Positive Signals on US-Russian Cooperation Against Terrorism (Violent Extremism)

So I have gone over remarks made by FSB director Alexander Bortnikov at the Washington Summit on Countering Violent Extremism and on sidelines of this event (see below). These remarks as well as the U.S. administration’s willingness to accommodate what must have been an 11-th hour decision made in Kremlin to send the chief of the KGB’s main successor agency to the summit indicate that (even though Obama didn’t mention Russia in his address to the summit): Both U.S. and Russia are interested in cooperation in selected areas of vital mutual interest, such as countering terrorists and militants with international reach and beef against both U.S. and Russia. That is, by the way, what our op-ed with Thomas Graham argued for, noting that the summit would be a good place to start Western-Russian dialogue on cooperation against ISIS. And for doing so, we deserve credit, if only in line with a saying that is popular in Russia and that goes “If you don’t praise yourself, who will?”

FSB director Alexander Bortnikov’s remarks at the summit and on sidelines:

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  • "If we were to remain under pressure of sanctions, then we could miss the realities, which we encounter on daily basis. That could damage our states' national securty interests. Given this, we have agreed that in spite of what we believe to betemporary restrictive measures, we will maintain our contacts further one, we will exchange information and conduct joint work. "
  • Professional cooperation of special services should continue even now, when the Russian-American relations are at a new low and American counterparts of similar opinion.
  • "We are interested not only in information exchanges, but also in joint work.”
  • Intelligence sharing between Russia and the United States regarding the Islamic State (IS) group is "quite possible. ”Current events are of such a serious nature that we need to unite.” "The issue of partnership between our service [the FSB], of which I am the head, is very important for us. In the first stages of active counteroperations we must apply special measures and means to locate terrorist attacks […] knowledge of the situation is very important and, of course, intelligence sharing with our partners in this regard.”
  • "Political problems can't be solved" without the capabilities "my colleagues and I have.” (Russia's Channel 1, Moscow Times, RFE/RL, Tass, Sputnik, 02.20.15).

I would also note that U.S., unlike EU, has not slapped a visa ban on Bortnikov also indicates Obama administration has been interested in preserving more high-level direct communications channels.  Also, obviously, the very fact that the Obama administration did eventually decide to invite Russian officials to participate (according to Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin, U.S. didn’t initially invite Russia to participate)  also speaks for the administration’s interest to cooperate with Russia in selected areas.   As said above,  I think the Kremlin must have improvised the decision to send Bortnikov to DC at the last minute and here is what attests to spontaneity of that decision and U.S. willingness to accommodate it:

It remains unclear exactly what Bortnikov may have agreed upon with his Western counterparts in the sphere of counter-terrorism (though Amb. Churkin's observation earlier this week that Russia may join the international coalition fighting terrorism in Libya is encouraging).

But I think the signals from both sides have been encouraging and whatever the Russian delegation may have tentatively agreed upon with their Western counterparts in the course of the counter-extremism summit, may be further fleshed out when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrives in U.S. on Monday, February 23.

When it comes to countering ISIS, as we wrote in that op-ed,  the sides can take cue from their cooperation in Afghanistan. They can start with sharing strategic intelligence on IS, as they have done in Afghanistan. While sending a Russian military contingent to Iraq is unfathomable, but Russia can still delegate some of its special forces for  joint operations with their Western counterparts to take out leaders of IS, such as ethnic Chechen  Tarkhan Batirashvili, who is known in IS as Umar al-ShishaniThe two countries have acquired limited, but valuable experience in such joint operations in Afghanistan where officers of Russia’s Federal Drug Police reportedly participated in ISAF raids on drug laboratories. While deadly and spectacular, joint air strikes might be out of question, given possible collateral damage, Russia can still supply more arms to the Iraqi forces as well as to the Iraqi Kurdistan forces as well as provide training as it has done in the case of Afghan army, which now operates an entire fleet of Russian helicopters, as well of Afghan police, which Russian law-enforcers have helped to train.

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