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After Boston bombings: Beware Russia-US cooperation on counter-terrorism

After the Boston bombings, Russian President Putin and US President Obama announced closer cooperation on counter-terrorism. But Americans should have their eyes wide open about any counter-terrorism agreements with Russia.

By Janusz Bugajski / April 23, 2013

Russian President Vladimir Putin during his meeting with ministers in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, April 22. Op-ed contributor Janusz Bugajski writes: The Kremlin is reaching out to President Obama to cooperate on terrorism so that he can 'depict anti-American terrorism as equivalent to anti-Russian terrorism and thereby avoid US criticism of its brutal anti-terrorist operations.'

Mikhail Klimentyev/Presidential Press Service/RIA-Novosti/AP

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Following the terrorist bombings in Boston, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to intensify bilateral cooperation in counter-terrorism. That can be useful in some ways, particularly when it comes to intelligence sharing. But Americans should have their eyes wide open about any counter-terrorism agreements with Russia.

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First, Russian and American counter-terrorism operations are based on completely different principles; and second, President Putin’s regime itself engages in state terrorism against unarmed civilians.

The terrorist attack in Boston was allegedly carried out by two ethnic Chechen brothers, living in the United States for about a decade. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed in a shootout with police last week, and Dzhokhar, his younger brother and a US citizen, was captured and is in the hospital recovering from gunshot wounds.

Tamerlan spent six months in Russia during 2012, and was interviewed by the FBI – at Russia’s request – before his trip. The FBI says it found nothing suspicious. Tamerlan’s father says his son stayed with him in Dagestan, a Russian republic in the troubled North Caucasus region.

Dzhokhar has indicated from his hospital bed that the two brothers acted alone. Leaders of the main insurgency movement in the North Caucasus, the Caucasian Emirate, who do not shy away from claiming credit for terrorist acts, also denied that the Tsarnaev brothers are linked to them – and characteristically pointed the finger at Moscow.

Washington and Moscow engage in two radically contrasting modes of counter-terrorism, as the massive police operation in Boston clearly underscored. US police and other law enforcement agencies saturated the neighborhood in Watertown, Mass., where one of the terrorist fugitives was hiding, and avoided any bombings or shootings that could have harmed unarmed civilians or unnecessarily resulted in the destruction of property.

The Russian equivalent would have been a massive operation to eradicate an entire neighborhood or other location where the suspects may have been hiding. A few hundred civilian casualties would have been dismissed as unavoidable. This strategy was evident with the police storming of the school taken hostage in Beslan, North Ossetia, in September 2004, when 380 people, mostly children and teachers, perished. It was also evident in the gassing of 130 civilians in a Moscow theater by Russian special forces in October 2002 to eradicate terrorist hostagetakers. Such actions simply inflame further insurrection from among North Caucasus separatists.

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