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9/11 a 'turning point' for Putin

Bush Putin
Bush, left, and Putin have formed a closer bond  

By CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Within hours of the attacks on New York and Washington, Russian President Vladimir Putin was on the phone to George W. Bush -- the first international leader to call the U.S. president on September 11.

"Russia knows directly what terrorism means," Putin said later in a televised address.

"And because of this we, more than anyone, understand the feelings of the American people. In the name of Russia, I want to say to the American people -- we are with you."

Months later, Putin revealed he had a premonition about terrorists and September 11.

"I told my American colleague, 'This really worries me. I have the feeling something is going to happen, that they are apparently preparing something,'" Putin said.

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Two years earlier, Russia itself suffered a series of deadly apartment bombings which Putin blamed on internationally funded terrorists.

When the United States prepared to attack al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Putin offered more than words of support.

"Russia will continue to provide intelligence information we have collected on the infrastructure, location and training of international terrorists," he said.

In a stunning decision, the Russian president coordinated with central Asian nations to allow U.S. forces, for the first time, to use military bases of the former Soviet Union.

More concessions by Putin followed. When Bush announced the United States was pulling out of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, Putin took it in stride -- suddenly ending a quarrel that once threatened to disrupt U.S.-Russian relations.

And when Washington sent U.S. military trainers to Georgia near the border with Russia, Putin didn't bat an eye.

"I think what he did was a revolution in terms of Russia's foreign policy," says Dmitri Trenin of the Moscow Carnegie Center.

"But that revolution did not happen overnight and it did not happen because of September 11. He used, he seized upon September 11 as an opportunity to leapfrog in his foreign policy, the outlines of which by that time had been complete."

Putin, says Trenin, was leading his own foreign policy and defence advisers in a new direction, toward full partnership with the U.S. and the West.

"It's not that he wants to be friends with the U.S. for friendship's sake, he does it for Russia's sake -- as he sees it," Trenin says.

In return, Russia -- and Putin -- got:

  • a formal arms reduction treaty that Bush initially didn't want to sign.
  • a new role for Russia in NATO.
  • a pledge of full membership in the G-8 group of industrialized states.
  • and the promise of becoming an alternate energy supplier to the West.
  • And Putin was able to link his fight against rebels in Chechnya to the overall fight against international terrorism.

    Putin himself calls September 11 a "turning point" in Russia's relations with the world.

    Ever the pragmatist, Putin realized his country needed partnership -- and investment -- from the West.

    One year later, he's closer than ever to that goal.




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