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Can cooperation on Boston bombings bridge US-Russia distrust? It will be hard. (+video)

Since the Boston bombings, Russia has shared intelligence and Putin and Obama have pledged to cooperate. But US-Russia distrust runs deep, experts caution.

By Staff writer / April 29, 2013

President Obama meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin, in Los Cabos, Mexico, in June 2012. After the Boston bombings, Putin and Obama pledged in a phone call last week to improve information sharing, concerns and doubts about the other side's motives.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File

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Washington

Recent developments in the investigation into the Boston bombings suggest an easing in the decades-old distrust that has marked US-Russia counterterrorism cooperation.

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No less a figure than Russian President Vladimir Putin – perhaps with one eye on the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea city of Sochi and mindful of how the Boston Marathon bombings targeted a high-profile athletic event – is calling for his country and the US to overcome old suspicions, saying the two countries are confronting the same terrorism.

But even after Mr. Putin and President Obama pledged in a phone call last week to improve information sharing, concerns and doubts about the other side’s motives are likely to hamper future cooperation, some US officials and experts in US-Russia relations say.

“We’re seeing the Russians pass on what information they have, and we’re seeing some notable atmospherics [such as the Putin-Obama phone call] as well,” says Mark Galeotti, an expert in US-Russia security and intelligence cooperation at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. “But we’ve also seen in the past even dramatic increases in intelligence cooperation – that didn’t last.”

One such surge in cooperation occurred after the 9/11 attacks, he notes, when US concerns over Al Qaeda led to a more singular perspective between the two countries on the threat of Islamist extremism. “But then we saw a fairly rapid deterioration in cooperation, too,” he adds.

More broadly, the two countries are unlikely to overcome their sharp differences over whether the rebellion in Russia’s North Caucasus region is a fight for independence from a repressive central power, or is the work of Islamist terrorists.

That same divide is also apparent in the two countries’ perspectives on the civil war in Syria – where Russia sees Syrian President Bashar al-Assad under attack from Islamist terrorists, many of them foreigners, while the US takes the Western perspective on Syria of a ruthless leader battling a legitimate but fractured insurgency with Islamist extremist elements.

The US and the West are unlikely to shift to Russia’s thinking on Syria as a result of the Boston bombings. But what could occur is a greater willingness on the part of the US and its allies to at least take Russia’s perspective into consideration, Dr. Galeotti says.

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