Will U.S. and Russia increase anti-terror cooperation before Sochi?

Head of U.S. Congress delegation to Russia Dana Rohrabacher (left) talking with journalists after the press-conference organized by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Source: RBTH

Head of U.S. Congress delegation to Russia Dana Rohrabacher (left) talking with journalists after the press-conference organized by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Source: RBTH

U.S. congressmen and the Russian Federal Security Services hope to boost joint collaboration against global jihad and Islamism in time for the Sochi Winter Olympics.

During a recent visit to Russia by U.S. congressmen, Moscow and Washington seemed to find an agreement over the need for “a much higher level of cooperation” in their anti-terror campaigns.  Given the upcoming Sochi Olympics, the problem seems to be extremely relevant. Yet, will the two countries succeed? Where American experts raise eyebrows, their Russian counterparts pin hopes.

The U.S. Congress delegation, made up of high-ranking American politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties, arrived in Russia last week to debate issues in international security. The visiting congressmen told Russian journalists about the global threats of radical Islamism and terrorism at a press conference organized by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on June 2.

The delegation included Hollywood actor Steven Seagal, in attendance of the conference. According to some Western media outlets, Seagal tried to organize a meeting between Federal Security Service officials, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and the U.S. congressmen.  The actor also visited the town of Beslan, North Ossetia, where he expressed his condolences to the victims of the terrorist attack in a local school that took place in 2004.

“The purpose of [the U.S. Congress delegation’s visit] is to increase the level of our collaboration, if our people are to be safe, or our people are to be prosperous in both Russia and the United States,” said Dana Rohrabacher, (R-California), chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats and head of the delegation.

According to the U.S. Congressman, the lack of cooperation between Russia and the U.S. in the fight against terrorism has created fertile ground for the Boston bombings and other terrorist attacks to happen.

In his opinion, the Cold War mentality still prevents collaboration between Russia and the U.S., and it’s urgent that both countries do their utmost to overcome this issue.

"Had we had a much higher level of cooperation all along, the whole situation would have been different,” he said.

When asked by RBTH about possible collaboration at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Rohrabacher proposed that the U.S. and Russia increase the amount of joint operations and exercises aimed at fighting the proliferation of radical Islamism – not only locally, but also globally. In this context, he mentioned a possible joint campaign against Somali pirates.

“We are all very vulnerable,” he said. “The Russians have their own operations and we have our own operations. In the future we should be able to have joint operations.”

“There is no reason why Russians and Americans can’t take joint military actions against terrorists who are slaughtering innocent people in our and in your country.“ he added.

According to Rohrabacher, if the U.S. and Russian intelligence know about a possible terror attack, there should be no delay in collaborating with each other.

“We’ve certainly reached the level of collaboration we hadn’t reached during the Communist era when we were actually plotting against each other,” he said. “[Yet] there is hesitation today between U.S. and Russia to go on that type of detail.”

In his opinion, Moscow and Washington has so far failed to reach that level of cooperation that could help foresee possible threats and avoid repeating tragedies such as the Boston bombing, the Beslan tragedy and the 9/11 attacks. Russia and U.S. “should meet these challenges together” and “make sure that this will not repeat in some other place.”

At the same time, Rohrabacher argues that some political factors could possibly hamper this collaboration. “Everything that Russia can do – that can be described in sinister words and anything that Mr. Putin does – it can be described in sinister words in the U.S.,” he said.

Some American experts echo his view. “I have my doubts that the U.S. and Russia will be able to establish [anti-terror ties at the Sochi Olympics] because of mutual suspicions that have only been building since NATO expansion in the mid-1990s,” said Gordon Hahn, Senior Associate at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, D.C.

“Suspicions on both sides led to a breakdown in what had been better coordination a few years earlier,” he claims. “The FBI was very likely less willing to devote resources to a threat fingered by Russian intelligence, regarding Russians as an entirely unreliable source on the subject.”

In Hahn’s opinion, the American media and “virtually the entire academic and think tank community in DC purveys a view of Russia and the Caucasus that exaggerates Russia's fault for the rise of jihadism in the North Caucasus and exonerates entirely the North Caucasians and the global jihad for that rise.”  Hahn points out that this contributes to the negative perception of Russia among U.S. policymakers, officials and U.S. federal agents.

At the same time, the expert admits there is “a similar distrust and paranoia” on the Russian side.

“It is also often irrational and grossly exaggerated,” hе explains. “I would not be at all surprised if one reason the Russians neglected to apprehend [Boston bombing suspect] Tamerlan Tsarnaev is that some higher-ups in the FSB or GRU suspected that he was an American agent and wanted him to remain on the loose so they could gather information on him. The only 'winner' in this failed game was Tsarnaev.”

In Hahn’s opinion, Moscow and Washington should increase intelligence sharing and mutual trust in their anti-terror cooperation because the global jihad as a decentralized alliance of networks spread out across the world poses a greater threat than one expected.

“To be sure Russia is not a democracy, and Russian, Dagestani, Chechen, and other local security and police forces sometimes commit grave crimes in fighting the Caucasus Emirate jihadists, but if we could ally with the far worse Stalin during World War II, then we can certainly partner with Moscow in the fight against jihadism,” he says.  

Likewise, Vladimir Evseev, Director of the Center for Social and Political Studies, calls for deeper anti-terror collaboration. In his opinion this is one of the fields where Russia and the U.S. can find common ground, as Russia and the U.S “have a few cross points to cooperate on.”

While Moscow and Washington have differences on Syria and the Iranian nuclear program, he believes that anti-terror collaboration might be a boon for both countries.  

“This collaboration would be a positive sign and it would deter some provocations by some groups who are interested in fueling Russo-Georgian relations ahead of Sochi Olympics, because nobody would like to spoil relations in the U.S.,” he argues. 

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