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Russians Observe Moment of Silence for US Terror Victims - 2001-09-14

Russian President Vladimir Putin asked people across Russia to observe a moment of silence Thursday for the victims of the terrorist attacks in the United States. A debate has started about how Tuesday's attack will affect relations between the two countries. NATO and U.S. plans to construct a national missile defense system are among the issues.

For months, some of the main policy questions between Russia and the United States have been about U.S. plans to build a national missile defense system and eastward expansion of NATO. The U.S. says it needs a national missile defense system to defend itself against possible attacks by what it calls rogue nations, such as North Korea. Russia strongly opposes the system, as well as any expansion of NATO.

Yuri Fedorov, deputy head of the Moscow based PIR Center, a research institute, said Russian politicians and military leaders opposed to missile defense are using the example of Tuesday's attacks, which employed civilian passenger planes to hit targets in New York and Washington.

"They confirm the point of view, which was supported by Russian officials and some experts for years, namely that terrorist acts - even without weapons of mass destruction - may be much more dangerous than a hypothetical attack from the rogue states with missiles," he said.

But Alexander Golts, an independent military analyst, said it would be difficult for Russia to continue its opposition to missile defense following the attacks. He said many defense experts argue that future terrorists may acquire nuclear weapons and missiles. Mr. Golts said given this threat, Russia will not be able to pledge its support to the United States to fight terrorism and still oppose the missile system.

He said another result of Tuesday's attacks will be intense pressure on Russia to end military cooperation with countries that may support terrorism.

"It's impossible to say that we are in the same boat with Americans who are fighting against terrorism and the same time to sell nuclear technology and some weapons to Iran, which the U.S. claims to be one of the main supporters of terrorism," he said.

In a rare joint statement on Thursday, Russia and NATO said they would cooperate to fight terrorism. Relations between Russia and NATO have been strained in the past over such issues as expansion of the security organization and the June 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Mr. Fedorov from the PIR Center said there is a simple reason why Russia is supporting NATO at this time.

"Russia would like to obtain political support for its fighting in Chechnya," explained Mr. Fedorov.

Many Western countries including the United States have criticized Russia for its role in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, but Mr. Fedorov said the West will now be less likely to criticize Russia on this issue.