Chechnya, located in the north Caucasus region, has been a thorn in Russia’s side for centuries. First czars, then Soviet leaders and Russian presidents fought independence movements there. Now Chechnya is under the iron-fisted rule of Moscow’s pro-Russian leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Charles King, a Caucasus expert at the Wilson Center, said “It is certainly the case that the North Caucasus have been over the course of the last 20 years and one would say even over the course of the last 200 years, a rather violent place where secessionist movements have been relatively common. It was a region of the Russian Federation described as the single greatest security threat to the Russian state by the Russian authorities some time ago.”
For more than a decade, Chechen militants engaged in terrorist acts: from blowing up airliners, bombing the Moscow metro, seizing a theater in the Russian capital or a school in North Ossetia.
But analysts - including King - caution not to jump to conclusions about the Boston bombings, allegedly carried out by Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev, two brothers who are ethnic Chechens and came to the United States at least eight years ago.
“We don’t know much at this point about the political motivation for their alleged action,” said King. “We don’t know much about the way in which they might have become radicalized - and I think probably at this point speculating about the real Chechen angle on this would be kind of speculating about the Scots-Irish angle on someone like Timothy McVeigh.”
King said “We do not focus on the specific ethnic background of perpetrators - in a way, there is a more frightening side of this - it is the domestic American angle rather than the international one.”
Robert Legvold of Columbia University said there is no evidence of an international conspiracy.
“There are no reports that the older brother had gone off to some kind of an exercise in Pakistan or places that some of these Americans have gone to that have gotten involved with al-Qaida or related groups,” said Legvold. “Certainly to assume that Chechnya or anybody else in Chechnya has anything to do with these two, that seems to me to be completely off base.”
Legvold cautioned about U.S. media reports about the alleged bombers. “The majority of Americans don’t have a clue as to what Chechnya is or where it is, or what this is all about,” said Legvold. “So there are going to be some unfortunate associations done in the public on the U.S. side. The media is already confused about this kind of thing a bit.”
Experts said during these times of heightened tensions, cooler heads must prevail.