The Boston Bombings Come Home to Russians

Initially a distant story of bombs and American blood, the Boston Marathon bombings came home to Russians today. The RuNet had been following the investigation into the attacks with great interest, even before the news that the two suspects turned out to be ethnic Chechens. Now that Russia is directly involved, passions run hot.

Russians can already relate to urban terrorism, but this connection to a formerly separatist republic with a history of violent extremism was destined to appeal to many preexisting narratives. It doesn't particularly matter that the two brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, are probably not purely Chechen or Russian in any real sense — they apparently grew up in Kyrgyzstan, and briefly went to school in Dagestan (another North Caucasian republic), before moving to the United States, where they spent more than a decade. Their ethnicity links them to a number of memes that can be exploited by all parties involved in Russia's political discourse — be they liberal, nationalist, or pro-Kremlin.

A photograph of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from his VKontakte page, turned into a meme darkly hinting at the fact that the next Winter Olympics will be held very close  to Chechnya. Anonymous image freely distributed online.

A photograph of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from his VKontakte page, turned into a meme darkly hinting at the fact that the next Winter Olympics will be held very close to Chechnya. Anonymous image freely distributed online.

Chechen Leader Ramzan Kadyrov (whose father, the former Chechen President Akhmat Kadyrov, was killed in a terrorist attack), for example, was quick to distance himself from the Tsarnaevs, Instagramming [ru]:

Любые попытки провести связь между Чечней и Царнаевыми, если они и виноваты, тщетны. Они выросли в США, их взгляды и убеждения формировались там. Нужно корни зла искать в Америке. С терроризмом нужно всем миром бороться. Это мы знаем лучше, чем кто-либо.

Any attempts to link Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, even if they are guilty, are futile. They grew up in the USA, their view and convictions were formed there. We should look for the root of this evil in America. The entire world should fight terrorism. We know this better than anyone.

Kadyrov was referring in part to his own success in combating homegrown terrorism in Chechnya.

In a similar vein, but without citing the Tsarnaevs’ American upbringing, Aram Gabrelyanov (the pro-government editor of the tabloid “Life”) blamed [ru] America's supposed support of Chechen separatism:

Обычное дело для американцев- сначала вербуют, пестуют , опекают своих террористов. Потом они выходят у них из под контроля.

Usual business for the Americans – first they recruit, nurture, care for their terrorists. Then they lose control over them.

The liberals also looked to the past, but from a different angle. Journalist Oleg Kozyrev argued that it was Russia's wars to pacify Chechnya that were ultimately responsible for radicalizing the brothers. Kozyrev tweeted [ru]:

Ну что мы как дети “турецкие граждане”, “жили в Киргизии” и т.п. Ясно же что история так или иначе корнями уходит в нашу войну

We are like children, [entertaining excuses that the brothers are] “Turkish citizens,” [that they] “lived in Kyrgyzstan,” and so on. It's clear that this story has its roots in our [Russian-Chechen] war

Echo Moskvy's Vladimir Varfolomeev also claimed Russian responsibility [ru]:

Простите, американцы, что мы тут вырастили и отправили к вам тех, кто, судя по всему, оказался террористами. Было бы нечестно, стыдливо открещиваясь, называть их просто кавказцами. Они наши, российские.

We are sorry, Americans, that we raised and sent you those, who look to have turned out to be terrorists. It would be unfair to bashfully disown them and call them simply denizens of the Caucasus. They are ours, Russian.

According to some, however, Chechnya is at this point so autonomous that it might as well not be Russia any longer. Journalist Natalia Oss wrote [ru] in response to a similar soul-searching Facebook post:

Проблема в том, что паспорт российский в данном случае – чистая формальность. Чечня де-факто – не Россия

The problem is that a Russian passport in this case is a pure formality. Chechnya is de facto not Russia

Some went beyond taking collective responsibility and wondered about the direct involvement of the Kremlin's “bloody regime,” exploiting the meme of FSB-sponsored domestic terrorism. For example, one Facebook user mused [ru]:

У меня сразу ассоциации с делом Навального и терактом в Бостоне как отводящем внимание западных СМИ от репрессий в России. Подобный теракт выгоден Путину сразу по многим причинам. Не исключаю, что за этим взрывом стоит ФСБ России.

I immediately linked the Navalny case and the Boston act of terror as something to distract western mass media from repressions in Russia. Such a terrorist act is advantageous for Putin for several reasons. I don't exclude the possibility that the FSB is behind the explosion.

Curiously, some people were talking about the potential of Russian involvement even before the news about the Tasarnaevs. Carnegie Center's Aleksey Malashenko pointed out [ru] back on April 16:

Обратите внимание: взрыв был двойной, то есть, «кавказского стиля» — мы такого насмотрелись и в Дагестане, и в Ингушетии, да и не только там.

Note that it was a double explosion, that is, in the “Caucasian style” — we've seen plenty of this in Dagestan and Ingushetia, and not only there.

At around the same time, conspiracy-enthusiast Igor Borisov tweeted with typical excitement [ru]:

Взрывы в Бостоне: трое погибших, 144 раненых … Асимметричный ответ Кремля на “Список Магнитского”?

Explosions in Boston: three dead, 144 wounded … An asymmetrical response by the Kremlin for the “Magnitsky List”?

