This was a small article I wrote in 2001 shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York City. The main library at the University of Saskatchewan was holding an exhibit involving the works of Alexander Pushkin and the Russian Cultural Attaché was scheduled to come down to campus and check it out. I was slated to cover the event as I was one of the main Arts and Culture writers at The Sheaf but a couple of weeks before he arrived things took an unexpected turn.
What was supposed to be a light article on Pushkin and the formal visit became a quick interview on the Russian response to 9/11 and the piece ran in the Features section instead. It’s not really riveting stuff but it was the first time I was called on to report actual news.
We never did cover the Pushkin exhibit after that. I wonder if it was any good.
Last Friday, the Russian Cultural Attache of the Russian Embassy to Canada was on campus speaking about terrorism and Russian foreign policy. Originally here to open the Pushkin exhibit (currently being displayed on the main floor of the Murray Library) Valerij Nazarenko took the opportunity to address students and faculty on a subject that has occupied many minds of late, and dominated American airwaves for over two weeks: the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Centre on September 11th, 2001.
The Russian government was quick to respond to the attacks saying that they were “inhuman actions which cannot be left unpunished.” But while the Russians support the Americans in their war on terrorism, Nazarenko also appeared to stress caution to the Americans when dealing with their new enemy. “This is a new starting point in the evolution of international security,” he says. “We shouldn’t be hasty, we shouldn’t rush.”
For the foreseeable future, the Russians will be co-operating with the Americans, along with many other countries, in what Nazarenko called “[a] partnership free of Cold War stereotypes between Russian and American governments.” The sharing of information and participation of intelligence services from the West and East will result in a “dynamic partnership of international secret services.” Tracking movements of terrorists and weapons, and responding to them “promptly and efficiently.” He adds, “Now our aim is to unite our efforts and the approach should be comprehensive.”
While a question of the level of Russian involvement was brought up by one of the journalists present, Nazarenko stressed that “Russia is satisfied with the level of consultation [between the two countries]. We have a lot to offer. The Russian role in anti-terrorism is crucial, even if it doesn’t mean a military role. We have historic and contemporary experience [with terrorism],” which the Russians hope will be of educational value to the Americans in their own dealings with international terrorism.
In fact, despite the Americans willingness to ‘smoke out’ terrorists, it is Nazarenko’s hope that the military solution will be a last resort for the Americans, and all of the countries involved. As with their own experience in Chechnya, he says it is “almost impossible to separate the guerrillas from the civilians,” and a clean simple solution to the problem seems all too elusive at this point in the game.