Russian President Vladimir Putin weighed in on the Boston Marathon bombing during a marathon public question-and-answer session Thursday, claiming the information Russia provided the FBI about one of the alleged bombers did not have “operative significance.” Putin also declared that Americans who want to see the surviving suspect branded a “prisoner of war” have “completely lost their marbles.”Putin addressed the bombing during a “Direct Line” broadcast where he spent nearly five hours taking questions submitted from Russians in the audience, via email, telephone hotline, and text message. He has participated in the “Direct Line” program almost each year since 2001.
When the Direct Line broadcast was over, Putin fielded some questions from journalists including one who asked about a 2011 request Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the FSB, made to the FBI for information on deceased bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. That request has prompted questions about whether American law enforcement agencies could have done more to identify Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzokhar, before they allegedly carried out the attack on the Boston Marathon.
After an initial investigation of Tsarnaev, the FBI asked for more information from Russia in order to allow them to look into him further. Russia did not respond with more information. However, after going to the FBI, the Russian intelligence agencies contacted the CIA and requested they also look into Tsarnaev. Because of these investigations into Tsarnaev, his name was included on two different watch lists. In spite of this, law enforcement agencies were not notified when Tsarnaev took a trip to Russia in 2012 because the birthdate and spelling of his name the FSB had provided to the FBI were both incorrect.
Putin told reporters he wished the information Russia provided to American law enforcement agencies had been more useful.
“The Tsarnayevs did not live in the Russian Federation, they came to Russia from Kyrgyzstan and only appeared here occasionally while residing in the United States,” said Putin, according to a translation of his remarks provided by the Kremlin. “The Russian special services, to my great regret, were not able to provide our American colleagues with information that would have operative significance.”
He also said he hoped the incident would “serve as a push toward deepening” the ongoing “exchange of information between special services, including between US and Russian special services.”
Putin first discussed the bombing on the Direct Line broadcast when he fielded a question from a Russian man living in the United States who wondered whether the fact the bombing suspects were from the Caucasus could damage already-strained relations between America and Russia. Putin began by saying he believes Americans have been overly sympathetic with Chechens who have fought for independence from the Russian government.
“I want to appeal to Russian and American citizens, and to all the people who follow these international events, and to say: Russia is itself a victim of international terrorism, one of the earliest victims,” said Putin. “I have always felt outraged when our Western partners, as well as your colleagues from the Western media, referred to our terrorists who committed brutal, bloody, appalling crimes on the territory of our country, as “insurgents”. They were hardly ever referred to as terrorists. They provided assistance to them, information support, financial and political support-sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. … While we always said that they shouldn’t make empty declarations that terrorism is a common threat, but make real efforts and cooperate with each other more closely. But now these two criminals have provided the best possible proof that we were right.”
Putin went on to claim that the fact men of Chechen ancestry allegedly attacked America, which is not directly involved in the Caucasus conflict, proves Russia’s enemies in Chechnya are simply extremists rather than being motivated by a legitimate ideology.
“Does it have to do with the United States? What did they do to deserve this?” Putin asked. “It’s not about nationality or religion, as we have told them a thousand times – what is at issue here is extremism.”
Putin also addressed the handling of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, who was captured and is in police custody. Though some politicians here have suggested he be treated as an “enemy combatant,” Putin described treating the suspect as a “prisoner of war” as “complete nonsense.”
“They moved to the United States and they were granted the American citizenship. The younger brother was an American citizen,” said Putin. “Some people there are saying now (not the US Administration but they are politicians) that the surviving terrorist suspect should be declared a prisoner of war. They have completely lost their marbles. A prisoner of which war? Has the civil war between the North and the South started again? What complete nonsense. They are talking gibberish.”