BRUSSELS — Even as Russia imposes the most intensive security apparatus in Olympic history, the top military officers from the United States and Russia have opened discussions about using sophisticated U.S. electronic equipment in a new effort to help secure the Winter Games in Sochi next month.
The Russian delegation first raised the prospect of gaining access to the U.S. technology, developed by the Pentagon to counter improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq, Defense Department officials said Tuesday. They emphasized that no decisions had been made yet.
The potential for a technological exchange was part of an extensive discussion here Tuesday when Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held his first face-to-face meeting with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff.
President Obama and President Vladimir Putin of Russia also discussed security at the Games in a phone conversation Tuesday, Reuters reported. Few details were disclosed.
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Dempsey said the Defense Department would be willing to provide equipment designed to detect and disrupt cellphone or radio signals used by militants to detonate improvised explosives from a distance. But he cautioned that technical experts from both nations first needed to make sure that the U.S. systems could be integrated into the communications networks and security systems being set in place by Russia.
In discussing the Pentagon’s technology to counter improvised explosives, Dempsey noted that this was “something that we’ve become extraordinarily familiar with.” Homemade bombs planted by militants have been the leading cause of deaths and injuries to U.S. service members in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Even with their extensive agenda on bilateral security issues, the question of safety at the Olympics was thoroughly discussed, including a description by Gerasimov of the close cooperation between the Russian military and its civilian law enforcement and intelligence services to provide security for the Games.
Gerasimov described in detail how Russian authorities “have in place the intelligence apparatus as well as the response apparatus to deal with the threats,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey and Gerasimov met one day after Pentagon officials disclosed that the U.S. European Command was drawing up plans to have two Navy warships in the Black Sea at the time of the Games, should they be needed in case of emergency.
In addition to deploying tens of thousands of police officers and military reinforcements to the Sochi area, the Russian government has tightened control inside the city ahead of the opening of the Games Feb. 7, banning vehicles that are not registered in the region and requiring even Russians who visit to register with the police within three days, as foreigners must do.
This first meeting between the U.S. and Russian military chiefs came against a strained political backdrop. Moscow’s decision to shelter Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, prompted Obama to call off a one-on-one meeting he had scheduled with Putin while in Russia last year. And U.S. efforts to build a missile-defense architecture to protect the territory of NATO allies in Europe continue to provoke protests from Russia.
Dempsey, in an interview, said it was important for the two militaries “not to foreclose on conversations, even if at some points there are disagreements that prevent the forward movement” in other parts of the relationship, whether political or diplomatic.
Both the U.S. and Russian generals — who share a history of having commanded large tank and armored units — emphasized the importance of improving communication between their armed forces.
“I think we have an opportunity to advance the relationship on areas of common interest,” Dempsey said.
He noted in particular that Moscow remains a vital partner for supply lines for the NATO mission in Afghanistan, agreeing to allow the movement of nonlethal material to and from the war zone through Russian territory. That rail-and-road network is becoming increasingly important as protests in Pakistan choke efforts to use the more convenient supply line there.
Dempsey said his Russian counterpart was concerned about the potential for further instability in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission there officially ends this year.
Gerasimov has asked for updates on the U.S. and NATO effort to train, advise and equip Afghan National Security Forces, Dempsey said, as well as Afghanistan’s ability to maintain and control transportation lines in and out of the country.
“He is absolutely concerned, as I would be in his place,” Dempsey said.
In brief remarks welcoming Dempsey to the Russian mission to NATO in suburban Brussels, Gerasimov endorsed “regular contacts” between the militaries as “quite useful.”