The Russian president offered to help in any way he could. Actually, he could do a lot of good.
By Fred Kaplan|Posted Friday, April 19, 2013, at 11:51 AM
Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 8 in Germany
Photo by Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images
Just hours after the Boston Marathon bombings, Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the act as a “disgusting” crime and offered to help in any way he could.
Now’s his chance.
The Tsarnaev brothers appear to have Chechen roots; the older, now-deceased brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, may have touted radical Islamists on his YouTube site. (The only question is whether the site’s holder is the same Tamerlan Tsarnaev.) There is no doubt, then, that Putin has a big interest in helping out with the FBI’s investigation—a much bigger interest than he did on Monday, before the Chechen link was suspected. More to the point, there is very little doubt that he also has the means to help out.
Putin’s popularity, in the early years of his presidency, stemmed largely from his hard-line tactics against the Chechen rebels, who were waging a separatist insurgency in their southern province and, to that end, launching terrorist attacks in Moscow. During that era, in the mid-to-late 1990s, the rebels, though mainly Muslim, were motivated largely by nationalism—as were the leaders of Chechen rebellions dating back to the 19th century. But as Putin put down the insurgency with increasing force, the survivors grew more and more radical, and in the past few years, the movement has taken on explicitly Islamic colors, including an alliance with al-Qaida. This has only hardened Putin’s determination to defeat them.
One result of this: Russian intelligence services are all over Chechen radicals. That means that if—and this is a very big if—the Tsarnaevs had ever been in touch with Chechen radicals or with Islamists elsewhere who have ever been in touch with Chechen radicals, then Putin’s spy agencies have a record of it.