Common Ground: Zero


From the Wall Street Journal: The Kerry-Putin meeting aside, common ground between Russia and America is a myth.

A Shared Enemy Does Not Mean Shared Values
By Garry Kasparov
May 12, 2013
Wall Street Journal



When Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Moscow on Tuesday to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin, the announced list of topics included finding “common ground” on Syria. It also mentioned antiterror cooperation in light of the Russian origins of Boston Marathon bombing suspects, the Tsarnaev brothers. It is very unlikely Mr. Kerry found common ground on either subject.

The humanitarian catastrophe in Syria is of no concern to Mr. Putin, as is clear from the Kremlin’s support for the murderous Assad regime. Mr. Putin also seeks to stoke the instability that helps keep the price of oil high. The similar pattern of Russian interference in Iran and Venezuela is no coincidence. Energy revenue is what keeps Mr. Putin and his gang in power and therefore oil prices are always his top priority.

Terror would seem to be a more likely area for U.S.-Russian collaboration, especially regarding the virulent brand of Islamist extremism that has been bubbling over in Russia’s southwestern Caucasus region since the fall of the Soviet Union. Yet the Kremlin’s cooperation on the Islamist threat has been remarkably selective.

Soon after the suspects’ names in the Boston bombing became known, the Russian security services announced that they had warned the FBI about the elder Tsarnaev, Tamerlan, in 2011. But what about during and after Tamerlan’s visit to Russia’s North Caucasus in 2012? That’s when he reportedly was indoctrinated and trained by radicals in Dagestan.

Why were there no communications in 2012 from the FSB (the successor of the KGB) about a suspected radical, an American no less, training in the hottest of Caucasus terrorist hotbeds and then returning to the U. S.? It is beyond belief that the extensive police state that monitors every utterance of the Russian opposition could lose track of an American associating with terrorists.

Tamerlan reportedly met with Makhmud Mansur Nidal, a known terror recruiter, and William Plotkin, a Russian-Canadian jihadist. Both men were killed in Dagestan by the Russian military just days before Tamerlan left Russia for the U.S. If no intelligence was sent from Moscow to Washington, all this talk of FSB cooperation cannot be taken seriously.

This would not be the first time Russian security forces seemed strangely impotent in the face of an impending terror attack. In the Nord-Ost theater siege by Islamist Chechens in 2002 and the Beslan school hostage attack by Chechen and other Islamist radicals in 2004, it later came to light that there were FSB informants in both terror groups-yet the attacks went ahead unimpeded. Beslan was quickly used by Mr. Putin to justify shredding the last vestiges of Russian democracy by eliminating the election of regional governors.

With such a track record, it is impossible to overlook that the Boston bombing took place just days after the U.S. Magnitsky List was published, creating the first serious external threat to the Putin power structure by penalizing Russian officials complicit in human-rights crimes. Practically before the smoke in Boston cleared, Mr. Putin was saying “I told you so” and calling for cooperation.

Secretary Kerry’s visit validated every Putin instinct. The Russian president kept the American waiting in a hall for three hours-no doubt impressing Mr. Putin’s cronies. On Wednesday, Mr. Kerry was allowed to meet with a small group of Russian human-rights activists whose activities have been under assault as the Putin government cracks down ever harder on free speech and all forms of opposition.

But the meeting avoided mention of the two most significant developments in Russian human rights: the Magnitsky List and the dozens of protesters arrested at a political protest in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow a year ago. Mr. Putin is creating a new generation of political prisoners, with show trials unseen since Joseph Stalin, and Mr. Kerry goes to Russia to find common ground? As for Syria, the day after Mr. Kerry left, the Journal reported that advanced Russian S-300 antiaircraft missiles were headed to Syria.

Islamist terror is a genuine threat that will continue to take Russian and American lives unless it is met with a strong response. But having a shared enemy does not mean having shared values. Respect for human life and individual rights are the most potent weapons the civilized world possesses and where any discussion of common ground must begin. The Putin regime’s dubious record on counterterrorism and its continued support of terror sponsors Iran and Syria mean only one thing: common ground zero.

Mr. Kasparov, a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal, is the leader of the Russian pro-democracy group United Civil Front and chairman of the U.S.-based Human Rights Foundation.

Reproduced with permission from the Wall Street Journal.


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