Reports of Russia’s request that the FBI interrogate now-deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsnaraev have spurred some neoconservatives to claim that Russia’s stance on terrorism in Chechnya has been correct after all. Dave Weigel of Slate was quick to note growing Russophilia amongst the American right, but we are more likely to expect continued antagonism and distrust towards Russia from neoconservatives.
Traditionally, neoconservatives retain the view of Russia that was prominent during the Cold War. Echoing Reagan’s “evil empire” description, they view Russia as undemocratic, roguish, and brutal. And in contrast to the hostility toward Muslims now, neoconservatives founded the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya in 1999 to press Russia to end its war with the primarily Muslim region. Its members included prominent experts affiliated with the Reagan and second Bush administrations such as Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams (of Iran-Contra fame), and Frank Gaffney.
And this anti-Russia view remains popular with neoconservatives like Max Boot, who blames Russian provocations and destruction for Chechen terrorism and separatism. But with news of the Tsarnaev brothers self-radicalizing, there is even less reason to see any vindication of Putin’s policies against Chechnya.
Further, it would be a sharp turn for the American right to begin to accept Russia as an ally. Less than three years ago, Anna Chapman and other Russian sleeper agents were arrested and deported for spying. Mitt Romney famously referred to Russia as American’s “number one geopolitical foe.” And in response to the United States sanctioning 18 Russian officials involved with the torture and death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, Russia, too, banned 18 Americans from entry in to Russia including Republicans Dick Cheney and John Yoo. Another drag on U.S.-Russian relations is Russia’s continued obstructionism in regards to Syria.
The U.S. and Russia have agreed to step up counterterrorism operations after the Boston Marathon bombings, but what effect this will have is uncertain. Before the bombings, there seemed to be regular cooperation between the Russian FSB and the FBI as evidenced by the concerns regarding Tamerlan Tsarnaev. It is unlikely Russia would share operations procedures with its traditional rival, the United States. However, the U.S. may heed FSB requests more seriously in the future especially regarding ethnic Chechens. Other than that, business will remain as usual between the two rivals. They will work together in areas like Afghanistan to counter Islamic extremism and oppose each other when their spheres of influence are threatened like in the Syrian Civil War.
Nevertheless, Russia is not as large a foe to neoconservatives as Islamist terrorist networks. With the erosion of communism, the new threatening ideology is Islamic extremism. Putin may be a bully, but terrorists groups like Al Qaeda have proven to be more threatening and dangerous to Western interests.