Vladimir Putin blames Islamist attack on Ukraine and America

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Vladimir Putin blames Islamist attack on Ukraine and America

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Fnew Russian leaders Stalin aside, they have been as obsessed with their own security, while failing as spectacularly to guarantee it for their people, as Vladimir Putin. From the bombings of apartment buildings in various cities in 1999 to the March 22 terrorist attack on Crocus City Hall, a concert hall in Moscow, its main concern has always been its own hold on power. Predictably, the Russian president tried to turn the latest security failure into a justification for his dictatorial rule and his war against Ukraine, which has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

As The Economist At press time, the death toll stood at 139 people. The terrorists appear to belong to the Islamic State’s Khorasan province (ISKP), a branch of the Islamic State based primarily in Afghanistan but with supporters across Central Asia. American officials had alerted their Russian counterparts of the imminence of such an attack. But for Mr. Putin, accepting that his American nemesis might act out of concern for the fate of Russians (or a desire to cooperate against Islamist terrorism) would weaken his paranoid and conspiratorial worldview. So he directed his anger precisely against those who had tried to warn him.

“We know that the crime was carried out by radical Islamists,” Mr. Putin said on March 25. But, he asked, who gave the orders? “Who benefits from this? This atrocity can only be one link in a whole series of attempts by those who, since 2014, have been at war against our country using the neo-Nazi regime in kyiv as an instrument.” Alexander Bortnikov, the head of FSB, Russia’s state security service, quickly echoed its boss, blaming America, Britain and Ukraine for the attack. Many senior Kremlin officials know such allegations are absurd but are forced to agree with them, according to a Bloomberg report. As “retaliation,” Russia could intensify its missile attacks against Ukraine.

Mr. Putin was trying to cover up his own mistake. In early March, as part of their “duty to warn” policy, U.S. officials shared intelligence on a planned attack on Moscow by ISKP. On March 7, the FSB said he had killed two radical Islamists who were planning to attack a synagogue in the city. Later in the day, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it was “monitoring reports that extremists were planning to target large gatherings in Moscow,” including concerts. The same day, one of the suspected terrorists was photographed inside Crocus City Hall. A locker room guard later said security had been increased on that date and staff had been given instructions on what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Nevertheless, on March 19, Mr. Putin called the American warnings “blackmail” intended to “intimidate and destabilize our society.” Three days later, armed men attacked a performance by the rock band Piknik, mowing down spectators and setting the building on fire. Then, when ISKP claimed responsibility, the Kremlin tried to shift the blame to Ukraine.

Clearly, this attack is a blow to the reputation of Mr. Putin and the security services on which he depends. But the Russian president knows how to turn these failures to his advantage, using them to justify more war against Ukraine and greater repression against his own people. Russian police quickly arrested four suspects fleeing near Bryansk, about 390 km southwest of Moscow. They then began releasing gruesome videos of the men being interrogated and tortured on pro-war Telegram channels. One showed a camouflaged officer pinning down a suspect (identified as Saidakrami Rajabalizoda, a Tajik national), cutting off his ear and stuffing it into his mouth. Another featured a photo of Shamsidin Fariduni, a second Tajik suspect, with a battery connected to his genitals.

Maria Sergeyeva, former head of the Russian president’s office, explained the logic of this public exposure on her Telegram channel. One goal, she writes, is to signal to potential terrorists “that they will not be treated as human beings, but as Satan.” Another and more important is to give satisfaction to those who feel pain and anger. “Working with dark energies, with the hatred of the crowd, it’s not the most pleasant thing…[But] in a country that is conducting a special military operation… there is a lot of that energy. And it’s better for the state to work with that.”

Generating hatred and cultivating cruelty is not so much a side effect as a goal of Mr. Putin’s war. His regime rewards those who engage in torture and murder, while punishing those who show mercy. In a country where opposition to the regime is considered an act of extremism, even treason, making torture public is a signal not only to potential terrorists but also to its own security services and elites.

Dmitry Medvedev, a former prime minister and president who often expresses a more extreme version of the official propaganda line, echoed this point in an article on Telegram on March 25. “Are you asking me what to do? Should they [the suspects] to be killed? Yes, we must kill them. And it will happen. But it is much more important to kill everyone who was complicit, who helped them and who paid for them. To kill them all. Discussions about lifting the moratorium on the death penalty imposed by Russia while it was still considering rapprochement with Europe are now commonplace in Parliament. This will not strengthen Russia’s security or protect its population from the Islamic State. But it will make Russians more vulnerable to terror from their own state.

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