Despite Troubled Ties, U.S., Russia Cooperate On Terrorism

The U.S. and Russia have been at odds over many issues, but the fact that the suspects in the Boston bombing are ethnic Chechens might bring Moscow and Washington closer together at least when it comes to Russia's troubled Caucasus region.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. As we've been reporting all day, the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings have roots in the Caucasus region of southern Russian. They are ethnic Chechens and lived for a time in another Russian region near Chechnya.

SIEGEL: Now it's no secret that U.S.-Russia relations are troubled, but NPR's Michele Kelemen reports when it comes to fighting terrorism, the U.S. and Russia have been working together.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State John Kerry was reluctant to say much about the suspects in the Boston bombing, but when asked whether this validates Russia's views on Chechnya, Kerry had this to say.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: Terror is terror, and this underscores the importance of all of us maintaining vigilance and cooperating together internationally. Terror anywhere in the world, against any country, is unacceptable. And we need to continue to stand up and fight against it in the way that we are.

KELEMEN: A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed, saying terrorists anywhere should be rejected. Russia has long been fixated on Chechnya, says Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution. And she says the U.S. position evolved as the wars there brought in more radical jihadists.

FIONA HILL: Over the course of the 1990s and into the 2000s, Chechnya started to morph because of the longevity of the conflict and in very similar ways to what we've seen in Syria, which has happened at a much faster period of time, from being a conflict that was about Chechnya to becoming yet another front in what was increasingly becoming a regional and global conflict with militant groups and people from the outside moving in.

KELEMEN: The leader of Chechnya, a man close to the Kremlin, says his region had nothing to do with the Boston bombings, pointing out that the suspects grew up and studied in the United States. Fiona Hill wasn't surprised to hear Ramzan Kadyrov put the blame on the U.S. because Kadyrov rebuilt Chechnya and is trying to present it as a success story.

HILL: But the point is that Chechnya, like Dagestan, like Syria, like Pakistan, like Iraq, like Afghanistan, all these places where there's been tumult and upheaval and conflict and regional dislocation, continue to become basically the recruiting grounds for people who have a very strong sense of grievance. And again, we're talking small numbers of people.

KELEMEN: Hill expects the U.S. and Russia to work together on this case, but she's also worried that Moscow could use it as an excuse to crack down on the Internet. The younger Tsarnaev brother had a profile on VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, and Hill says the head of that website has already come under pressure from Russian authorities. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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