26 April 2013, 18:15

After Boston, does the US financing of terrorists in Syria make sense?

After Boston, does the US financing of terrorists in Syria make sense?

Witnessing the horrific events in Boston, it is hard to remain in a purely analytical mode. However, these events are a sober reminder of 9/11 and of the inexcusable waste of time since then – time during which the West and Russia could have joined forces in the war on terror by committing themselves to deeds, not just fine rhetoric. Indeed, far too much time has been wasted. That is because Washington chose to ignore Putin's repeated appeals for cooperation and instead preferred to push its misconceived democracy promotion agenda down his throat.

This article is part of Voice of Russia Experts’ Panel Discussion

The Boston tragedy might have been averted had Obama's administration showed more professionalism in security matters instead of high-handedly ignoring Moscow's offers of help. Had this tragedy occurredduring President Bush's term in the White House, all the blame could have been laid on the poor “Dubya”, who, in truth, did keep turning down Putin's proposals for closer security cooperation. However, it was in 2011 that an entity clumsily described by the White House spokesmen as a foreign government" – now acknowledged by FBI officials to be Russia – asked for information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the perpetrators of the Boston outrage. The Russians told the Americans that this individual could be a high risk, but the FBI never followed up on that lead since – listen to this – “it did not have the legal authority to keep tabs on him”.

Now the federal investigators are hurrying to review a visit that one of the suspected bombers made to Chechnya and Dagestan, the predominantly Muslim republics in the North Caucasus region of Russia.

Ironically, many members of Congress have expressed concern about the FBI's handling of a request from Russia to examine this individual’s possible links to extremist groups in the region. I wonder if these are the very same legislators who were pushing for all kind of tough sanctions against Russia.

It would also be appropriate to recall here the activities of the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (formerly in Chechnya) (ACPC), which are funded by the US government and other sources. The ACPC claims to be “dedicated to monitoring developments in the region and providing expert analysis of their implications for security, stability and the human rights situation”.

On closer inspection, however, the ACPC promotes the idea that the folks linked to the North Caucasus rebel groups are “good guys” since they highlight the undemocratic nature of Putin's Russia. It also cultivates support for their cause by emphasizing the seriousness of human rights violations in this region. Moreover, it heavily – and successfully – lobbied for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) grant to be awarded to Ilyas Akhmadov, a self-styled “foreign minister” in the so-called Chechen "government in exile”, a man whom Moscow describes as a terrorist.

Another Chechen exile, Akhmed Zakayev, who is also on Moscow's terrorist list but who was nevertheless granted political asylum in the UK, recently made a sensational statement accusing the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of arming and training a group of Chechen saboteurs and planning to send them to Russia in 2012.

"People from Saakashvili's inner circle brought a group of Chechens from Europe, organized their training, provided them with weapons and were supposed to arrange a safe corridor for them to enter Dagestani territory," Zakayev said on Georgian radio on 18 April.

It is fitting to recall that Saakashvili was and probably still is on the “best friends” lists of George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, John McCain and other color revolution promoters in Georgia, Ukraine and the world over.

Back to Obama and his crew, including the new Secretary of State John Kerry. Many observers and commentators counted on his knowledge and expertise to correct Hillary Clinton's erratic policies. However, today John Kerry proudly announced US financial support for the Syrian opposition is to be doubled to $250 million. In case you have not heard, the most powerful wing of this opposition is a prominent jihadist group, the al-Nusra Front. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Iraqi wing of al-Qaeda, said that al-Nusra is battling for an Islamic state in Syria and that both groups are merging.

So it looks like the US is openly funding, even if indirectly, the al-Nusra group, which is listed as a terrorist organization. Can anyone explain what is going on here? I admit I cannot.

Edward Lozansky, President American University in Moscow, Professor of World Politics, Moscow State University

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