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The Boston Bombers’ “Russia” Connection

In the wake of the Boston bombing, which killed three people last week, a number of Western news sources have been quick to make the Russia connection.

The Huffington Post admitted and corrected its intial reporting of the brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev as having been born in Chechnya, when in fact, Tamerlan, who was killed in a police shoot-out, was born in Kalmykia, and Dzhokar was born in Dagestan – both are Russian territories, but autonomous republics.  Other corrected reports suggest that Tamerlan was in fact born in Kyrgyzstan, which does not even share a border with Russia.  The two are ethnically Chechen, which may have led to the confusion – a confusion which Georgy Bovt somewhat indignantly cleared up in this morning’s Moscow Times.  The initial mix-ups, he says, were caused by early U.S. media reports which indicated that

the brothers and suspected terrorists Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are from a “region near Chechnya.”  The reason they are not more specific is that Americans are generally familiar with Chechnya — thanks to reporting from two past wars there — but know nothing about nearby Dagestan, the region where the brothers were living when their parents applied for and received political asylum in the U.S. They know even less about Kyrgyzstan, the former Soviet Central Asian Republic to which the Tsarnaev family was deported during the rule of former Soviet leader Josef Stalin and where the brothers were born and spent their early childhood.

The average person thinks that since Chechnya is in Russia, the Boston terrorists suspects must be Russians.

In line with a lot of recent diplomatic tension between Russia and the U.S., it makes sense that any conclusions jumped to in the wake of a seemingly anti-American terrorist act would make use of that unclarified Russian association.  This stereotype-based response was mirrored by recent unfounded and, later, officially deemed inaccurate accusations of murder leveled by Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s ombudsman, against the adoptive, American parents of Russian orphan Max Shatto.  Astakhov’s assumption served Russia’s recent ban on U.S adoptions and the accompanying stereotype of American adoptive parents as unfit for the job.  In both cases, it’s a good example of a stereotype leading a narrative.

It was timely, then, that Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov today slammed foreign media for founding its Russia stories on ‘10-year-old stereotypes‘.  (Although Peskov also seems to think that Russia has no viable opposition candidates, so what does he know.)

Speaking of viable opposition candidates, The New York Review of Books this week has a thoroughly readable and exhaustive account of the Kremlin’s current persecution of Alexei Navalny.  It’s uncertain how much the article’s seamless linking of the illegal case against Navalny with high-level corruption and the ruinous sphere of Kremlin influence can be blamed on stereotype, and how much is an accurate picture of Russia today, but sometimes facts are stranger than fiction…