Such paranoia dovetails nicely with a more recent Facebook comment [ru] by Ilya Markman:

13 апреля Рамзан Кадыров “сдаёт билет в США из-за списка Магнитского”, а через три дня два молодых чеченца взрывают Бостонский марафон.

On April 13 Ramzan Kadyrov “returns his ticket to the USA because of the Magnitsky list,” and in three days two young Chechens explode the Boston marathon.

More mainstream RuNet users in nationalist circles also took stabs at appropriating the tragedy. While Russian nationalists generally dislike all people from the North Caucasus, their “aversion” to Chechens is particularly virulent, which is perhaps why many nationalists reacted with glee upon learning of Chechen involvement in the Boston bombing. For example, one Twitter user ironically alluded [ru] to Putin's policy of “appeasing” the Chechens with supposedly lavish subsidies:

Американцы такие тупые, что ловят чеченца большими силами. Не проще ли раздать ему и его друзьям золотых кайенов, оружия и бояться их?

Americans are so stupid, trying to catch a Chechen with overwhelming forces. Isn't it easier to give him and his friends golden [Porsche] Cayennes, weapons, and be afraid of them?

The nationalist publication Sputnik&Pogrom also made a cynical joke [ru], comparing the still-at-large Dzhokhar to the Dagestani MMA fighter Rasul Mirzoev, who recently received a suspended sentence in a manslaughter case, after punching a man who fell to the floor, hit his head, and died (nationalists used the case to claim preferential treatment for minorities in Russian courts):

ФБР уже заявило, что за теракт в Бостоне Джохару Царнаеву грозит 2 года ограничения свободы максимум. Экспертиза показала, что американцы оскорбили девушку Джохара и его реакция была справедливой, он всего лишь нажал на кнопку детонатора, а бомбы взорвал электрический разряд!

The FBI already announced that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is faced with 2 years maximum jail time for the act of terror in Boston. Experts have shown that the Americans insulted Dzhokhar's girl and his reaction was justified, he only pushed the detonator button, the bombs were exploded by an electrical charge!

Sputnik&Pogrom also tweeted [ru], probably hinting at the American habit of invading countries and remaking them:

Этот твит посвящен памяти Чеченской республики. Чеченцы, вы навсегда останетесь в наших сердцах, какой народ был, какой народ…

This tweet is dedicated to the memory of the Chechen Republic. Chechens, you will always be in our hearts, what a people you were, what a people…

"Grozny Airport - Soon" Anonymous image freely distributed online.

“Grozny Airport – Soon” Anonymous image freely distributed online.

Of course, the real gems of nationalist rhetoric are on Dzhokhar's sparse profile [ru] on the Russian language social network VKontakte. (He appears to have published only two posts on his wall, in addition to updating his profile picture.) Of the thousands of comments now left on the page, most are racist in nature. For example [ru]:

СКОРО АМЕРИКА СБРОСИТ НЕСКОЛЬКО ТОНН ДЕМОКРАТИИ НА ТВОЙ АУЛ, ГРЯЗНЫЙ ОВЦЕЁБ. РУССКИЕ ВПЕРЁД!

SOON AMERICA WILL DROP SEVERAL TONS OF DEMOCRACY ON YOUR AUL [village], DIRTY SHEEPF*CKER. RUSSIANS FORWARD! [the last bit is a typical nationalist slogan]

and [ru]:

Ты зачем Америку взрываешь, гнида черножопая?

Why are you exploding America, you black-assed louse?

In the end, however, most Russians are probably concerned with the practical implications of Chechen (and thus Russian) involvement in the case. What are these implications? One Russian Twitter user ventures a guess [ru]:

Сейчас вообще хрен кто американскую визу получит. И так плохо давали последние месяцы(

Now who the hell knows who'll get an American visa. They've not been lavish with them already during the last months :(

14 comments

  • […] bombing suspects were ethnic Chechens turned what had been a passing interest for the RuNet into the number one topic of conversation [GV]. Because the RuNet, just like the Internet at large, has always had a penchant for […]

  • […] bombing suspects were ethnic Chechens turned what had been a passing interest for the RuNet into the number one topic of conversation [GV]. Because the RuNet, just like the Internet at large, has always had a penchant for conspiracy […]

  • […] bombing suspects were ethnic Chechens turned what had been a passing interest for the RuNet into the number one topic of conversation [GV]. Because the RuNet, just like the Internet at large, has always had a penchant for conspiracy […]

  • […] Fogle’s arrest was filmed by the FSB and shown on Russian television. In the video [ru], Fogle is seen in an unconvincing blond wig and baseball cap, which are then removed by an FSB agent before Fogle is frogmarched into a waiting car. Fogle’s “spy-kit” (which included two wigs, sunglasses, a compass, a cheap Nokia phone, an Atlas of Moscow, a Swiss army knife and several envelopes of 500-euro notes) is then displayed for the cameras. Later in the video, Fogle and what appear to be three of his colleagues from the Embassy are given a dressing-down by a pixilated FSB agent. In a manner strangely reminiscent of a school headmaster scolding wayward students, the agent expresses his shock and disappointment at Fogle’s attempts to recruit Russian citizens, in light of the recent close cooperation of Russia with American intelligence agencies in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. […]

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