By Julian Pecquet - 04/20/13 11:05 AM EDT
The revelation that the two suspects in the deadly Boston marathon bombings are Chechen refugees presents a new test for President Obama's already fraught relationship with Russia's Vladimir Putin.
The motivations for the attack remain unknown, but the brothers' link to the troubled Muslim-majority Russian enclave will likely impact U.S.-Russian relations, with unknown consequences.
“Any attempt to make the connection between Chechnya and [the two suspects] if they are guilty, [is] in vain,” Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, a Putin protege, said in a statement. “It is necessary to seek the roots of evil in America.”
Earlier in the day, Kadyrov's spokesman said the two suspects – brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev – had never lived in Chechnya “in their mature years” and that “if they became ‘bad guys’ it’s the responsibility of those who raised them.”
Dzhokhar, 19, was captured Friday evening; his older brother was killed in a shoot-out with police early Friday.
Obama spoke with Putin Friday evening, as authorities searched for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
According to the White House, Putin expressed his condolences on behalf of the Russian people for those lost in Monday's terrorist attack, which left three dead and scores more injured.
Obama thanked Putin for his sentiments and help in counter-terrorism operations, including intelligence related to the Boston attack.
"The two leaders agreed to continue our cooperation on counter-terrorism and security issues going forward," the White House said in a statement.
The successful attack on an international sports event rattled the Russians, who have long worried about terror attacks against next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi by Caucasus Islamists or other groups.
In comments Thursday for the opening of the youth ice hockey youth world championships in Sochi, Putin called the bombing that killed three and injured 176 “particularly disgusting.”
The attack could bring the United States and Russia closer together despite their disagreements on everything from support for Bashar Assad in Syria to the U.S. missile defense shield in Europe, as happened after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But the Chechen connection could also prompt the Obama administration to pay closer attention to Russia's internal strife if it's seen to have spill-over effects in America.
Both suspects, who described themselves as devout Muslims, immigrated to the United States from Kyrgyzstan in 2001, according to Reuters. Dzhokhar was born there, while Tamerlan was born in Dagestan, like Chechnya a Muslim-majority Caucasian Republic.
The two Republics have long sought to regain the independence they lost 200 years ago, and in the past two decades Islamist militants have taken a prominent role in the fight against Moscow.
The United States has largely avoided interfering in Russia's dealings with its rebel provinces – until recently.
Last week, the State Department released a public list of 18 Russians who have been banned from entering the United States and seen their U.S. assets frozen under the so-called Magnitsky Act, named for a Russian whistleblower who died in prison.
While 16 of the names were allegedly linked to Magnitsky's death, two are Chechens placed on the list for completely different reasons.
Lecha Bogatyryov has been fingered by Austrian police as the man who shot and killed Umar Israilov, a former Kadyrov bodyguard turned critic, in Vienna in 2009.
And Kazbek Dukuzov is suspected of killing the editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Forbes, Paul Klebnikov, in 2004.
Kadyrov himself is said to have expected to be added to the list.
“We are absolutely calm about hearing talk of the inclusion or of the intention to include Ramzan Akhmatovich [Kadyrov] on the ‘Magnitsky list,” Kerimov said before the list was released, saying he had no intention of visiting the United States.