Vladimir Putin first won political popularity by cracking down on separatist movements in the Northern Caucasus. (Reuters/Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti.)
When President Obama meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in September, they’ll have a lot to talk about. Some things on the agenda will have prime importance: the crisis in Syria, talks with Iran, disarmament and nuclear weapons among them. Far less important are issues on the fringe, including the deplorable state of human rights in Russia and now, after the Boston bombings, terrorism.
Terrorism, all agree, is bad. But marrying the already-overblown US “war on terrorism”—complete with drones, war in Afghanistan and questionable treatment of suspects at home—to Moscow’s heavy-handed, bloody assault on mostly Muslim rebels in the Caucasus just isn’t a good idea. There’s no doubt that Putin and the security services in Russia would love the United States to become an active ally in cracking down on radical and militant Muslim groups from Central Asia to the Caucasus to, well, Syria, where the United States is supporting the very same radical Muslim insurgents that it opposes elsewhere, including in Iraq.
But that’s a terrible idea.
Happily enough, at least one of the Chechnya-based extremist Muslim groups said, in a statement following the revelation that the Boston bombers were former Chechens, that is has no beef with Washington. As quoted in The Wall Street Journal, the Command of the Mujahedeen of the Vilayat in Dagestan said:
The Caucasian Mujahedeen are not fighting with the United States of America. We are at war with Russia which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims.
The group went on to suggest that the Russian security services themselves might have had a hand in the bombings, although there’s no evidence to support such a conspiracy theory. Said the group:
If the US government is really interested in establishing the true organizers of the explosions in Boston, and are not simply playing along with Russia, they should focus on the involvement of Russian security services in the events.
Incidentally, even though it has been widely reported that the Russians first alerted US authorities to the activities of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother involved in the marathon attack, the Journal reports that Russia’s intelligence service, the Federal Security Service, itself says that it has been unable to find any connection between the Tsarnaevs and the Mujahedeen.
As The Washington Post reports:
The exact trajectory of Tsarnaev’s journey into radicalism is still emerging, but it first surfaced in 2011 when he somehow entered the radar of the Russian security services. It accelerated in late 2012 upon his return to the United States from a six-month visit to the Caucasus, when friends and relatives noticed a new religious and political fervor.