This photo released by the FBI early Friday April 19, 2013, shows what the FBI is calling the suspects together, walking through the crowd in Boston on Monday, April 15, 2013, before the explosions at the Boston Marathon. (AP Photo/FBI)
Russian media mixed condolences and mockery in their coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and the identification of two Russian immigrants accused of carrying out the attacks, emphasizing Russian authorities’ efforts to diminish the Chechnya connection.
U.S. authorities suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26 — ethnic Chechens — of organizing and carrying out the bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 180. Authorities say one of them fatally shot a police officer after they robbed a convenience store Thursday night.
The older Tsarnaev died early Friday in a shootout with police. The younger was shot and captured Friday night after a massive manhunt. Itar-TASS, Russia’s official news agency, reported President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin talked by telephone shortly before the manhunt ended.
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Itar-TASS quoted the Russian presidential press service as saying, “on behalf of the Russian people, President Putin expressed condolences in regard to the tragic loss of lives in Boston,” and Mr. Obama “thanked Mr. Putin for that and spoke highly of the close cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in the fight against terrorism, including after the attack in Boston.”
The two leaders “have agreed to continue to cooperate in the field of counterterrorism and security,” the agency continued.
But American confusion between Chechnya, a province of Russia, and the Czech Republic, a central European nation, caught the attention of a state-affiliated news outlet, Vesti.Ru.
It ran a headline, “Americans Mistook Czechia [the Czech Republic] for Chechnya and Suggested It Should Be Bombed,” and quoted an American Twitter user: “The Czech Republic has good beer, beautiful women, and men who kill athletes.”
“Dad has been texting people all day, telling them not to go to Czechoslovakia,” another purportedly wrote. “Both terrorists came from the Czech Republic.”
“Where is it, anyway?” yet another wrote, according to the outlet. It also alleged Czech journalists have found a U.S. tweet, “Devil take the Czech Republic! I suppose we’ll bomb it now.”
Chechnya is a war-wracked, impoverished province of some 1.2 million people in the mountainous, oil-rich North Caucasus region of southern Russia.
Predominantly Sunni Muslim, Chechnya’s ethnic population fought two unsuccessful wars for independence from Russia since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. Human-rights groups have alleged massive human-rights abuses, a charge the Kremlin denies.
Petr Gandalovic, Czech ambassador to the United States, issued an official statement saying he is “concerned to note in the social media a most unfortunate misunderstanding. The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities.”
Vesti.Ru also quotes Dmitry Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, bringing up a Putin-coined phrase, “Terrorists should not be differentiated according to their nationality or any other attribute, because the only thing they deserve is hostility.”
“There is no such thing as domestic or foreign terrorists” and “regardless whether they are Chechens or not, whether they are citizens of Kirghizia, Russia, or Turkey ... they equally deserve hostility,” Mr. Peskov said, according to the agency.
The Trud, one of Russia’s largest newspapers, quoted Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov: “Any attempts to draw parallels between Chechnya and the Tsarnaev [brothers], even if they are guilty, are in vain.”
The Chechen leader, the newspaper said, “has reminded that both suspects, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, grew up in the U.S. and their views and beliefs were formed there and, therefore, ‘one should be looking for the roots of evil in the U.S.’ ’’
While a search of Russia’s mainstream media turned up nothing to reveal the suspects’ possible motives, a page belonging to the younger Tsarnaev on the Russian social-media site VK.com, similar to Facebook, included postings in which he appeared to boast of the bombings and described himself as Islamist.
On the page, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said career and money were priorities and he listed Chechnya-related and mosque-related Web sites as favorites while quoting a joke that mocks police. He also writes in Russian a saying that translates, “Brother, you’ve started up something big.”
But the suspects’ motives are unclear.
The Blade asked Ronald Suny, Charles Tilly collegiate professor of social and political history at the University of Michigan, to comment on Russian media coverage and Mr. Kadyrov’s statement, especially the suspects’ possible motives.
“It’s stunning and surprising that an attack like that would happen in the United States, an attack that would be motivated by the ongoing conflict between the Russians and the Chechens,” Mr. Suny said.
“The only motive that one can imagine is to make the American public, which has little awareness of the Chechen problems, more conscious of what is going on in that distant land. The Chechens have experienced a tragic and bitter past from the hands of Imperial Russia, Stalin’s Russia, Soviet Russia, and even post-Soviet Russia — deportations of Chechens in the 1940s and repressive wars in the 1990s and 2000s.”
Mike Sigov, a former Russian journalist in Moscow, is a U.S. citizen and a staff writer for The Blade. All translations are his.
Contact Mike Sigov at: email@example.com, 419-724-6089, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.