MOSCOW — Russia has an enthusiastic and perhaps unlikely friend in Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican leader of a congressional delegation that traveled here, who said Sunday that radical Islam has both the United States and Russia "by the throat" and the two countries had better learn to cooperate.
"The fact is, we face the same major challenges," said Rohrabacher, a Californian who chairs the House subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and emerging threats, and who brought House members here for nearly a week of meetings on the theme of Islamist terrorism, with a little fear-of-China thrown in.
Spurred by the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April, the delegation's members met with the hard-line deputy prime minister, Dmitri Rogozin, and with top officials of Russia's security service, the FSB, and then made a quick trip engineered by action-movie star Steven Seagal, who has a following in Russia, to Beslan, site of a 2004 school massacre that left more than 380 dead.
At a briefing by the FSB, they were told about the agency's efforts to warn U.S. authorities about bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who the agency said harbored extremist views. Tsarnaev visited Russia's Dagestan republic last year for six months.
At a Sunday news conference, Rohrabacher and another Republican, U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, fully endorsed the long-held Russian argument that Russia, Europe and America face a common enemy: radical Islam.
King said the United States should study the FSB's antiterror tactics and adopt those that work. He lamented that Russia seems to have a better intelligence operation in Boston than the United States does in the North Caucasus.
Republicans have not always been so inclined toward Russia. Last year the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, called Russia America's No. 1 geopolitical adversary. "That was an absurd statement," Rohrabacher said Sunday.
Rohrabacher once worked as a speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, who called the Soviet Union an "evil empire." Now he thinks Russia and the United States, jointly facing religious terrorism, also have an antagonist in common in China — an argument that would find few adherents among Russian foreign policy experts.
Seagal, dressed in black and sporting a deep tan, said he arranged the Saturday trip to Beslan, in North Ossetia. Members of the group laid wreaths at the cemetery and the school gym, said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and were treated to a "sumptuous" lunch. Then they returned to Moscow.
The Republicans said they wanted to take up Seagal's offer of a trip to Chechnya, to meet with leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has eradicated his Islamist opponents and brought stability to the once war-torn region. Seagal — who said, "I consider myself an antiterrorist" — dismissed complaints about the murder and mayhem Kadyrov has been accused of.
"I'm friends with many presidents of many countries," he said, "and there are rumors about all of them."
Cohen said he wouldn't have gone to Chechnya because of Kadyrov's human rights record.
"We are at war against radical Islamic terrorists," retorted King. "Anyone who eliminates our enemies, that saves lives."