Why Chechens Think The Tsarnaev Brothers Were Framed

Even paranoids have real enemies. Especially in Russia.

Alexander Nemenov / AFP / Getty Images

The Tsarnaev brothers’ forceful and charismatic aunt, Maret Tsarnaeva, had barely begun her lecture to the press that had gathered outside her Toronto house this morning when she crossed the line:

“I’m suspicious that this was staged. The picture was staged,” she said.

And she suggested dark motives behind framing her nephews.

“When you are blowing up people and you want to bring attention to something for some person — you do that math,” she said.

The men’s father said more or less the same thing: “Someone framed them. I don’t know who exactly did it, but someone did. And being cowards, they shot the boy dead. There are cops like this.”

The Tsarnaevs may sound like the craziest figures of the American fringe. But they come by their paranoia honestly: Russia’s cynical and brutal governments have, for centuries, murdered their citizens in general, and their Chechen citizens and subjects in particular, under any number of pretexts.

Even the Chechen Republic’s president, Ramzan Kadyrov, included a bizarre note of paranoia in the words he posted to Instagram, a note of doubt about the suspects’ guilt — and about one suspect’s death.

“It is evident that the special services needed to calm society by any means possible,” Kadyrov, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, wrote.

This may sound paranoid. But paranoids can have real enemies. And you don’t have to be crazy to believe Chechen allegations of baroque and brutal government conspiracies — at least, not when they’re directed at the Russian government.

Reasonable people have directed truly horrendous allegations at President Vladimir Putin and his security services. Former Washington Post reporter David Satter argued convincingly in his 2003 book on Russia, Darkness at Dawn, that the Russian government had directed deadly and incomprehensible bombings of Russian apartment buildings in 1999, which killed 300 people — to justify a new invasion of Chechnya and to speed Putin’s rise.

“They are ascribing to America things that are familiar to them at home,” Satter told BuzzFeed Friday, of the sort of incident that fringe lunatics in the United States claim as “false flag” attacks and that Russians call “provocations.” “It’s not surprising that people have reacted that way,” he said.

Indeed, Tsarnaeva cited her experience back home in making her strange intimations of conspiracy.

“I am used to being set up. Before I left former Soviet Union countries, that’s how I lived,” she said.

That does not, of course, have any bearing on what appears to be an extremely clear case against Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsaraev. It speaks, instead, to what it means to be a citizen of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“The evidence against these characters is overwhelming,” Satter said. “And also — we just don’t do that kind of thing. Our institutions and our society and our values all work against it, whereas in Russia it’s par for the course.”

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