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The fight against terrorism is a rare spot of agreement between Russia and the US in foreign affairs.
“Russia is one of the first to come up against the danger that global terrorism carries and, unfortunately, not by hearsay does it know what Al Qaeda is,” the Kremlin said in a statement issued about three hours after news broke of bin Laden's death.
“Revenge is inescapable for all terrorists,” it said. “Only a joint struggle against global terrorism can bring a result. Russia is ready to increase its cooperation.”
Russia’s reporting of bin Laden’s death has been inextricably linked to the insurgency it faces in the north Caucasus. Chechen fighters have been found fighting alongside Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan and, just last week, Russia announced it had killed the group’s top envoy to Chechnya. Yet Doku Umarov, Russia’s own “Terrorist Number One,” as bin Laden is dubbed in Russia, remains on the run.
“The liquidation of Osama bin Laden — an odious figure, ‘terrorist number one’ — is a meaninful moment in the struggle with international terrorism,” Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement. It said it had been informed of the operation before Obama’s speech.
Bin Laden’s death would have a “long-term practical meaning from the pointing of view of beheading a criminal organization” and would become an “important symbol” as the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaches, it said.
Again linking the move to Russia’s own struggle, the foreign ministry said: “As members of the anti-terrorism coalition, we share the Americans’ feelings.”
“[T]he success of the American special forces, like the successful work of Russian special forces in the north Caucasus, including with Al Qaeda emissaries, has a universal meaning,” it added.
With major disagreements over foreign policy — Libya being the most high profile and recent — the global “war on terror” is one of the few causes to unite Russia and the United States. After the September 11 attacks, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, then president, was the first to phone then-U.S. President George W. Bush with condolences and offers of support.
The news about bin Laden, with some delay, received widespread coverage on Russian television, which showed images of cheering crowds in Washington, D.C. and New York. “America is celebrating success,” said a presenter on state-run Channel One. “Even if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t yet over, today they’re trying not to think about that.”
The mood on Moscow’s streets was also one of overwhelming support.
“The scariest man on the planet has finally been caught,” said Yevgeniya, a 75-year-old retiree. “We’re happy for America — it’s a great achievement.”
Tatyana, an 18-year-old student, couldn’t remember who bin Laden was and only remembered after confusing him with Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. She said she hadn’t yet heard the news “but I know he’s a bad person. There should be as few people as him as possible.”
Roman, 18, had trouble believing the news. “I won’t believe it until I see official proof,” he said. And anyway, he said: “The death of one man won’t change anything.” Yet he added that if it were true, “it’s important for the whole world. Terrorism has no borders.”
Russia has always been keen to wrap its own fight against violent separatists in the Caucasus to the U.S.-led “war on terror.” It has compared its search for Doku Umarov to the search for bin Laden, despite the fact that Umarov is believed to operate on a sliver of mountainous Russian territory about half the size of Belgium.
Russia Today, the English-language Kremlin-owned outlet prone to airing fringe views, made the link directly: “With bin Laden out of the picture the focus for many will now shift to the hunt for Russia’s most wanted, Doku Umarov,” it said. The channel also took the chance to compare U.S. involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980s — when it armed anti-Soviet mujahideen — to the current NATO operation in Libya.