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House committee divided over whether US should view Russia as counter-terrorism ally

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Photo: House Foreign Affairs Committee

Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee met Tuesday to evaluate the role of Russia as a counter-terrorism ally to the United States.

Members of both the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade as well as the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats were present to express a wide variety of opinions on the issue.

Some lawmakers questioned if Russia had America’s best interest in mind given its interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The committees also cast a critical eye on the relationship between Russia and President Bashir al Assad’s regime in Syria.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee, opened the hearing in strong opposition to working with Russia on counter-terrorism efforts.

“Moscow cannot be our partner so long as it continues to enable the terrorist state Iran, prop up Assad, arms Israel’s foes and contributes to the slaughter and misery of millions of Syrians,” Poe said. “Putin arms terrorist like the Taliban, Hezbollah and thugs around the world so long as they advance his personal goals to undermine democracy and challenge America. It is time we see Putin for what he is…he is an international terrorist.”

Poe then asserted “Putin’s brutal conduct and persistent ambition to rival the U.S. has made Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.”

Ranking member of the subcommittee, Rep. William Keating D- Mass., said Russia’s current actions undermining the recent U.S. presidential election is causation to no longer view Russia as a counter-terrorism partner.

“We owe to every victim of terrorism, and every individual we are working to make sure never becomes a victim of terrorism, we owe it to our servicemen and women and every person we represent here in Congress to be very careful when we choose who we are going to trust as a partner in fighting terrorism,” Keating said. “Russia has failed time and time again to demonstrate and share our goal of a safe and secure America.”

Chairman of the Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats Subcommittee Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., offered a countering perspective, suggesting the United States would have a more significant advantage working with Russia to combat terrorism.

“We should be working with them to try and create a more peaceful situation and defeat the radical Islamic terrorist that threaten both of us, Rohrabacher said. "I think there are great opportunities for cooperation and they should not be passed up because basically what I have seen is hostility, hostility, hostility towards any idea of cooperating with Russians."

Senior Director of the Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement for the University of Pennsylvania and witness for the hearing Michael Carpenter, spoke of his experience and attempt to work with Russia on counter-terrorism efforts ahead of the Olympic Games in Sochi.

“It was clear from the engagements we had at the time that their primary concern was counter-intelligence and not sharing information on terrorist threats,” Carpenter said. “We did not receive any significant information from the Russians in the lead up to the games, despite having an enormous interest in terms in being the largest sponsor with the largest number of athletes and the largest number of sportsmen contributing to the games.”

Witness Svante E. Cornell, director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute for the American Foreign Policy Council, said Russia’s actions concerning counter-terrorism and other efforts were more about the self-preservation of the current regime.

“By discrediting democracy and especially democratic uprisings and revolutions and making the west appear to be chaotic and decadent that bolstered support domestically for the Russian regime itself.” Cornell stated. “Part of that is also undermining the leadership of the United States in the world.”

Committee Member Rep. Brian Mast asked if there were normal counter-terrorism efforts or actions the United States should refrain from engaging in with Russia. Carpenter said that he would advise refraining from information sharing that would compromise our sources or methods.

“I would not want the U.S. military to be engaging in any sort of combat missions or operations or sharing of information on targets in Syria or any other military battlefield because that would essentially make the U.S. complicit in any civilian casualties that result from Russia’s bombing campaign as well as tie us to the toxic axis that Russia has formed with Hezbollah and Iran,” Carpenter said.