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Bromund: After Boston, regard Vladimir Putin's sympathy with distrust

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a video

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a video conference on April 11, 2013. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Russian strongman Vladimir Putin expressed his sympathy for the victims of the Boston bombings last week. But make no mistake: Putin sees the bombings as an opportunity to rebuild relations with the United States on his terms.

His crocodile tears shouldn't delude us into chasing a second "reset" in relations with Russia. After all, the first reset was one of the Obama administration's biggest foreign policy blunders.

When President Barack Obama came to office in 2009, relations with Moscow were badly strained by Russia's 2008 invasion of Georgia, a pro-American democracy south of Chechnya, the ancestral home of the marathon bombers. Obama sought to restart the relationship.

The effort was doomed from the start. When then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a mock reset button to her Russian counterpart as a lighthearted gift, the United States got the translation wrong, and offered to "overcharge" U.S.-Russian ties. That set the tone for the next three years.

In 2010, the Russians gladly agreed to the New START Treaty, which Obama views as a step toward his goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. He's the only one who sees it that way. Russia is deeply committed to its nuclear arsenal, which the treaty allows it to expand.

Since then, the Russians have made it clear that they are no friends of ours, or of democracy. Putin said in 2005 that the collapse of the Soviet Union was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." He may know that the Soviet empire cannot be rebuilt, but that only deepens his hatred for the United States.

His first goal is to keep power with his cronies. During Putin's first terms as president, from 2000 to 2008, Russia became one of the deadliest places in the world for journalists, especially those who criticized Putin's corruption. In 2012, Putin won re-election to the presidency by massive fraud.

Abroad, Putin lives to cause problems for the United States. The Russians maintain close ties with anti-American regimes in Iran and Venezuela, and run interference for the murderous Bashar Assad of Syria at the United Nations. A September 2011 bomb attack on the U.S. embassy in Georgia was even traced to Russian agents.

Throughout all this, the Obama administration continued to defend its reset. But in 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which sought to hold corrupt Russian officials to account for their human rights abuses. Putin reacted spitefully, banning the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens.

This shows that the United States is merely a useful whipping boy for Putin, who wants relations with Washington on his terms. He sees the Obama administration as gullible proponents of the reset. He also knows they are eager to negotiate another one-sided nuclear weapons treaty that will not reduce Russia's ability to hold our allies in Europe hostage.

When news broke of the Boston attacks, Putin saw an opportunity, immediately condemning the bombings as "disgusting." When it turned out that the bombers hailed from Chechnya, Putin raised his game. He badly wants to make his brutal border wars into our fight too, to bring us together in shared hatred of his enemies. But the United States has no stake in Russia's savage war in Chechnya, which has bred an equally savage Islamist response.

Regardless of what the facts turn out to be, Putin will try to link Boston and Chechnya. The Islamists hate us as much as they hate Russia. But other than that, Russia and the United States have nothing in common. Yet on Friday, the White House announced that Obama had thanked Putin for Russia's assistance, and "agreed to continue [their] cooperation on counterterrorism and security issues going forward."

That cooperation should stay limited. We don't yet know how much the Russians knew in advance about the brothers Tsarnaev. Above all, the bombings are no reason for us to crawl back into Putin's clammy embrace. Radical Islam is our enemy, but that does not make Putin's Russia our friend.

Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Thatcher Center for Freedom.