Most importantly, Russia is facing a strategic challenge: the long-term radical Islamic presence in Central Asia and the emergence of a power vacuum, if it does not develop a comprehensive presence in Central Asia if U.S. forces withdraw.
On September 17, the United States will host the Eurasia Summit, the country's largest ever event on Eurasia. US Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neill will keynote, the first Treasury Secretary to travel to Georgia, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Uzbekistan. He is expected to lay out the vision for our country's continuing role in a region that has long deserved close attention.
Political observers in Moscow are calling attention to striking parallels between Russian President Vladimir Putin's September 11 "ultimatum" to Georgia, and US President George Bush's UN speech the next day concerning Iraq. Putin's deft use of rhetoric, commentators say, may allow Russia to outmaneuver the United States in the Caucasus.
A 10-day conference on human rights and democracy convened by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has brought some 500 government officials, international experts, and nongovernmental-organization (NGO) activists together to discuss democracy and human rights. Some NGO leaders travelling from Central Asia to the meeting have a stark message.
A draft report prepared by a panel responsible for monitoring United Nations sanctions against al Qaeda describes the terrorist network as "fit and well" and "poised to strike again at its leisure." US officials, however, have disputed the draft reports findings. And some independent experts say anti-terrorist measures are steadily improving.
As the global war to contain terrorism moves forward, Russia is maintaining the rhetoric of partnership and cooperation with the United States -- at least at the official level. And yet, almost a year since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Russia's political class remains split over the geopolitical implications of the anti-terrorism campaign, and the prospects of US-Russian relations.
After Russia staged major naval war games in the Caspian Sea during the first half of August, its neighbors along the seacoast seemed to lose momentum in negotiations on claims to the seabed. In late August, Russia offered to extend other Caspian countries' exploration rights into the sea by five miles per country, but this offer hardly seems like a concession.
Georgia has restricted access to the Pankisi Gorge, as security forces launch what some officials term "proper operational measures" to bring the lawless region firmly back under government control. The Pankisi operation, Georgian officials hope, will defuse escalating tension with Russia.