MOSCOW, Russia — In the wake of Monday’s deadly Boston Marathon bombing, Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced his condolences and offered to help the US authorities in their investigation of the attack, saying in a statement on Tuesday that Russia “would be ready to provide assistance” in the hunt.
The moment, a rare one amid an era of suffering relations between the two countries, harked back to September 11, when Putin was the first foreign leader to call President George W. Bush after those attacks.
But as reports continue to flood in about the connection of the brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev to Russia — and, specifically, to the troubled North Caucasus region — Putin is likely growing more concerned that Russia may end up playing a more crucial albeit indirect role in the bombing than he expected.
And he won’t be pleased.
It was around this time four years ago — April 16, 2009 — that Russia declared its counter-terrorism operation over. Putin closed a major chapter that had launched his career: with a Moscow-friendly government installed, the bloodshed was over. By finally defeating the Chechen “terrorists,” he had proven himself effective at stemming Russia’s Islamic threat. Or so he let it be known.
While the frequency of large-scale insurgent assaults decreased and the weakened Islamist fighters retreated into the mountains of Chechnya, Dagestan and neighboring Ingushetia, the killing never stopped. The North Caucasus instead became a hotbed of low-intensity violence, with violent attacks targeted against police and security officials occurring on a smaller scale, but nevertheless regularly.
Then came the metro and airport bombings in Moscow, in 2010 and 2011, respectively, which collectively killed nearly 80 people.
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Today, in Dagestan, killings of police, bureaucrats, journalists and even moderate Islamic clerics occur almost daily. The self-proclaimed Caucasus Emirate, a loose network of local Islamists established in 2007, continues to roam the North Caucasian foothills, and their leader, Doku Umarov, Russia’s single-most wanted man, remains at large.
So as the US hunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the remaining suspect, continues, the world will again be reminded not only about the Chechen wars of years past, but also of the continuing violence that plagues the region.
For Putin, a man who has long prided himself on the “stability” he helped bring to Russia, that would be an uncomfortable confrontation with reality.