MOSCOW (AP) — Moscow is continuing to cooperate with the West on fighting terrorism despite tensions over Ukraine, Russia's foreign minister said Wednesday.
Sergey Lavrov said that in particular Russian security agencies have maintained contacts with their counterparts in France, where five Russian citizens from the predominantly Muslim region of Chechnya were arrested in raids Tuesday.
Speaking at a news conference, Lavrov would not say whether Russia had shared intelligence information that led to the arrests. He emphasized that Russia was also cooperating with other countries in the fight against terrorism, organized crime and other threats, but did not elaborate.
Despite tensions with the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly offered his condolences when 12 people were slain at French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo this month, and said Moscow was ready to help France combat terrorism.
Lavrov refused to say if France had accepted Russian intelligence assistance following Putin's offer. "Special services are cooperating, and their work excludes fuss and publicity," he said.
Islamic extremists from Russia's North Caucasus region long have been on the radar of intelligence agencies in western Europe.
A senior European intelligence official told The Associated Press that cooperation with Russia on terror-related issues was good, despite current differences over Ukraine. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the topic.
Andrei Soldatov, an independent Moscow-based analyst who specializes on security issues and wrote a book about Russian security services, said that Russia was likely to help France with information.
"Russian and French security agencies have developed very good ties," he told The Associated Press, adding that their contacts have remained strong.
Soldatov said that Russia could possess valuable information about members of the Chechen community in France and other European countries.
Many Chechens moved to Europe during two devastating separatist wars. Chechnya has become more stable under the steely grip of a Moscow-backed strongman, but the Islamist insurgency has engulfed other North Caucasus provinces.
Earlier this month, a senior Russian diplomat said "significantly more" than 800 Russians are currently fighting alongside the Islamic State group.
Ilya Rogachev, who heads the Foreign Ministry's department for modern challenges and threats, said that some were Chechen refugees who had previously moved to Europe, and also some ethnic Chechens from Georgia.
Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV (Associated Press)