MOSCOW — As a light snow fell at dusk, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell showed up at the busy subway station on Pushkin Square here to place a bouquet of red roses beneath a plaque marking the spot where a suitcase bomb killed 13 and injured dozens Aug. 8, 2000. Powell bowed his head as Russian TV cameras filmed the scene.
The brief ceremony last December contrasted sharply with President Clinton's visit here barely a month after the attack. Clinton never went near the site. It was Powell's first stop on his maiden visit here as secretary of State.
"It's showing solidarity with the Russians," Powell said. "It's showing that this kind of violence exists in many forms--not just in America."
The Pushkin Square tribute reflected a far-reaching consequence of the Sept. 11 attacks--a transformation of relations between Russia and the U.S.
At the dawn of the 21st century, the two countries are fighting the same war. Half a century of superpower rivalry gave way to awkward coexistence in the 1990s and has become a strategic partnership.
"Not only is the Cold War over, the post-Cold War period is also over," Powell said as relations between the countries warmed last fall.
Russia quickly became one of America's most important allies in the campaign against the Al Qaeda terrorist network. Moscow provided political support and technical assistance for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and paved the way for an American military presence in the former Soviet republics bordering the war zone.
The new spirit also lent impetus to changes that were in motion before Sept. 11.
Russia's New Stature Among NATO Nations
With strong American backing, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization took the historic step in December of establishing formal cooperation with Russia. The alliance and Russia will now meet regularly in a new council to "pursue opportunities for joint action," according to a NATO communique crafted largely by U.S. officials.
In addition, Moscow and Washington have agreed to a new framework for strategic relations, including steep reductions in their nuclear stockpiles. An agreement on arms reductions may be signed as early as May, when President Bush is scheduled to visit Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.
The two countries still have their differences. When Bush announced tariffs on foreign steel imports last week, Russia retaliated by banning imports of American poultry. And when Bush suggested that the U.S. might extend the war on terrorism to Iraq, Putin declared that he saw no justification for such a move.
But such disputes now fit into a broader picture of U.S.-Russian accommodation. The change is widely viewed as historic. "No Russian leader since Peter the Great has cast his lot as much with the West as Putin has," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The rapprochement is just one element in a broad realignment in U.S. foreign policy sparked by Sept. 11. Overnight, priorities were redefined, resources reallocated and troops redeployed. The war against terrorism has taken precedence over all other foreign policy issues, even the promotion of democracy and free markets.
Bush, the former Texas governor who made just one foreign policy speech during his presidential campaign, now finds himself prosecuting a global war against terrorists from Somalia to the Philippines.
Still, "the most far-reaching geostrategic effect" of Sept. 11 is likely to be the change in U.S.-Russian relations, said John L. Helgerson, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, which provides intelligence estimates to all branches of the U.S. government.
Helgerson said Russia's realignment is comparable to "the historic post-World War II change, when Germany became solidly anchored into the European and North Atlantic communities."
Many of the tensions that defined U.S.-Russian relations after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991--such as Kremlin worries over American plans for a missile defense shield and Moscow's fears about NATO expansion into Eastern Europe--have subsided.
The new tone was set Sept. 11 when Putin phoned Bush to offer condolences, using the hot line left over from the Cold War. It was the first sympathy call Bush received from a foreign leader.
The warming grew, in part, out of a pragmatic realization that the two nations needed each other. The American interest in closer ties was obvious: Better than any other nation, Russia knew the rough Afghan terrain after its 1979-89 occupation of the nation. Moscow also had influence in its former Central Asian republics, which have airfields and military bases near the Afghan war front.
For their part, Russian leaders were pleased to see Washington giving top priority to terrorism, a long-standing problem on many fronts in Russia. After Sept. 11, the U.S. immediately eased pressure on Russia over its suppression of the separatist rebellion in Chechnya.