Russia Names its Price for Anti-Terror Help

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Vladimir Putin is cooperating with the U.S. anti-terrorism effort, opening Russian airspace to U.S. aircraft and sharing intelligence on terrorist organizations in Afghanistan — but all that comes with a price. TIME has learned from well-informed and reliable Russian sources that Putin asked for several deal-sweeteners in an hour-long conversation with President Bush Saturday: The Taliban will be wiped out; Russia will be given higher consideration in world politics; the mammoth Soviet debt to the West will be restructured, or eventually forgotten; and the Bush administration will not nudge Putin on Chechnya.

The first three points seem easy enough, and Putin will probably get them. Few would mourn the disappearance of the Taliban. Showing more respect to Russia does not cost all that much, while getting badly-needed overflight rights and air bases in exchange for restructuring a bad debt unlikely ever to be repaid is a good deal.

But it's not likely the Russian leader will get full satisfaction on Chechnya: the Bush administration and other Western governments may look the other way, but public bodies such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are unlikely to be bound by their governments' commitments.

Still, Putin invoked the Chechen situation in an address to the nation Monday night, saying it "cannot be considered outside of the context of the fight on world terrorism." Putin offered the rebels 72 hours to surrender, or else.

Meanwhile, Russian sources also confirmed to TIME that U.S. military planes have already landed in Uzbekistan just north of the Afghan border. Ukraine and Kazakhstan said Monday that their air space would be open to the U.S. air force.

And, encouraged by stepped-up Russian assistance, the Northern Alliance has launched a serious offensive against the Taliban. The Alliance troops have advanced some 30 miles, and are now fighting at the outskirts of the key Taliban-held town of Mazari-aI-Sharif. However, under pressure from Russia — and following Sunday's secret talks in Dushanbe between Russian Chief of the General Staff Anatoli Kvashnin and the new Northern Alliance commander Mohamed Fakhim-Khan, who has replaced the slain Ahmad Shah Masood — the Northern Alliance has changed its previous stand on the U.S. military presence.

The Alliance is now calling on the U.S. to launch powerful air-strikes on the Taliban forces, but they're saying an American ground operation in Afghanistan is no longer welcome. Once the U.S. bombs the soul out of the Taliban, the Alliance troops claim to be ready to finish the job on the ground themselves.