Among the reasons President Donald Trump has cited for seeking a better relationship between the United States and Russia is the number of common evils the two countries face, including terrorism. “Wouldn’t it be great,” he has mused, “if we actually got along with Russia and other countries?”
The furor in the United States over Russia’s role meddling in the country’s 2016 presidential election—and the U.S. intelligence community’s investigations into, and public leaks about, possible contacts between Trump associates and Russian intelligence—may stifle Trump’s hopes for getting along with Russia before he can even try. Indeed, the current spy wars between American and Russian intelligence have a long history, and go a long way toward explaining why meaningful U.S.-Russia cooperation was unlikely to begin with.
It’s not that the FSB, the major Russian intelligence agency, has never been able to work with its American counterparts. The most romantic period of their relationship was in 2013, following the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured some 250. Two brothers from the Russian republic of Chechnya, Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had organized the attack, and it became known soon afterward that the Russian FSB had sent messages in 2011 to the FBI and CIA about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Though these letters were not real warnings—the FSB asked for information on him, fearing he could join a militant group—the information inflamed public opinion in the United States, and there were calls for more cooperation between Russian and American intelligence agencies. Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama spoke twice by phone in the wake of the bombing. A White House statement said Obama praised the “close cooperation” Washington received on counterterrorism from Moscow, and that “both sides underlined their interest in deepening” it. Congressmen rushed to Moscow praising FSB’s willingness to work together.