his forces as well. [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006] Khattab’s main training camp is near the village of Serzhen-Yurt. Arab instructors teach locals how to shoot weapons and lay mines while also teaching the Koran and the fundamentalist Wahhabist theology favored by Khattab. One Chechen will later tell the Washington Post that Islamist militants “went to the market and they paid with dollars. There was no power here; there was disorder everywhere, and their influence was very strong.… The poor Chechen people were already suffering so much and our young guys simply couldn’t think. They were ready to accept any ideas.” [Washington Post, 9/26/2001]
The picture of Ayman al-Zawahiri on the fake Sudanese passport he used to enter Russia in 1996. [Source: Wall Street Journal]Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Islamic Jihad and effective number two leader of al-Qaeda, travels to Chechnya with two associates. His associates are Ahmad Salama Mabruk, head of Islamic Jihad’s cell in Azerbaijan, and Mahmud Hisham al-Hennawi, a well-traveled militant. Chechnya was fighting to break free from Russian rule and achieved a cease-fire and de facto independence earlier in the year (see August 1996). Al-Zawahiri hopes to establish new connections there. However, on December 1, 1996, he and his associates are arrested by Russian authorities as they try to cross into Chechnya. Al-Zawahiri is carrying four passports, none showing his real identity. The Russians confiscate al-Zawahiri’s laptop and send it to Moscow for analysis, but apparently they never translate the Arabic documents on it that could reveal who he really is. Though some Russian investigators suspect al-Zawahiri is a “big fish,” they cannot prove it. He and his two associates are released after six months. [Wall Street Journal, 7/2/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 249-250] Later in December 1996, Canadian intelligence learns that Mabruk at least is being held. They know his real identity, but apparently do not share this information with Russia (see December 13, 1996-June 1997). Author Lawrence Wright will later comment: “This fiasco had a profound consequence. With even more defectors from [Islamic Jihad during al-Zawahiri’s unexplained absence] and no real source of income, Zawahiri had no choice but to join bin Laden” in Afghanistan. Prior to this arrest, al-Zawahiri had been traveling all over the world and earlier in 1996 he apparently lived in Switzerland and Sarajevo, Bosnia. But afterwards he remains in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden until the 9/11 attacks. As a result, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda will grow even closer until they completely merge a few months before 9/11 (see June 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 249-250]
On December 13, 1996, Mahmoud Jaballah, an Islamic Jihad member living in Canada, is told that Ahmad Salama Mabruk, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, has been “hospitalized.” Canadian intelligence has been closely monitoring Jaballah since 1996, and it intercepts this call as well. This is actually a reference to the fact that Mabruk has been imprisoned in Russia. Mabruk has actually been arrested along with top Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri near Chechnya earlier in the month, but they are both using aliases and it appears the Russian authorities have no idea who they really are or that they have any militant ties (see December 1, 1996-June 1997). However, over the next months, Canadian intelligence continues to monitor Jaballah as he collects $15,000, raised through his network of Canadian contacts, to help free Mabruk. Apparently this is a bribe. He coordinates these efforts with Thirwat Salah Shehata, another member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, who is in Azerbaijan close to where Mabruk and al-Zawahiri have been arrested. The Russian government frees Mabruk and al-Zawahiri in June 1997. Since the Canadian government were aware of Mabruk’s real identity and that Jaballah was trying to free him, it is unknown why Canada did not alert Russia that they were holding an important terrorist leader, which might have alerted Russia to al-Zawahiri’s real identity as well. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ]
In 1996, rebel forces in Chechnya outlasted the Russian army and were able to effectively achieve a de facto independence from Russia (see August 1996). Aslan Maskhadov wins presidential elections in early 1997. But in-fighting amongst the victorious Chechen forces begins, and Maskhadov struggles for control against a number of field commanders and local chieftains. In particular, one powerful Chechen warlord named Shamil Basayev quits Maskhadov’s government and joins up with Ibn Khattab, a Saudi who only recently moved to Chechnya and built up his own forces (see February 1995-1996). [Washington Post, 3/10/2000] Khattab is an Islamist who leads many foreigners fighting in Chechnya as a jihad cause. Basayev, while Chechen, trained in a militant training camp in Pakistan around 1990 and is sympathetic to Khattab’s religious cause. [BBC, 3/20/2000] The Washington Post will later comment: “Islamic extremists figured hardly at all in Chechnya’s first war for independence from Russia, from 1994 to 1996. That was clearly a nationalist movement. But when that