(AP) MOSCOW – The fight against terror was supposed to unite Russia and the West, pounding the last nail into the coffin of the Cold War. But three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, a series of stunning assaults on Russia has pried the lid open, prompting angry accusations that the West is hindering Moscow’s battle against terrorists — and dark suggestions that it may even be aiding them.
The attacks here, culminating in a hostage-taking raid that killed more than 338 people at a school, brought an international outpouring of sympathy for a grieving Russia.
But the Kremlin’s handling of the crisis and its policies in Chechnya have also sparked sharp criticism from abroad — followed in turn by an irate Russian reaction. The exchange has exposed deeply differing visions of Russia’s future that threaten to overshadow unity against a common foe.
“There was a great wave of condolences and sympathy toward Russia,” said Yevgeny Volk, head of the Heritage Foundation’s Moscow office. “But as for the reasons for this tragedy, the deep roots, Russia’s position and the position of the West still differ greatly.”
Russia has accused Western governments of interference, demanded they hand over Chechen rebel figures who have been granted asylum, and denounced foreign calls for dialogue with separatists.
President Vladimir Putin, in a televised address to the nation, suggested that some in the West — Cold War throwbacks bent on weakening Russia — are helping terrorists.
He said terror attacks on Russia are encouraged by forces abroad that fear its nuclear weapons, wording widely interpreted as a veiled reference to the West, particularly the United States.
Putin’s comment laid bare a deep-seated distrust of the West that has come to the fore as authorities reach for explanations — and excuses — for the debilitating attacks.
Many ordinary Russians also distrust the West, a longstanding point of view encouraged by the state-run media. They resent Western condescension, and many share the authorities’ testiness about foreign interference.
The wariness is left over from a Soviet-era tendency “to look for some conspiracy against Russia in everything that happens here,” said Volk. He said Putin, who served as a KGB officer near the Cold War front line in Germany, is “instinctively an adept” of this practice.
Georgy Mirsky, chief researcher at the Institute for World Economics and International Relations in Moscow, said Putin’s startling statement was a nod to a vehemently anti-American camp among his strongest supporters.
“Their hearts, their souls protested against Putin proclaiming his solidarity with America after 9/11, and they hate all this talk about being in the same boat and fighting a common enemy,” Mirsky said.
Putin’s support in 2001 drew Russia closer to the West, but ties with the United States and Britain have been hurt by the war in Iraq and other disputes. Hawkish Russians feel Putin has made concessions to the West and received little in return but condescension and criticism.
Since the school raid, Russian anger has been compounded by foreign insistence that Kremlin policy in Chechnya has contributed to the rise of terror in Russia. Putin and other officials deny the link.
“The more horrible the actions of terrorists, the more obvious to the West is the need for a change of course on Chechnya,” Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of a leading Russian foreign policy journal, said in comments posted on the Gazeta.ru Web site. For Russia, he said, the tragedy confirmed that the Kremlin must not veer from its refusal to negotiate.
Putin’s response to the attacks — dominated by moves to consolidate power by nominating regional governors and abolishing the direct election of parliament deputies in district races — and the allegations of official intimidation of Russia’s media have raised strong concern in the West, already worried by signs of a retreat from democracy during his five years as president.
Some observers say the disputes are superficial — a kind of knee-jerk bickering that does not reach the highest levels. Grigory Yavlinsky, a liberal Russian politician who was pushed out of parliament in elections last December, called Western criticism of Russia “a kind of ritual.”
Mirsky said Western leaders — particularly Bush, who played up his relationship with Putin by saying he had “a sense of his soul” — are willing to forgive Russia almost anything. But with widely criticized elections and the campaign against the oil company Yukos, they must deal with mounting questions about Putin from their own voters.
Bush came out with rare criticism of Putin on Wednesday, expressing concern that his electoral overhaul “could undermine democracy.”
“There’s a line you can’t cross, and Putin is approaching this line,” Mirsky said.
Lukyanov thinks Putin has already crossed a line, diverging from Moscow’s long-standing course of efforts to mold itself to a European model.
“Coming closer to Europe was announced as the aim of Russian policy for the past 10 years — and even more, because starting with the Gorbachev era, Europe was considered the example. Now this period, it seems to me, is over,” Lukyanov said. “Europe is moving in one direction and Russia in the exact opposite direction.”
Putin supporters insist the president’s aim of steering Russia into full-fledged membership of the European and world communities has not changed. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said Friday that relations with the United States are on track.
To some observers, it is the Russian-Western solidarity that is superficial, not the mutual criticism.
Andrei Piontkovsky, head of the Center for Strategic Research in Moscow, said distrust among putative allies in the war on terror “means that such a coalition, such an alliance, cannot be sound.”