Relations between Moscow and Washington are obviously at an all time low due to events in Ukraine and the West responding with sanctions on the Russian Federation.
Russia has recently withdrawn from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and seems intent on ratcheting up military tensions rather than reducing them. However, as with strategic military communications remaining open during heightened nuclear tensions, counterterrorism links should remain open as well during the increased geopolitical tension.
In fact, they should be strengthened, for the simple fact is, unfortunately, there will be a significant need for them in the future. The Islamist terrorist threat is not going away. It is only getting worse.
Counterterrorism is one area where the United States and Russia have a common interest. Building on the pervasive need to confront the Islamic jihadi movement could be a way for trust to slowly be rebuilt between the two countries.
A well-informed source in the American counterterrorism establishment recently told me regarding cooperation with Russia, ” there are times when specific interests coincide notwithstanding broader policy or political tensions at a higher level. Some might refer to this a ‘tactical’ cooperation and it can be quite useful.”
This cooperation has been at low ebb after the bombings in Boston and the FBI’s refusal to heed Russian warnings about the Tsarnaev brothers. One wonders if the American security services have been getting what they want from Russia in terms of information as alleged American agent, Ryan Fogle, was arrested in Moscow, attempting to recruit a Russian anti-terror agent. The Russian officer was supposedly targeted after Russia allowed FBI agents to interview persons of interest in Dagestan in response to the Boston attack and the Russian officer was placed on the radar of American intelligence.
The terror threat America faces from Islamic extremism is well known. However, Russia has a large Islamic problem of its own in the Caucuses.
Russia has relied on Ramzan Kadyrov to pacify the Islamist uprising in Chechnya, and the surrounding area, since the Chechen wars ended. But the pot still boils as we saw with the Volgograd attacks prior to Sochi. Mr. Kadyrov’s brutal methods may be creating even more resentment that festers quietly under the surface. The huge wild card is the Islamic State and its movement toward the Caucasus and the Russian border.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov only last week worried that ISIS could take a great deal of territory and grow much stronger.
“They [ISIS] already make a lot of progress in Iraq, in Syria. They just took the Idlib province,” said Mr. Lavrov. “And even in northern Afghanistan which is very close to Central Asia which is next door to Russia.”
ISIS threatens Russia more than the U.S. at this point but that could change as we saw with 9/11 when terrorists were allowed to operate in safe havens without fear.
It is foolish to think the U.S. can stop all terrorists entering the country by frisking them with TSA airline security, as we saw with the recent results of the Department of Homeland Security red teams consistently getting past airport firewalls with fake bombs and weapons.
A big part of American strategy must be to prevent training grounds from being established and safe spaces for terrorists to plot against our country. This is where cooperation with Russia can provide benefit. One could envision Russian and American cooperation against ISIS as a way to move the relationship forward.
But how can Russia and the U.S. agree on a strategy to combat ISIS when the U.S. doesn’t even have its own coherent strategy?
The world sees American involvement in the Middle East as indecisive, ineffective, and frankly, bewildering. The Obama administration’s refusal to even name radical Islam as a threat to our way of life has led to the White House attempting to wish away the threat rather than effectively deal with it.
What is the agenda of the Obama administration?
Is it to destroy ISIS as the president has said, or is it to just pretend it is doing something about it until the next president comes into office?
Is it to protect Americans or protect the image of Islam?
President Obama’s response to these questions have been unclear at best.
While there very well may be openings for Russia and the U.S. to tactically cooperate in combating specific instances of terror, it seems strategically nothing can be accomplished in this arena before the Obama administration decides what its goals are. Unfortunately, this desired American leadership will most likely have to wait for the next occupant of the White House.
• L. Todd Wood is the author of the popular Behind the Curtain column at The Washington Times. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and flew special operations helicopters supporting SEAL Team 6, Delta Force and others. He is an author and frequent contributor to TV, radio and print outlets.
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