What You Should Know About the Troubled Russian Region of Chechnya

Apr 26, 2013

Monument to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya in Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovskaya Oblast, Russia.
Credit Gilad Rom / Flickr

Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the West Thursday for refusing to declare Chechen militants terrorists and for offering them political and financial assistance in the past, in light of the revelation that Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had Chechen roots.

The U.S. has urged the Kremlin to seek a political settlement in Chechnya and provided humanitarian aid to the region during the two separatist wars that began in 1994.

"Violence and conflict has happened in Chechnya for centuries," University of Oklahoma College of International Studies Dean and KGOU’s World Views host Suzette Grillot says. "This goes back to the 16th Century when there's been war after war after war. So it's been a volatile region for some time."

OU College of International Studies Assistant Dean Rebecca Cruise specializes in security studies and comparative politics, particularly in Southeastern and Central Europe. She says even the end of the Second Chechen War in 2000 didn’t stop the violence.

“But then we see a guerrilla warfare that comes out of that from about 2000-2009,” Cruise says. “This is where we start seeing some of the suicide attacks and some of the bombings."

“They're also very much connected to terrorist attacks outside their [region],” Grillot says. “In 2002 the attack in Moscow at the theater that killed a couple hundred people, many of whom were the hostages."

The New York Times reports Oklahoma City resident Sandy Booker died in that attack. Booker was in Russia visiting his fiancée, Svetlana Gubareva, and her 13-year-old daughter Sasha, who also died.

In any case, analysts said the Americans' interest in the sensitive issue — and the fact that Ms. Gubareva was brought to the United States by a foundation financed by a fierce critic of the Russian president — could pose diplomatic complications at a time when the United States has moved to strengthen its cooperation with Russia in law enforcement and counterterrorism.

The previously undisclosed investigation is an outgrowth of a broader inquiry into possible terrorist ties between Al Qaeda and Chechen rebels, according to a senior F.B.I. official.

Grillot says the alleged bombers' roots raises questions as to how the tragedy will impact the U.S. immigration debate.

"These were young boys who came to the United States fleeing this conflict in Chechnya, and in the case of the younger one achieved citizenship in this country," Grillot says "So now the impact on the immigration issue is certainly before us, and whether the United States should even accept asylum-seekers anymore."

Cruise says the U.S. has traditionally welcomed those fleeing persecution.

“These were people who came over that really didn't live all that long in Chechnya,” Cruise says.”We really would've had very little indication when they came to the United States that this is what was going to happen, if this is in fact connected."