war ended with no clear winner, Chechnya lay in ruins, presenting fertile ground for Islamic militants.” [Washington Post, 9/26/2001] Russia tries to bolster the Maskhadov government by sending it arms and funds and even training its troops. Several assassination attempts are made against him and he is saved twice by an armored limousine Russia provides him with. Kidnappings for ransom become the order of the day. Between 1997 and 1999, more than 1,000 people are kidnapped in Chechnya. [Washington Post, 3/10/2000] In June 1998, amid growing lawlessness, Maskhadov imposes a state of emergency. But this does not restore order. Radical Islamists led by Basayev and Khattab are growing more popular. In January 1999, Maskhadov gives in to pressure and declares that Sharia (strict Islamic law) will be phased in over three years. But this is not good enough for the Islamists, who announce the formation of a rival body to govern Chechnya according to Sharia immediately, and call on Maskhadov to relinquish the presidency. [BBC, 3/12/2008]
In 1998, Saif al-Islam al-Masri, a member of al-Qaeda’s ruling military council, is appointed Benevolence International Foundation’s (BIF) officer in Grozny, Chechnya. BIF is a US-based charity with numerous ties to al-Qaeda that is being investigated by the FBI at this time (see 1998). It will be shut down in late 2001 (see December 14, 2001). From 1995 to 2001, BIF provides money, anti-mine boots, camouflage military uniforms, and other supplies to the Chechen rebels who are fighting the Russian army. BIF is particularly close to Ibn Khattab, the Chechen warlord linked to Osama bin Laden, and BIF is even mentioned on Khattab’s website at the time, as a charity to use to give to the Chechen cause. The BIF office in Baku, Azerbaijan, which serves as support to nearby Chechnya, is manned by a member of a militant group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Afghan warlord closely linked to al-Qaeda. In 1999, Enaam Arnaout, head of BIF’s US office, tours Chechnya and reports on the roles al-Islam, Khattab, and others are playing there. US intelligence is aware of al-Islam’s al-Qaeda role at this time, and recovered his passport photo in a raid on the house of al-Qaeda leader Wadih El-Hage in Kenya in 1997 (see August 21, 1997). [USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout, 10/6/2003 ] El-Hage was monitored talking on the phone to al-Islam in 1996 and 1997. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 37, 5/1/2001] However, either US intelligence failed to notice al-Islam’s link to BIF at the time, or failed to do anything about it. It is not known when he stops working for BIF. He will not be captured until 2002, when US forces help catch him just outside of Chechnya (see Early October 2002).
In an interview, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Adviser, admits that it was US policy to support radical Islamists to undermine Russia. He admits that US covert action drew Russia into starting the Afghan war in 1979 (see July 3, 1979). Asked if he has regrets about this, he responds, “Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.” Then he is asked if he regrets “having given arms and advice to future terrorists,” and he responds, “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” The interviewer then says, “Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.” But Brzezinski responds, “Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn’t a global Islam….” [Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), 1/15/1998] Even after 9/11, Brzezinski will maintain that the covert action program remains justified. [Nation, 10/25/2001]
Western intelligence agencies learn that Kang Thae Yun, a North Korean diplomat who facilitates nuclear co-operation between his government and Pakistan, is involved in negotiations between the Pakistan-based Tabani Corporation and a Russian company that makes mass spectrometers, lasers, and carbon fiber. They also learn he is discussing a purchase of maraging steel, which can be used in a nuclear program, but this steel is for his own government. The knowledge spurs MI6 and the CIA to increase their efforts to find out whether the North Koreans have established a cascade to weaponize uranium using technology obtained from Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 279-180]
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]
The Defense Intelligence Agency acquires a report on the connections between Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab. The report states that Ibn Khattab fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan and established training camps in Chechnya at bin Laden’s request. It also says that bin Laden has met with Chechen leaders and agreed to help them with “financial supplies”, and that the Chechen camps will be used to train European militants to conduct kidnappings and terrorist acts against French, Israeli, US, and British citizens. A direct route from Afghanistan to Chechnya has been established through Turkey and Azerbaijan, and is being used for “volunteers”, as well as drug smuggling. [Defense Intelligence Agency, 10/16/1998 ] What US intelligence knows about the relationship between Ibn Khattab and bin Laden will play an important role in the handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui case just before 9/11 (see August 22, 2001 and August 24, 2001).
