As a feverish manhunt for a suspected bomber rages in Boston this week, it is bringing to light a possible connection with Russia's own fight against terrorism that nobody could have imagined. The suspects, one of whom is now dead, are Chechen, which means that there is a strong possibility that the attack on the Boston marathon is linked to the unrest in the former Soviet republic.
I say "possibility" because all the facts are not known yet, but one thing is certain: This type of soft target attack against innocent civilians has been carried out by Chechen terrorists before, just not outside the Russian orbit.
Still, regardless of what the exact motives of the Boston terrorists was or whether it is directly linked to Chechnya's tension with the Kremlin, what this brings into distinct relief is the universal nature of terrorism. Modern terrorism knows no borders of any kind and is ultimately directed at all people everywhere, no matter why or where it actually occurs.
For decades the U.S. seemed to be fairly immune to the scourge of terrorism. There were incidents, but as a chronic problem, it was really something that happened elsewhere, usually in the Middle East or Europe. On 9/11 all that changed, and all of a sudden we were in the firing line of al-Qaida. Now, after Boston, it seems that we might be in the firing line of every terrorist organization out there, even if we are not connected to the skirmishes in the homeland of those terrorists.
It also means that Russia, which has repeatedly shown indifference to the carnage in the Middle East (even backing the brutal Assad regime in Syria in principle), had better wake up to the fact that terrorism is a global problem that is as susceptible to being imported as it is to being exported.
Today their problem may just have become ours, but tomorrow our problem could become theirs, and if the Russians want to prevent that from happening, they need to cooperate with the U.S. and start becoming part of the solution rather than trying to sabotage global efforts for peace.
After a full decade of the war on terror, one thing has become crystal clear to authorities everywhere: Terrorism is not a problem that can be addressed simply by the application of overwhelming force or by attacking rogue nations. This particular enemy cannot be destroyed with missiles and airstrikes, because the enemy is scattered everywhere, including amongst civilians in Boston and (I will bet you anything) Moscow.
The only thing that does work, imperfectly, at least, is aggressive intelligence gathering and bilateral sharing of that information between nations. Local terrorists are often financed or supported by networks in other countries, which means that what happens in Syria or in the U.S. does not affect only those countries but could have an impact on the situation in Eastern Europe and Russia, as well.
The hardliners in Russia might want another Cold War with America, and they may even secretly rejoice at the idea of mayhem in the West, but they need to realize that this time their indifference to international concerns will result in a deep freeze that they themselves could die from, not to mention the fact that the Kremlin's own brute-force methods in trying to suppress Chechen terrorists have not worked, mostly because the Russians have failed to grasp the true nature of the problem. What started as an independence movement has now become a struggle for an Islamist state, with deep religious undertones that cannot be carpet-bombed away.
The U.S. and Russia will never agree on everything, but terrorism is a common concern that they should be able to address together, if for no other reason than for self-preservation. After all, the two countries were able to come together during World War II, when Hitler threatened the security of the entire world, so why not now?
It's time for the Kremlin to put aside its childish ego and Cold War mentality and listen to reason.