U.S. congressmen and the Russian Federal Security Services hope to boost joint collaboration against global Islamic terrorism in time for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

Photo source: RBTH

During a recent visit to Russia by U.S. congressmen, Moscow and Washington seemed to agree on the need for “a much higher level of cooperation” in their anti-terror campaigns.  Given the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, the problem seems especially pressing. But 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 star Steven Seagal. 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 the head of the delegation.

According to the congressman, the lack of cooperation between Russia and the United States in the fight against terrorism created room for the Boston bombings and other terrorist attacks.

In his opinion, the Cold War mentality still prevents collaboration between Russia and the United States, and both countries urgently need to 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 Russia Direct about possible collaboration at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Rohrabacher proposed that the United States and Russia increase the amount of joint operations and exercises aimed at fighting the proliferation of radical Islamism – not only locally, but also globally. 

“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 action against terrorists who are slaughtering innocent people in both countries,“ 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] today both the United States and Russia are hesitant to go into that type of detail.”

In his opinion, Moscow and Washington have so far failed to reach the level of cooperation needed to fend off possible threats and avoid tragedies such as the Boston bombing, the Beslan tragedy and the 9/11 terror attacks. Russia and the United States “should meet these challenges together” and “make sure that this will not happen again in some other place.” At the same time, Rohrabacher argued that some political factors could potentially hamper collaboration. 

Some American experts echo his view. “I have my doubts that the United States and Russia will be able to [collaborate on security at the Sochi Olympics] because of mutual suspicion, which has only been growing since NATO's expansion in the mid-1990s,” said Gordon Hahn, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC.

“Suspicions on both sides led to a breakdown in what had been better coordination a few years earlier,” he said. “The FBI is less willing to devote resources to a threat pointed out 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 places exaggerated blame on Russia and the Caucasus for the rise of Islamic extremism.” He believes that this contributes to Russia's negative image 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 said. “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 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 Stalin during World War II, then we can certainly partner with Moscow in the fight against Islamic terrorism,” he said.  

Likewise, Vladimir Yevseyev, director of the Center for Social and Political Studies, called for deeper collaboration on fighting terrorism. In his opinion, this is one of the fields where Russia and the United States can find common ground. 

This article first appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines