(CNSNews.com) – Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Trump Sunday to thank the U.S. for intelligence that helped to avert an ISIS bombing of targets in St. Petersburg – Putin’s hometown – including the city’s landmark 19th century Kazan Cathedral.
The White House said in a readout a CIA tipoff had prevented an attack that was imminent and may have been deadly.
“Based on the information the United States provided, Russian authorities were able to capture the terrorists just prior to an attack that could have killed large numbers of people,” it said.
“No Russian lives were lost and the terrorist attackers were caught and are now incarcerated,” the White House said. “President Trump appreciated the call and told President Putin that he and the entire United States intelligence community were pleased to have helped save so many lives.”
The phone call came two days after Russia’s Federal Security Service announced the arrests of seven people suspected of planning a weekend bombing spree on behalf of ISIS – including a suicide bombing at the Russia Orthodox cathedral, built in the early 1800s and inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Searches of premises in the city netted weapons, explosives and Islamist literature, and one of the suspects – in a video clip released by the FSB – admitted that his role was to pack explosives and shrapnel into devices.
Trump called CIA Director Mike Pompeo after speaking to Putin, and congratulated “him, his very talented people, and the entire intelligence community on a job well done!” the statement added.
The Kremlin said the information from the CIA had “helped detain the terrorists who plotted to set off explosions at Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg and other public places in the city.”
“The information received from the CIA was enough to locate and detain the criminals.”
It said Putin asked Trump to convey his appreciation to Pompeo and the intelligence operatives who provided the information.
Putin also assured his U.S. counterpart “that in the event that Russian intelligence services receive information that concerns terrorist threats to the U.S. and its citizens, they will promptly pass it on to their U.S. colleagues via partner channels.”
News of the potentially life-saving cooperation comes at a time of continuing tensions between Moscow and Washington, but the White House said the two had agreed during the call that the cooperation “serves as an example of the positive things that can occur when our countries work together.”
“No question that if lives were saved by the tip to Russia, that’s encouraging. Unfortunately I can’t say yet that it’s anything like a positive trend,” Matt Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center, said Sunday when asked if the incident shows improving cooperation.\
“The obstacles to greater counterterrorism cooperation are myriad, including deep disagreement about which groups constitute the threat,” Rojansky said.
“This problem is very evident in Syria where Russia argues the U.S. has backed or turned a blind eye to Islamic extremists, while the U.S. points to Russia’s ongoing cooperation with Iran and Hezbollah.”
After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, it emerged that Moscow had informed the FBI two years earlier that Kyrgyzstan-born bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a suspected terrorist.
According to a House Homeland Security Committee report read out in the trial of the dead terrorist’s brother, the Russians had asked the FBI to alert them should Tsarnaev travel to Russia.
In 2012 he did visit the country, reportedly spending six months in Dagestan – a Muslim-majority republic which security researchers have said rivals neighboring Chechnya as a hub of violent Islamist insurgency.
The extent of U.S.-Russia cooperation before the Tsarnaev brothers killed three people and injured more than 250 in Boston on April 15, 2013 remains unclear, but it does appear to have been impacted by tensions in the relationship.
In July 2009, the two governments established a bilateral presidential commission, as a key component of the Obama administration’s “reset” with Moscow.
One of commission’s 21 working groups dealt with counterterrorism, and the State Department later described it in a newsletter as “the main vehicle” for bilateral counterterror cooperation.
But in March 2014 President Obama suspended the initiative amid tensions over Russian support for Ukrainian separatists and annexation of Crimea.
In an interview that October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov disclosed that the now-frozen commission had been the channel for the earlier Russian intelligence on Tsarnaev. He also claimed the U.S. had “disregarded” the information.
“It’s true that we exchanged intelligence data within the framework of the bilateral presidential commission,” he told Russian TV. “For example, we used that mechanism to provide intelligence data that was related to the bombing in Boston, which was, unfortunately, disregarded.”
Lavrov said he had told Secretary of State John Kerry that if the U.S. wanted to cooperate against terrorists in Syria, then it should be done “within the framework of agreed to mechanisms” like the commission.
Last March a Kremlin official indicated that Russia was ready to resume the initiative but there have been no further public developments.
Many U.S. lawmakers would oppose renewing that level of cooperation, given concerns about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and Putin’s policies.
During his end-of-year news conference on Thursday, Putin said a good working relationship is necessary if he and Trump are to do what their voters have entrusted them to do.
Putin once again denied allegations of collusion with the Trump campaign, saying the claims had been “invented by the people who stand in opposition to Mr. Trump, to present his work as illegitimate.”
Konstantin Kosachev, the pro-Kremlin head of the Russian Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee, described the U.S. information-sharing as “wonderful.”
In a Facebook post Sunday, he contrasted the cooperation with what he characterized as hostility from some U.S. lawmakers.