The six-nation “Contact Group,” comprised of delegations from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia, meets in London to discuss a resolution to the Kosovo conflict. At the conclusion of the conference, they issue an ultimatum to the Yugoslavian government and Kosovar Albanians, requiring them to attend peace talks in Rambouillet, France beginning on February 6 (see February 6-23, 1999). [Press Association (London), 1/29/1999; BBC, 1/30/1999] However, It appears only the KLA is invited to speak on behalf of the Kosovar Albanians, not Ibrahim Rugova—the only democratically elected leader of Kosovo—or any other member of the Kosovo Democratic League. “Western diplomats have described Rugova as increasingly irrelevant, while the key players in Kosovo are now the rebels of the KLA,” the BBC reports. [BBC, 1/31/1999]
In his 1999 book The New Jackals, journalist Simon Reeve will write: “According to some intelligence reports, bin Laden and al-Qaeda benefit [from] drug money because bin Laden is understood to have helped the Taliban arrange money-laundering facilities through the Russian and Chechen Mafia. One American intelligence source claims that bin Laden’s involvement in the establishment of new financial networks for drug distribution and sales has been pivotal, and that by the spring of 1999 bin Laden was taking a cut of between 2 and 10 percent from all Afghan drug sales.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 208] Other reports suggest bin Laden is taking a cut of up to 10 percent by this time (see Late 1996).
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]
In the deadliest terrorist attack in Russia since 1996, a powerful bombing in Vladikavkaz’s main outdoor market kills at least fifty people and injures more than a hundred. Vladikavkaz is the capital of North Ossetia, a region of Russia close to Chechnya. It is unclear who is responsible, but in the following days Russian authorities distribute composites of two individuals who left the market shortly before the explosions. Some press reports say that authorities suspect “Wahabbi” rebels in Chechnya, while others speculate on a possible connection to Osama Bin Laden but offer no evidence. The Jamestown Foundation’s Monitor later explains that “the term “Wahabbi” in the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] has become a catch-all phrase for any Muslim extremist, whether or not that person is actually an adherent of Wahabbi Islam. “Wahabbis” are now, generally without evidence, blamed for any terrorist act in the Muslim regions of the CIS.” [CNN, 3/19/1999; BBC, 3/19/1999; New York Times, 3/20/1999; New York Times, 3/21/1999; Monitor, 3/22/1999; Monitor, 3/24/1999] Several months later, an Italian journalist will claim this bombing was orchestrated by elements within the Russian government (see June 16, 1999).
Three explosions take place at a military housing complex on the outskirts of Vladikavkaz, Russia. Vladikavkaz is the capital of North Ossetia, a region close to Chechnya. Fifteen people are injured, and one of them later dies. The blasts take place at dawn, around 6:00 am, apparently from the basements, destroying several apartment blocks. There are no clear indications of responsibility. [Monitor, 6/30/1999; GlobalSecurity.org, 2000] Two months earlier, a bombing in Vladikavkaz killed fifty. The responsibility for that bombing also remains unknown (see March 19, 1999).
The Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet publishes a report by its Moscow correspondent Jan Blomgren claiming that a group of powerful Kremlin figures have drafted a plan to orchestrate bombings in Moscow that would then be blamed on Chechens. This is the first such predictive report in the media; two more will follow (see June 16, 1999 and July 22, 1999). [Independent, 1/29/2000]
Giulietto Chiesa. [Source: www.giuliettochiesa.it]Giulietto Chiesa, the Moscow correspondent for the Italian newspaper Stampa, publishes an article in the Literaturnaya Gazeta weekly entitled “There Are Also Different Kinds of Terrorists” which tries to alert the public to the possibility that state-sponsored terrorism can be a tool of a “strategy of tension” pursued by secret services. The article comments on recent bombings in Russia, in particular the Vladikavkaz bombing that killed at least fifty in March 1999 (see March 19, 1999). “That criminal act,” he writes, “was conceived and carried out not simply by a group of criminals. As a rule the question here concerns broad-scale and multiple actions, the goal of which is to sow panic and fear among citizens. […] Actions of this type have a very powerful political and organizational base. Often, terrorist acts that stem from a ‘strategy of building up tension,’ are the work of a secret service, both foreign but also national […] Terrorism of this type (it is sometimes called ‘state terrorism’ since it involves simultaneously both state interests and structures acting in the secret labyrinths of contemporary states) is a comparatively new phenomenon… With a high degree of certitude, one can say that the explosions of bombs killing innocent people are always planned by people with political minds. They are not fanatics, rather they are killers pursuing political goals. One should look around and try to understand who is interested in destabilizing the situation in a country. It could be foreigners… but it could also be ‘our own people’ trying to frighten the country…” In the book Roulette Rossa, published later in 1999, Chiesa will write that he “received information concerning the preparation of a series of terrorist acts in Russia which had the goal of canceling the future elections” and had felt compelled to write the article containing “a somewhat veiled warning.” [Chiesa, 1999; Dunlop, 10/5/2004, pp. 9 ]
The Vladikavkaz train station is bombed. Vladikavkaz is the capital of North Ossetia, a Russian region close to Chechnya. Eleven people are reported injured. The Kommersant newspaper writes that “investigators are certain that the bombing was the work of Chechen rebel field commander [Ibn] Khattab”, according to the Jamestown Foundation’s Monitor, which summarizes Russian and East European publications. However, another major Russian newspaper, Izvestia, expresses doubts about Khattab’s culpability. “The paper asked why there have been no comments on the arrest of officers from the 58th army based in Vladikavkaz, who were caught with dozens of kilograms of explosives. It also asked why the 58th army’s commanders and the heads of the North Caucasus Military district reacted so harshly to indications that those officers arrested with explosives belonged to the GRU—military intelligence. [Monitor, 6/30/1999] It is unclear from available sources when this arrest was made or if any investigation was conducted. This is the third bombing in Vladikavkaz since March 1999 (see March 19, 1999 and May 16, 1999).
Aleksandr Zhilin, a prominent military journalist and retired Air Force colonel, publishes an article entitled “Storm in Moscow” in the Moskovskaya Pravda newspaper. According to unnamed sources, Zhilin reports that a group of government figures in President Yelstin’s administration are plotting to destabilize Russian politics by committing spectacular acts of terrorism and other crimes. This alleged plan aims to discredit Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov, a possible candidate in the up-coming presidential elections of 2000. “From trustworthy sources in the Kremlin the following has become known. The administration of the president has drafted and adopted (individual points have been reported to Yeltsin) a broad plan for discrediting Luzhkov with the aid of provocations, intended to destabilize the socio-psychological situation in Moscow. In circles close to Tatyana Dyachenko [Yeltsin’s younger daughter], the given plan is being referred to as ‘Storm in Moscow.’ […] As is confirmed by our sources, the city awaits great shocks. The conducting of loud terrorist acts (or attempts at terrorist acts) is being planned in relation to a number of government establishments: the buildings of the FSB [the Russian intelligence agency], MVD [the Ministry of Internal Affairs], Council of Federation, Moscow City Court, Moscow Arbitration Court, and a number of editorial boards of anti-Luzhkov publications. Also foreseen is the kidnapping of a number of well-known people and average citizens by ‘Chechen rebels’ who with great pomp will then be ‘freed’ and brought to Moscow by Mr. [Vladimir] Rushailo [the newly appointed head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs].” Actions employing the use of force “will be conducted against structures and businessmen supporting Luzhkov.” Also, “a separate program has been worked out directed at setting organized crime groups in Moscow against one another and provoking a war among them.” The purpose of these actions is to create “the conviction that Luzhkov had lost control over the situation in the city.” In a subsequent article in Novaya Gazeta (November 18, 1999), Zhilin will report that the plan “Storm in Moscow” was dated June 29 and that he had obtained a copy on July 2. The article will go unnoticed immediately after publication, but will be much-discussed two months later after the September apartment bombings (see September 9, 1999, September 13, 1999, and September 22-24, 1999). The BBC will report on September 30, “Zhilin’s article is interesting because it was written before the bomb explosions. At the very least it says a lot about the fevered political atmosphere in Russia that some people take these theories [of a government conspiracy] seriously.” [BBC, 9/30/1999; Dunlop, 10/17/2001; RFE/RL Newsline, 3/27/2002; National Review Online, 4/30/2002; Dunlop, 10/5/2004, pp. 11 ]
