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Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 2001 /2 Teves 5762

Don Feder

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Russia and west face common foes -- DOES Russian President Vladimir Putin love us? Is he an ardent democrat? Does it matter? Despite a frequently bumpy courtship, ultimately Russia will end up at the altar with the West in a marriage arranged by the forces of history.

The relationship hit a rut last week, when President George Bush announced that we would withdraw from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty to begin testing a missile-defense system.

The move is essential for our security. But Moscow's opposition is understandable. The treaty is a holdover from the days when we dealt with each other as equals. Russia clings to it as a symbol of faded glory.

Also, the Kremlin can't shake the feeling that if it weren't for its ICBMs (which missile defense might undercut), Washington would be more apt to command than consult. Former Federation President Boris Yeltsin said as much during NATO's war on Yugoslavia, when he sourly remarked that if not for Russia's nuclear arsenal, America would be telling Moscow what to do in Chechnya, the way it dictated to Belgrade over Kosovo.

Disagreement over ABM notwithstanding, Bush and Putin will formalize the decision to scale back their nuclear stockpiles (for the United States, from 6,000 to 2,200 warheads). More than any other development, this reflects the reality that America and Russia will never again be adversaries.

Still, Cold Warriors suffering from frostbite of the brain fret over Putin's intentions. They darkly note that the Russian president (once a KGB operative) believes in a strong state and has muzzled media dissent.

True, but he's also instituted reforms Yeltsin only talked about. Putin has cut taxes and marginalized the Communists, who've lost control of the Duma. He's established new property rights and a stable banking system, and is proceeding with judicial reform.

All of which bodes well for Russia's future -- and ours. A vibrant Russia is in America's interest, as Putin's zeal in joining the war on terrorism demonstrates.

Terrorism must be "destroyed, uprooted, liquated," the federation president proclaimed. To this end, he offered to share intelligence, grant overflight privileges and provide reliable energy supplies.

After Saudi Arabia, Moscow is the biggest oil-producing nation. Recent investments will eventually boost its production by 20 percent, to 5.34 billion barrels a day.

"Russia remains a reliable and predictable partner and supplier of oil," Putin recently told a meeting of the World Economic Forum. The unspoken message: Unlike the House of Saud, we don't need to be propped up by the U.S. military.

In the 21st century, the crucial question isn't who loves me, but who can I make common cause with? This is another way of saying: Whose enemies are my enemies?

Russia has 300 million Moslems to its south and 20 million within the federation's borders. It's fought two wars with Islamic insurgents in Chechnya. A year before bin Laden's boys flew two planes into the World Trade Center, bombs were exploding in Red Square, courtesy of the same al-Qaeda network.

The bastards have to travel halfway around the world to strike at America. Russia is in their backyard. The Russian people understand this. In a November poll, 32 percent of Muscovites said the war on international terrorism was the most important issue in Russian-U.S. relations, compared to only 16 percent who rated preservation of the ABM Treaty most important.

Russia also has 1.3 billion Chinese on its borders. In the past decade, millions of illegal immigrants from the Middle Kingdom settled in Russian Siberia, prompting former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev to warn, "The Chinese are in the process of making a peaceful conquest of the Russian Far East." When will Beijing decide to reclaim Mongolia, which Russia wrested from China after the First World War?

Russia and the West face the same clear and present dangers -- from a rapidly arming, territorially ambitious China and an Islamic world, fueled by oil wealth and fanaticism, on jihad.

Vladimir Putin, who wears a cross and has an icon corner in his home, understands that the fate of Orthodox Russia is entwined with the Judeo-Christian West. "From Russia out of necessity" works as well as "from Russia with love."

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate