What are the prospects for effective US-Russia anti-terror cooperation in the wake of the Boston bombings?

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What are the prospects for effective US-Russia anti-terror cooperation in the wake of the Boston bombings?
Published 13-05-2013, 13:37

Perhaps more than any recent such outrage, the April 16 terrorist attacks in Boston dispel any notion that terrorism can be effectively tackled in isolation. The suspects, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were brothers of Chechen ethnic background who lived in the Republic of Dagestan (a part of the Russian Federation) before settling in the United States in 2002. It is known that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was interviewed by the FBI in 2011 at the request of the Russian government, but the agency found no reason to continue its inquiry at the time and its request that Russia supply further information was not met.

Why have the Russian and US security agencies failed to develop effective operational channels that might have prevented the Boston tragedy? While even the most sophisticated systems cannot, of course, ensure total security, it is surely the case that the closer the cooperation, the greater the chances of foiling a terrorist attack. 

Looking back, it has to be acknowledged that there was an excellent opportunity to establish close security cooperation between Russia and the US. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in September 2001, President Putin, who at the time was still finding his feet in his immensely challenging new post, took a huge political risk by presenting the Administration of George. W. Bush with visionary proposals for far-reaching security cooperation between the two countries. Overriding opposition from his top military brass, Putin made sure that the Pentagon received extensive logistical and intelligence assistance in its war against the Taliban. In effect, he all but invited the US military into Russia’s backyard. 

Unfortunately, the White House failed to rise to the occasion. It accepted Putin’s offer of assistance but refrained from embracing Russia as a full-fledged ally. On the contrary, the US was soon subjecting Russia to intensified criticism over the latter’s clampdown on Chechen separatists, many of whom Moscow considered terrorists.  It actively supported the destabilizing "color revolutions” in the former Soviet Union, which threatened what it saw as Putin’s "increasingly autocratic” regime. And Washington  pulled out unilaterally from the 1972 ABM treaty and launched a new arms race through the deployment of the ballistic missile defense system. Instead of the closer cooperation offered by Putin, what ensued was a new Cold War. 

After the Boston terrorist attacks, there will undoubtedly be a lot of soul-searching in both the US and Russia about the urgent need to open a new chapter in US-Russia security cooperation. And, as our previous Expert Panel discussion pointed out, the prospects of improved relations between the two countries are good, given the constructive talks between Obama’s National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and several high-ranking Russian officials in Moscow on the same day the Boston attacks took place. 

The question is whether this new positive momentum can lead to a more constructive approach on security cooperation. For that to happen, there will have to be the will on both sides not to allow issues on which the two countries remain fundamentally divided – including the Magnitsky Act, the uprising in Syria, Putin’s plans for reintegration of the former Soviet space and, not least, Moscow’s policies vis-a-vis Chechnya and neighboring Dagestan – to thwart efforts toward a new approach. Perhaps the lessons of the wasted decade since 2001 and the failures leading to the Boston attacks will help concentrate minds this time round.

Is Obama able and ready to learn from the errors of his predecessor?

Or is terrorism a phenomenon that cannot be rooted out and hence any US-Russian security cooperation would in any case be futile?

The topic for the Discussion Panel is provided by Vlad Sobell, 
Editor, Expert Discussion Panel 
Professor, New York University, Prague  

Expert Panel Contributions

Martin Sieff
Chief Global Analyst, the Globalist

Good can come from evil deeds 

The terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon on 16 April exposed a dangerous blind spot in the US government’s ongoing war against Islamist terror, and it has opened an opportunity for greatly revived cooperation between the United States and Russia on the issue. However, that opportunity may be wasted.
The suspects, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were brothers of Chechen ethnic background who had lived in Dagestan. Then they settled in the United States in 2002. In 2011, the FBI interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev at the request of the Russian government but found no reason to continue its inquiry. Bureaucratic entropy was at work.
The US and Russian security and intelligence services worked closely together against Chechen Islamist extremists back in the mi-1990s during the time of Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin. However, US policymakers and pundits over the past decade have notably shown much more sympathy for the Chechens in general than for the Russian authorities. This attitude did not change after the horrific massacre of 334 people, including 186 children, by Chechen terrorists in Beslan in September 2004.
In general, US policymakers and analysts have seen Chechen terrorism as different and separate from the extreme jihadi forces they continue to battle in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere across the Middle East as well as in different regions of Asia. Chechen separatists even enjoyed considerable support from some influential conservative foreign policy figures in the United States who saw the Chechens as "freedom fighters”.
This attitude dominated US foreign policy thinking on the issue during the George W. Bush administration. It did not change during President Obama’s first term: Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta concentrated on fighting Islamist extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, despite her talk of a "reset” in relations with Russia after assuming office, took no significant actions or diplomatic explorations to offer Moscow any concessions or address any of its concerns. 
It proved fitting that the famous mock red "reset” toy button she ceremoniously presented to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the beginning of her term was erroneously labelled by the wrong Russian word. 
As the failure of the FBI and their Russian counterparts to cooperate effectively on Tamerlan Tsarnaev shows, the traditional mutual suspicion and reluctance to even explore the avenues for possible cooperation between the US and Russian security services continues. This can change, but only if Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama agree to mutually direct law enforcement chiefs to make sure it happens. Unfortunately, no established bureaucracy will respond unless this is done.
President Putin has always given the Chechen conflict the highest priority, being concerned it could inspire other violent secessionist terror groups among other minorities across the Russian Federation. In the past this has had very positive results for US-Russian cooperation. The president of Russia acted generously and promptly after the 9/11 outrages to support the US war on terror.
Putin even offered Bush far-reaching proposals for close bilateral cooperation on security. And he made sure the US armed forces received extensive logistical and intelligence assistance in its war to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had protected Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda while they plotted the 9/11 outrages. Russian-backed Northern Alliance forces worked closely with the US armed forces to overthrow the Taliban.
However, the scale of Russia’s important contribution to that story was taken for granted, ignored and almost immediately forgotten by Bush administration policymakers. It went virtually unreported in the US mainstream media.
Today, prospects for improving relations between the two thermonuclear superpowers are better than they have been for 12 years. New Secretary of State John Kerry has brought a totally different tone and attitude toward the conduct of US foreign policy. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon held very positive talks with high-ranking Kremlin officials in Moscow on the same day the Boston attacks took place. 
It will not be easy to reverse a decade of drift into mutual criticism and hostility between Washington and Moscow. However, as the old Chinese proverb says, "A journey of 20,000 li (500 meters) starts with a single step.”
Great masters of diplomacy like Otto von Bismarck, Henry Kissinger and Winston Churchill all cultivated close ties with Russia and the Soviet Union. And all of them understood that major diplomatic reconciliation and realignments between great powers usually had to start with small but symbolic steps on issues that might be minor in themselves but that carried high emotional impact.
The US authorities unwittingly missed an opportunity to avert the Boston marathon bombing by acceding to the Russian request to deport Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Far more lives could be saved if that tragedy leads to revived American-Russian cooperation in the war against terrorism, which menaces both countries.

Nicolai Petro 
Professor, Department of Political Science 
University of Rhode Island

Effective security cooperation is prevented by the prevailing climate of mutual suspicion

Despite some recent positive commentary about Russia, I must agree with the majority of American analysts that the terror acts in Boston are not a game-changer in Russian-American relations. 
The reason is that the distrust underlying our relations remains in full force. American elites still believe that there is a "values gap” between Russia and America, and the discovery of a common foe does not alter this. As was the case once before, during the Second World War, having a common enemy may make tactical cooperation a necessity, but it does not make opinion-makers any less wary.

Do you recall the reaction of major US media outlets when Vladimir Putin offered his unconditional support to the United States after the terrorist attacks of September 2001? America’s most influential columnist, William Safire of the New York Times, warned that "we should not forget that once up on its hind legs, the Russian bear will growl again” (9 November 2001). In the Wall Street Journal, Richard Pipes reminded us "how quickly we were disillusioned at the end of World War II . . . given the shallowness of the domestic base for Mr. Putin's pro-Western policy, the latter can quickly reverse itself” (13 November 2001). The prize for casting Putin’s gesture of friendship in its most sinister light, however, must surely go to Anne Applebaum, now on the Washington Post’s editorial board but then writing in the Daily Telegraph: "Putin's commitment to America's war on terrorism was made so abruptly, and is so clearly personal, that I suspect it comes from something deeper: his racism” (18 November 2001).

This environment of suspicion and distrust points directly to the reason why the FBI failed to pursue its investigation of the Tsarnayev brothers. Not because of professional incompetence or interagency communication failures. The FBI failed to follow up on at least three distinct referrals from Russian security agencies because it simply did not trust the motives of the source. Had similar requests come from the United Kingdom, Israel, or Germany, I suspect they would have been treated quite differently.

Those who defend the FBI by pointing out that Bureau requested more information from the FSB but never got it, are missing the point (although it would be interesting to know just what was in the two subsequent FSB messages). If distrust of Russia is the norm, then the FBI’s response is perfectly understandable. 

For their part, by alerting the FBI to a potential threat on American soil from individuals who had permanent US residency status, Russian security agencies did about as much as they could do. We can hardly expect a foreign security agency to make further efforts to share operational details when the original tip was deemed insufficient. If three alerts are not enough to warrant further investigation, would three more requests, or even thirty more, have made any difference? 
It is simply not right to blame the FBI when, if truth be told, all US government agencies view their Russia counterparts with the same suspicion. And how could they not when Congress and the media regularly reinforce that suspicion? If blame must be apportioned, therefore, let it be shared by the entire US government, the Administration as well as the Congress. Everyone dropped the ball on this one, by failing to uproot such suspicions and promoting better relations with Russia.

Can we learn from past mistakes? Individuals certainly can, although it is never easy. But the real question is whether the bulk of American opinion makers, now clearly hostile toward Russia and its president, are willing to revise their deeply held assumptions. Perhaps they are, but it will require the articulation of an alternative view of Russian political culture and the leadership to promote such a development.
Editor’s note: For one early attempt to provide an alternative view of Russian political culture, see Nicolai N. Petro, The Rebirth of Russian Democracy (Harvard University Press, 1997).  

Sergey Markedonov  
Visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Russia and Eurasia Program, Washington, DC, PhD in History

The roots of Islamist terrorism cannot be attributed to ‘Russian brutality’

The Tsarnaev brothers’ bombings in Boston kindled new interest in counter-terrorism cooperation between the United States and Russia. During the period between the 9/11 attack in 2001 and the Boston attack, Moscow and Washington frequently have discussed the need for strategic cooperation on the issue of terrorism. It even seemed at times that some practical steps were achieved. In June 2010 the US State Department placed Doku Umarov, self-styled jihadist of Chechen origin and leader of the "Caucasus Emirate," on its lists of international terrorists. A year later, the US termed the "Emirate" itself a terrorist organization. In both instances, State Department representatives declared that the activities of Umarov and his supporters were of grave concern.  

But these isolated steps and accompanying declarations failed to place counter-terror cooperation on a systematic basis. And the lack of any such relationship proved problematic in some specific instances. In March 2004, seven men dubbed "Russian Talibs,” all of whom had been seized in Afghanistan in 2002 and detained at America’s Guantánamo Bay prison camp, arrived in Russia. Their detainment was often described in the Russian media as a tragic mistake, while the prisoners were portrayed as victims of the oppressive American system. They were tried in Russia and acquitted. But they were not so benign after all. A year after their acquittal two of the "Russian Talibs” were arrested on charges of orchestrating a gas pipeline explosion in Bugulma, Tatarstan. A third detainee was arrested after an October 2005 raid on a large group of militants in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria.

The spread of militant Islam across the North Caucasus is considered by many Western experts to be the result of Russia’s policy of extreme centralization during Vladimir Putin’s presidential terms. Of course, Putin’s enormous popularity can be attributed in part to his tough rhetoric and practical approaches. But his personal role in this complex ideological and political shift in the North Caucasus should not be overestimated, simply because the shift began before his presidency. Moreover, the rise of Islamic radicalism across the region is only partly a result of the Chechen wars. Rather, it was spawned by many factors, including the social tensions of the post-Soviet period, the attendant search for new identities, the failure of secular nationalism and ethnic separatism, and ineffective governance. 

Among the Chechen separatists and radical Islamists who have led the anti-Russian movement since the late 1990s and early 2000s, anti-Western and anti-Semitic sentiment has been strong, acting as motivation alongside the goals of the "anti-imperialist fight”. When in 2007 Doku Umarov, the self-styled president "of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria”, made a statement announcing the establishment of a "Caucasus Emirate," he declared not only Russia but also Israel, Europe and the United States as enemies of his movement.

But the question remains: to what extent were Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnayev, the main suspects in the Boston bombing, connected with these Caucasian or international terrorist networks? Attempts to answer this question have focused on formal-judicial approaches. If a connection with Al Qaeda or other known terror networks is established, we can discuss serious, organized terrorism; but, if such linkages are neither visible nor obvious, it is not a subject for conversation.

However, such formal-judicial connections are not crucially important in today’s global environment. Contemporary terrorism is built on the principle of networks, and thus there is no need to formally ally oneself with an organization, as was the case with the Communist Party. Rather, access to a personal computer, the Internet and social networks is sufficient to become influenced by radical ideas and receive the information necessary to carry out a terrorist attack. For a budding terrorist, this path is much less dangerous than trips to Afghan or Pakistani training camps.

The Tsarnayev family history illustrates the difficult and controversial life of migrants. For the two brothers, this has meant multiple changes of scenery, all in isolation from their historical homeland and without proper levels of adaptation or assimilation. It is no wonder that one of the brothers would lament that he could count no Americans among his friends. At the same time, they noted special interest in "Chechnya and all that is connected with it", as well as with Islamist commercials and songs about jihad. Thus, for the formation of this value system, close proximity to Doku Umarov or to one of his associates was by no means necessary. Today’s US investigation is looking into the circumstances of a six-month stay of Tamerlane Tsarnayev in the Russian Caucasus. But could any six-month experience radically change his whole personal trajectory or world outlook?

Such questions should get more attention than the traditional yet pervasive suspicion of "Kremlin brutality”. 

Islamist and nationalist sentiments are not caused solely by Russian policy. And, while Russian-American cooperation on counter-terrorism is an urgent task, such cooperation has its detractors in both countries. In the United States, neoconservative hardliners harking back to the Cold War tend to see Moscow as the number one US adversary. In Russia, there is a paradoxical alliance of isolationists and "liberals”. The former view America as a permanent threat, while the latter fear that cooperation will complicate the position of the opposition. Consequently, prospects for increasing cooperation between Washington and Moscow are dim. 

Editor’s note: This is a shortened version of an article published in The National Interest, 25 April 2013

Alexander Lieven
Private Scholar of History and International Relations
Former Member of the German Council on Foreign Relations

The struggle against terrorism provides a never ending narrative  

The "War on Terror” and the "War on Drugs” are fought by the wrong people for the wrong reasons and with the wrong results – no, make that "disastrous results”. 

Narco-terrorism and terrorism financed, for instance, by drugs or oil are overlapping phenomena at the fringes of the ongoing strategic shuffling of the major power players. Inadvertent proxy wars in a way.

As in any war, the strategists want to fight the last one again, or so it seems when you are an armchair general, like me, with no career experience or accountability whatsoever. Counterinsurgency strategies are experiencing ever shortening lifecycles. They should, because when they fail, the last resort is always cold-blooded mass murder, like the infamous Phoenix Program of the CIA during the Vietnam War, which is widely regarded as having been "effective” but having come much too late. In a word, it was senseless. The same appears to have happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and probably elsewhere. Incompetence or cynicism – or both – on "our” side, however, guarantee obscene revenues for all the powers that be.

So what´s the problem? Why should we care? Or is there something else going on that might affect us? Knowing history perhaps sufficiently, reading the signs and making educated guesses, one cannot think of any entity that is not tainted in some very ugly way. There has never been a war without war crimes. So, are we in a narrow one-way street with absolutely no room for maneuver; and is it better to speed up or to slow down or to at least try to do a three-point turn or something even more complicated? Should we stop altogether? Are we in the driver´s seat or is somebody breathing heavily on our backs? Should we proceed on foot? Are we sitting in the appropriate vehicle? I think not.

Counter-terrorism has to be lean and mean and surgical. It is mostly not. Ask the hapless victims of "collateral damage”. During my national service in the late 1970s I was briefed on how to behave on guard duty. "Shoot first, ask questions later,” they told us. "Why?” I asked. "Because, if you are dead, we can´t help you. If you live, we can,” my company commander, a major originally from the Mountain Division, answered. Is it always like that?

Unfortunately thick-headedness is rampant in the higher echelons. One has to ask why. I think it is a career path that attracts neither altruists nor the brightest and best from the relevant sciences. Social sciences, I mean. Lawyers and doctors don´t help. I would choose psychologists, chaos theory experts, crime and science fiction writers, entertainers and standup comedians. "Vee haff vays of making you laugh!” 

But seriously, terrorism has no ideology. It is a crime and the police should deal with it. Preemption spells blowback. All the resources smothered on to the selectively declared "root causes” by the military could be better used for the tools and brains of the police.
The police. Probably one of the most unpopular, underpaid and overworked services today’s struggling nation states are providing for their citizens. They already have their  hands full with social unrest, parking violations, petty crime, domestic violence and so forth. Not to mention protecting the rich and the not universally liked. I have for the last 10 years lived across the street from the Hotel Intercontinental in Berlin. Security measures at state visits seem to me more like shows of pomp than manifestation of intelligence. Some years ago I telephoned the Landeskriminalamt, the state level branch of the federal police, and told them. They were not amused and informed me that I was the first to do so. They were not interested in my intimate knowledge of the locality.

Dmitry Mikheyev
Former Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, teaches "Leadership in the 21st century” at various business schools in Moscow

A dramatic decline in international terrorism is possible only if the US joins other cultures on an equal footing

While limited and operation-specific cooperation between the US and Russian security agencies is possible and in fact inevitable, a real alliance in the "war on terrorism” seems highly unrealistic because the two countries have different and sometimes opposing geopolitical agendas. As the saying goes, "one’s country’s terrorist is another country’s freedom fighter.”

Russia (like the other BRICS countries) is a status-quo power. It has limited and geographically defined objectives – the maintenance of its territorial integrity, sovereignty, peace and economic development. Putin’s approach toward terrorism has been two-pronged: the crushing of militant separatism and cultivating moderate Islam by integrating it into the overall process of modernization.  

After the successful completion of the first stage of the republic’s pacification, some eight years ago, the State Duma poured billions of dollars into the reconstruction and development of Chechnya. Grozny has been completely rebuilt: today it is a stunning modern city – complete with downtown skyscrapers, hospitals, schools, the biggest mosque in Europe and a newly built university for 40,000 students. This in a republic of a mere 1.3 million people! Whether this policy is going to work in the long run remains to be seen. But at least for now, Chechnya has the lowest rate of terrorist activities in the region. 

The prospering republic of Tatarstan has been the model for and harbinger of this approach. And Moscow seems determined to pursue a similar policy in other North Caucasus republics. This is surely a gargantuan task. However, as a multicultural state, Russia has no alternative but to pursue a policy of reconciliation and the balancing of the conflicting interests of all cultural and religious groups living within its borders. 

As multicultural countries too, the other BRICS are similarly haunted by the specter of civil war, terrorism and chaos. Not only peace and development, but their very existence is predicated on their elites’ ability to accommodate the multiple racial, religious, and ethnic factions. All of them have lived through chaos and dictatorships and their elites have come to realize that order, peace and development can be achieved only through equality, compromise and cooperation.  

Unlike the status quo-seeking BRICS, the US is a crusading state whose global ambition is to "civilize and modernize” the world according to its own image. Acting on the unspoken assumption of superiority of the Anglo-Saxon culture over all others, the US feels "divinely ordained” to lead mankind to human development and progress. Cultures outside the Anglosphere, however, interpret the American crusade as a quest for world domination, the determination to build a world order based on racial, religious and civilizational hierarchy. Naturally, the "inferior” cultures and races feel humiliated, offended and crave for revenge.[1] 

"The global war on terror” is thus a low-intensity war of cultures; and "terrorism” is nothing but a euphemism for an asymmetric guerrilla war against the world Hegemon. Other cultures – Confucian, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and even many Europeans – reject the American model with its social Darwinism and cut-throat competition in which only the strongest survive. America’s willingness to impose its model of development by violence is considered repulsive, highly destabilizing and dangerous. It generates subtle, open and fierce resistance. Particularly recalcitrant is the Islamic world community of some 1.4 billion people. Only four percent in Saudi Arabia have a favorable opinion of the United States, six percent in Morocco and Jordan, 13 percent in Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan (according to the Pew Research Center, 2005). No wonder the fiercest resistance to Americanization comes from these quarters. 

As a result, the US is waging numerous cultural conflicts and not only externally, but internally too. It conducts preemptive wars and tries to forestall the emergence of potential powerful rivals and hostile alliances. In addition to external enemies there are thousands of domestic extremists who are determined to fight "American government tyranny”.[2] Amazingly, these radical white supremacy groups (such as the one to which Timothy McVeigh belonged) consist of individuals of mostly Anglo-Saxon or Scotch-Irish descent (82 percent). Eleven percent are of German origin and only 7 percent are of Southern or Eastern European extraction.[3] In other words, the Anglo-Saxon supremacists are the enemies of the government that wages "the global war on terror” in their name. 

Of course, terrorism has many sources, but only the American crusade to remake the world makes terrorism global. By maintaining about 780 military bases in 130 countries and relentlessly building new ones, the US only antagonizes the people of "inferior races and cultures.” "The global war on terror” is doomed to fail because it creates more enemies than can be "neutralized”. It’s time for the US to abandon its "manifest destiny” and join other cultures on an equal footing. Only then are we likely to see a dramatic decline in international terrorism.

[1] Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill (HarperCollins, 2003).
[2] D. J. Mulloy, American Extremism: History, Politics and the Militia Movement (Routledge, 2004).
[3] Alan B. Krueger, What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism (Princeton, University Press, 2008). 

Mark Sleboda
Senior Lecturer and Researcher
Department of International Relations and Centre for Conservative Studies
Sociology Faculty
Moscow State University

The US must recognize that all terrorism is a threat facing every state

Unfortunately, there are few prospects of improved or constructive counter-terrorism cooperation between the US and Russia. Geopolitical rivalry and foreign interests, US hegemonic designs in the Islamic world, and a fierce anti-Russian lobby dominating the US domestic scene will see to it that any semblance of sympathy or shared threats are swiftly extinguished.
The US’s global "War on Terror” has always had a selective character. Even its use of the term "terrorist” depends far more on one’s alignment with US foreign policy interests than any other methodology criterion. Anyone who attacks the US, its citizens, or interests is undoubtedly a terrorist. However, the same does not necessarily hold true for other states. Often these are framed as "rebels” or "freedom fighters”.

There is a long and ugly history of American support for terrorism in Cuba during the Cold War. The US had no qualms about aiding Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan in the 1980s to help the mujahidin overthrow the Afghan government of as long as it lured the Soviets in and gave them a bloody nose. The Kosovo Liberation Army was once recognized by the US as a terrorist organization, but then Washington did a U-turn and backed it militarily during the partition of Serbia. The US helped arm, train, and bomb Islamists into power in Libya, only to see that country become the chaotic failed state of militias, fundamentalism, and warlords it is today. 

But nowhere is this cynical and selective collusion with terrorists more evident than in today’s Syria. Back in 2007, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, wrote in the pages of The New Yorker that the US,"has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.”  

The Obama regime has long maintained the narrative that it is supporting good "freedom and democracy-loving secular rebels” to overthrow the Syrian government and has singled out al-Nusra as the one "bad apple” of the bunch. This ignores the fact that the Sunni cleric, Moaz al-Khatib, who has been the leader of the US-assembled puppet government of exiles in the Syrian National Coalition (dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood), openly decried the US’s labeling of al-Nusra as a terrorist organization. This sentiment was backed up on the ground in Syria by at least 29 opposition groups, including martyrs’ brigades and civilian committees that signed a petition calling for mass demonstrations in support of al-Nusra, saying, "We are all Jabhat al-Nusra” and denouncing the US. Al-Nusra has since openly pledged its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and declared the formation of an Islamic Caliphate across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

A new article in the New York Times has openly admitted, that, "Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.” And that "The Islamist character of the opposition reflects the main constituency of the rebellion, which has been led from the outset by Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, mostly in conservative, marginalized areas.” So this begs the question of who exactly has the US been supporting all this time, and who has been receiving all the finance, arms, and training that the West and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been flooding the country with?

Russia has itself, of course, directly suffered from this hypocritical Western stance in its long struggle against Islamist terrorism in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. The US still grants the Chechen terrorist suspect Ilyas Akhmadov "political asylum” from Russian justice for his alleged crimes. In a recent statement on the Boston bombings President Putin bitterly noted that, "I was always appalled when our Western partners and the Western media called the terrorists, who did bloody crimes in our country, ‘rebels’ and almost never ‘terrorists’. They were receiving help, informational, financial and political support. Sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. And we were saying that we must do the job and not be content with declarations proclaiming terrorism a common threat. Those two have proved our position all too well.”

Unfortunately, a host of American politicians, journalists, and "experts” have already tried by sleight of hand to shift the blame for the Boston bombings on Russia because the suspected bombers were of Chechen ethnicity and, they claim, were radicalized by  Russia’s own struggle against terrorism. This despite the fact that the suspects lived most of their lives in the US and are a product of American society. 

Until the US ends its cynical and selective collusion with terrorists when it thinks such collusion is to its geopolitical advantage, there can never be genuine and constructive cooperation between the US and Russia (or any other non-Western state) on counter-terrorism and security. The US must come to recognize that all terrorism is a threat – one that all states face. 

Patrick Armstrong
Patrick Armstrong Analysis,
Ottawa, Canada

Anti-Russia bias and political correctness are too deeply embedded for there to be true cooperation 

It would be good if the Boston attacks were to lead to serious cooperation. It is possible this will happen. I hope it will. It would also be good if Americans came to understand that almost everybody in Chechnya’s leadership today fought against Moscow in the first war. A fact that shatters the conventional view. 

But we have seen this movie before. 

Moscow warned the West about the common enemy it was fighting at the Munich Security Conference in 2001 – no reaction. Putin told Bush the US was on the target list – no reaction. The Taliban sought an anti-American alliance with Moscow and was stoutly rejected. After 9/11 Putin used Moscow’s considerable influence with the Northern Alliance to establish cooperation and, it was the Northern Alliance, using weapons provided by Moscow, which actually overthrew the Taliban – admittedly with considerable US support. Without Moscow’s influence the swift overthrow of the Taliban would have been much harder, if not impossible. The two then tackled another problem: for years Moscow had been saying that jihadists had infiltrated the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia and for years Washington accepted Tbilisi’s claims that this was just another lie. But Moscow was telling the truth; a joint operation drove the jihadists out of Pankisi.   

This was Washington’s opportunity to learn that Russia has the two essential requirements to make it an ally: i) a common enemy and ii) experience and knowledge to bring to the alliance.

But, if learned, this was forgotten as Washington reverted to its instinctive anti-Russian position. Jihadists in Chechnya were called "rebels” as if it were just a revolt against Russian heavy-handedness; Russian elections were excoriated; the "human rights” weapon was deployed; "color revolutions”, missile defense and NATO expansion continued; Russian concerns were contemptuously ignored or re-branded as  "threats” (as in Russia threatens to react to missile defense). American animosity to Russia seems impenetrable by reality.

The "Rose Revolution” was especially hallucinatory: Bush was completely taken in by Saakashvili. (Medvedev tells us the first thing Bush ever said to him was: "You know, Misha Saakashvili is a great guy.” During the South Ossetia war Bush said: "It was clear the Russians couldn’t stand a democratic Georgia with a pro-Western president”. Pretty foolish sounding these days as the new government in Tbilisi reveals the reality of Saakashvili’s regime.) The jihadist centre in Pankisi, Tbilisi’s lies and Moscow’s truth, were forgotten and further chances for cooperation against the common enemy were lost as Washington believed everything Saakashvili told it. The US training program for Georgia’s armed forces – begun when Moscow’s allegations about Pankisi were confirmed – transformed into encouragement for Saakashvili’s military ambitions.  

So here we are again: Boston has shown that the North Caucasus is a theater of the world-wide jihad: after all, the Tsarnaevs may have hated Russia but they actually attacked the US. Jihadists driven by the familiar ideology from ibn Taymiyya, through al-Wahhab, through Qutb, to Khattab and bin Laden; their Chechen connection is as incidental as the "underwear bomber’s” Nigerian origin or the "beltway sniper’s” American origin. Again Russia’s warnings were dropped; again Putin offers cooperation. 

Will this opportunity for improving mutual security be dribbled away again? Perhaps the climate is better in that NATO expansion is dead and Saakashvili is gone. 

But I expect little: the causes of these errors – anti-Russia bias and political correctness – are too deeply embedded to be overcome yet and we will never know, therefore, what true cooperation could achieve. 

Dale Herspring
University Distinguished Professor of Political Science
Kansas State University

President Obama is unlikely to open a new chapter in the war on terror

First of all, I don't think we have sufficient information to judge the effectiveness of the back channel. We know of one incident – the FSB warning about the older brother. For all we know, this channel remains in use. The FBI is currently in Chechnya, and while I certainly have no first-hand information, I would be surprised if the FSB were not involved in the investigation. Second, I think the Boston event and Putin's response to it (his call to Obama, condemnation of the action, and offer of help) are positive actions.  

At the same time, I think one should not read too much into the Donilon visit. The two sides appear to have very inflexible positions. Articles continue to be published in Russia condemning the American position. I hesitate to label this as major change in the positions of either side. Time will tell, but the most important outcome of the present situation is twofold. First, it shows that the security agencies are talking to each other. The goal is to keep these ties going and make it clear that we are in a war on terror together (which I doubt Obama will do – although I hope I am wrong). Second, it is important that these events serve to "reset" the bilateral relationship.

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Category: Interview