Russia and America should become permanent partners in fighting terrorism
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Russian President Vladimir Putin called U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday to thank him for America's help in saving Russian lives. And it's not the first time.
In both instances, two years apart, U.S. intelligence services provided their Russian counterparts with information that thwarted holiday terror plots targeting civilians in Russia's cultural mecca, St. Petersburg. Earlier, Russia had warned the U.S. about the danger posed by the Tsarnaevs, the Chechen brothers who perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombings (though American officials didn't act in time).
Russia is a target for the Islamic State, given its role in fighting the terrorist group in Syria and the sympathies for ISIS in the Russian republic of Chechnya. At his annual press conference just before Christmas, Putin noted that Russian natives account for the second-largest number of Islamic State fighters imprisoned in Syria.
It's not hard to imagine what a terrorist attack in Moscow would look like. When I was Christmas-shopping in the giant Evropeyskiy Mall recently, the FSB federal security service and Russian police executed a counterterror operation in the building, rounding up five terror suspects.
Then, on Dec. 19, as I was walking in central Moscow on an unseasonably mild late afternoon, traditional American Christmas music and festive light displays flooding the winter darkness, I heard what sounded like a series of firecrackers. Pyrotechnic displays aren't unusual at this time of the year -- just not on a weekday afternoon downtown. After at least a dozen emergency vehicles with wailing sirens whizzed by, heading towards the popping noises, I learned that a gunman had opened fire on passersby outside the headquarters of the Lubyanka Building, the headquarters of the FSB (the successor agency to the KGB).
Everyone initially assumed a political motive, given the target. This was, after all, the building where terrorist mastermind Doku Umarov, believed to be responsible for the Moscow subway bombing that killed 39 people in 2010 and a series of suicide bombings in Volgograd in the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, was rumored to have been taken after being captured by Russian Special Forces. According to a Russian intelligence source, Umarov was forced to identify his state-sponsor, Saudi Arabia, before being quietly liquidated.
It turned out that there was no obvious political motive in the Dec. 19 incident. The suspect was killed, and it appears that suicide-by-cop was the likely motive. It wasn't technically tantamount to an act of terrorism, but it was nonetheless terrifying.
I've seen the reaction of the French to terror attacks in Paris. The contrast with the Russian reaction to a sudden outburst of public violence is stark. Within hours, it was business as usual again, as if nothing had happened -- merely a blip on the radar of people's daily lives. No collective teeth-gnashing, no media-led soul-searching, no downloading of the role of the security and intelligence services onto the general public to "see something, say something."
It's refreshing. There's a difference between being informed and being bombarded with anxiety-inducing hysteria. Terrorism should be handled in the shadows by the relevant authorities. Average citizens already have enough to worry about in their daily lives.
French President Emmanuel Macron recently said that NATO needs a new mission, because the Soviet Union, which NATO was created to counter, no longer exists, and Russia isn't the enemy. Macron has suggested that NATO transform into anti-terror coalition.
The problem is that terrorism can't be eradicated strictly via military might. NATO, as it exists now, is a military alliance whose primary purpose seems to be perpetuating the military-industrial complex. Counterterrorism is about intelligence efforts that break up terror cell networks, locate and seize funding, and intercept information about attacks being planned. It's discreet work that doesn't involve the kind of military hardware upon which traditional defense contractors rely.
Another sticking point is that Western nations' fight against terrorism has been highly politicized. The terrorism label has been used against governments that the U.S. simply doesn't like, such as Iran and Venezuela, while America simultaneously cuddles up to the worst nation-state terror sponsor, Saudi Arabia. When our political leaders are lying to us about where the real threat lies, how can we trust them to properly allocate the resources to fight it?
Rather than merely the odd flash of useful cooperation between Russia and the U.S., maybe some of the self-serving political hacks running things can see past their own interests and biases to make it the norm rather than the exception.
(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at www.rachelmarsden.com.)