The two Boston Marathon bombing suspects have reportedly been identified as Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. While their link to Chechnya remains unclear—the brothers lived in Kyrgyzstan and Dagestan and have been residents in the United States for some time—it has thrown a spotlight on Russia's restive North Caucasus region. Although much remains uncertain in this fast-moving story—including what the brothers' motives were—I asked my colleague Anya Schmemann, who follows Russia, to share some insights about Chechnya and what this development might mean for U.S.-Russian relations.
The reported identification of the Boston bombing suspects as ethnic Chechens has thrown a spotlight back on Russia's troubled and volatile North Caucasus region, which has been the target of an Islamic insurgency stemming from separatist wars that date back to the 1990s.
The alleged link to Chechnya also raises questions about U.S.-Russian relations at a time when the relationship is on the skids.
Chechens have long had a troubled history with Russia; thousands of them were deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan by Soviet leader Stalin during World War II. A separatist war began in Chechnya in 1994 after the Soviet collapse and developed into an Islamic insurgency. Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya in 1996—ending the "first" Chechen war—but returned three years later to reassert control over the largely lawless and de-facto independent area.