AMU Intelligence Original Terrorism

Moscow Concert Hall Attack and Putin’s Revealing Response

On March 22, several gunmen belonging to the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP), an affiliate of the Islamic State, attacked the theater at the Crocus City Hall complex just outside Moscow. They killed 143 people and wounded many more.

The attackers managed to escape by throwing incendiary devices to set the building on fire. However, they were later captured by Russian security forces on a highway in southern Russia’s Bryansk region.

Despite Evidence, Putin Claims That Ukraine Is Behind the Moscow Concert Hall Attack

Overshadowing the horrific attack is the response by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian security establishment. There are government claims that Ukraine was behind the Moscow concert hall attack and had Western support in its execution.

Washington and the UK both had intelligence on the potential for an attack on Russia in early March and warned Moscow about the threat, according to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Putin publicly mocked the warning, claiming that the U.S. was trying to destabilize Russian society.

Despite clear evidence to the contrary – including a statement from ISIS claiming responsibility for the concert hall attack – Putin has not backed off his assertion that Ukraine was behind the attack. Frankly, Putin cannot disavow this claim. It would be a tacit admission of an intelligence and security failure by his government, even when it had information about a potential attack.

A few days after the attack, Putin eventually acknowledged that the perpetrators were radical Islamists. However, he repeated his earlier claim that the concert hall attackers had help from Ukraine.

Putin also claimed that Ukraine opened an escape window for the attackers, which was why they were in the Bryansk region. Interestingly enough, Putin didn’t mention that the Russian military controls the Russian-Ukraine border, nor did he explain how these gunmen were to get past the Russian lines to Ukraine.

Putin’s Reasons for Blaming Ukraine for the Moscow Concert Hall Attack

Kyiv has repeatedly denied Moscow’s claims of involvement in the Moscow concert hall attack, but Putin only needs to address Russian citizens and the Russian government is increasing its control over information. Since Russia is already at war with Ukraine, making the accusation that Ukraine was involved in the attack may serve to alleviate the need to strike at any perpetrators beyond the Ukraine theater of war.

The Ukraine angle also serves to address another issue, which is to prevent damage to Russian relations with Central Asia. All four of the attackers are from Tajikistan, and Russia is heavily reliant on foreign workers from central Asia.

Publicly condemning any Central Asian state for allowing such radicalism would lead to anti-immigrant sentiments far worse than they already are. In addition, the Central Asian nations are already looking to diversify their trade portfolio away from a reliance on Moscow.

Blaming Ukraine serves to protect Russian relations, but it also safeguards Putin. The current Russian regime is built around Putin and given his grave miscalculation in Ukraine, he can’t be seen to make another significant error.

During the public funeral of famed Putin rival Alexei Navalny, Russian police were seemingly omnipresent to prevent any protests from breaking out. However, Putin couldn’t afford to increase security elsewhere around the nation with intelligence forces. Suggesting a terrorist attack is imminent demonstrates the effort Putin’s regime has taken towards self-preservation.

Putin’s Response Reveals His Uncertainty about the Future

Putin’s regime is in no danger of falling; Putin has survived much worse while in office. However, Putin must be greatly concerned for his future if he feels the need to rely on absurd claims such as Ukraine being behind the Moscow concert hall attack to protect his government. But that is the way of despots.

William Tucker serves as a senior security representative to a major government contractor where he acts as the Counterintelligence Officer, advises on counterterrorism issues, and prepares personnel for overseas travel. His additional duties include advising his superiors in matters concerning emergency management and business continuity planning.

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