President Clinton signs the National Missile Defense Act of 1999 (NMDA), which states in its entirety, “It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate).” The NMDA mandates that the US will deploy some sort of missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991), but Clinton will refuse to order the system’s deployment in 2000, in part because it has failed its tests and in part because to deploy the system would require the US to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972), a move Clinton is unwilling to make. Clinton will acknowledge that the US makes its own national security decision, but will add, “We can never afford to overlook the fact that the actions and reactions of others in this increasingly interdependent world do bear on our security.” [US Senate, 7/22/1999; White House, 7/22/1999; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 173-174]
Attack on Dagestan [Source: BBC]A group of Chechen rebels led by Shamil Basayev and Ibn Khattab cross into neighboring Russian region of Dagestan and seize two villages near the border with Chechnya. According to most Russian and international news accounts, the militia has about 2,000 fighters. They are Islamic militants aiming to unify Chechnya and Dagestan into a single Islamic state under Sharia (strict Islamic law). The Russian government reacts immediately by sending a large number of troops to drive them back into Chechnya. [BBC, 8/8/1999; New York Times, 8/8/1999; BBC, 8/9/1999; New York Times, 8/13/1999; BBC, 8/16/1999] Basayev and Khattab preceded the attack by building fortified bases in Dagestan. Russian intelligence officer Anton Surikov will later say that Russian officials had indications that something was being planned at the Dagestan border. “It was not being hidden. There was a certain panic here.” A senior Russian official will also say, “The dates [of the assault] were definitely known several days before.” But “the area is hilly and difficult to guard. There are hundreds of different paths, plenty of canyons, mountain paths. There is no border, actually.… That is why it is not possible just to line up soldiers to guard the border.” [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]
Yevgeny Primakov. [Source: BBC (2000)]Yevgeny Primakov, who was Russian prime minister until he was summarily dismissed by President Boris Yeltsin in May 1999, announces that he will lead Yuri Luzhkov’s Fatherland-All Russia party for the upcoming Duma elections in December. Polls indicate Primakov is the country’s most trusted politician. He has demonstrated his willingness to investigate corruption. The Primakov-Luzhkov alliance threatens the Kremlin’s plans for a political succession that would protect Yeltsin’s entourage after the next presidential elections, scheduled for June 2000. But in an attempt to re-assure the Kremlin, Primakov proposes a new law guaranteeing “full security and a worthy life” to presidents after they leave office. Reports the New York Times: “That last proposal was an obvious olive branch to Mr. Yeltsin and his presidential administration, whose increasingly desperate battle to influence the choice of a presidential successor is widely thought to be driven by concern for their own future.” [New York Times, 8/18/1999]
Following raids by Chechen forces into the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan earlier in the month (see August 7-8, 1999), the Russian military pushes the Chechens back into Chechnya. Then, on August 25, Russian planes bomb two villages just inside Chechnya, near the Dagestan border. [CNN, 8/26/1999] There is intermittent fighting and bombing for several weeks, and then, around September 22, a more intense Russian bombing campaign begins. This is to soften up the opposition so a full scale invasion can start at the end of September (see September 29, 1999). [CNN, 9/29/1999]
In the first instance of what will later become a series of bombings during the month of September 1999, the Manezh, a luxury underground shopping mall in Moscow and within walking distance of the Kremlin, is bombed. Forty people are injured; only one is killed. [BBC, 9/1/1999]
In March 13, 2000, the Russian independent weekly Novaya Gazeta publishes a bombshell that re-ignites the Ryazan incident controversy (see September 22-24, 1999). A soldier named Alexei Pinyaev describes how during the autumn of 1999 he was stationed near Ryazan, a city about 100 miles south of Moscow, and given guard duty at a military warehouse. He says it contained large sacks marked “sugar” but when he and another soldier surreptitiously opened one of the bags to sweeten their tea, the powder tasted vile. They showed the powder to their commander who then turned it over to a bomb expert. The expert identified it as hexogen. Immediately afterwards, several high-ranking FSB officers arrived from Moscow and accused the soldiers of divulging state secrets. To the soldiers’ relief, they were not sent to prison but simply told to forget the whole matter and they were later sent to Chechnya. The story causes an uproar, finally forcing the government to respond to the Ryazan controversy (see March 23, 2000). [Satter, 2003, pp. 30]
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