Blame game

Kremlin propagandists lead charge to implicate Ukraine in Crocus City Hall attack

Blame game

An armed police officer stationed near the Crocus City Hall building on Saturday. Photo: Stringer / AFP / East News

In a short televised address on Saturday afternoon, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the four perpetrators of the Crocus City Hall attack had been detained as they travelled towards Ukraine, having fled Moscow after killing at least 133 people at the concert venue on Friday evening.

Putin’s claim that Ukraine had organised a “window” through which the attackers could cross from Russia into Ukraine appeared to favour the line taken by Kremlin propagandists in the immediate aftermath of the attack that the massacre had been orchestrated by Ukraine, with the help of Western powers. In a statement that echoed his rhetoric on the Ukrainian government, Putin compared the attackers to “Nazis” and promised that Russia would become “even stronger” as a result of the attack — the deadliest on Russian soil in 20 years.

Earlier in March, the US Embassy in Moscow warned its citizens of the heightened risk of “imminent” terror attacks in the Russian capital, in statements that Putin described as “blatant blackmail” intended to “intimidate and destabilise” Russian society as recently as Tuesday.

According to Russian state news agency TASS, the US intelligence had been passed to the Russian security services before the Crocus City Hall attack, but was “general and did not contain any specifics”.

While news outlets worldwide quickly began devoting extensive live coverage to the attack shortly after it began on Friday evening, Russian state television continued its scheduled programming, with Channel One only interrupting music show The Voice for a short piece on the attack almost two hours after online outlets reported the news.

Amid Putin’s initial silence, those close to the Kremlin had been quick to accuse Ukraine of orchestrating the attack. Former President Dmitry Medvedev, who now serves as deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, was among the first to link the attack to the “Kiev regime”, calling for the “execution of terrorists and repressions against their families”. In what appeared to be a veiled threat to Ukraine’s leadership, he concluded that the “officials of the state that committed the crime” should be “found and mercilessly destroyed”.

Medvedev’s theory was echoed by various politicians and propagandists, with media magnate Konstantin Malofeyev, who owns the ultranationalist pro-Kremlin Tsargrad television channel, also quick to pin the blame for the attack on Ukraine. “Let’s give the peaceful population of Ukraine 48 hours to leave its cities, and finally end this war with a victorious rout of the enemy”, Malofeyev said on Telegram.

While propagandists rushed to blame Ukraine for the attack, Russian Telegram channels had begun suggesting that it was the work of religious extremists from Tajikistan.

A statement issued by a Central Asian cell of the terrorist group Islamic State on Friday evening that claimed responsibility for the attack only added credence to this theory, with US officials saying that they had “no reason to doubt” the group’s claim. Russia’s security services have in recent months repeatedly claimed to have thwarted attacks by Islamist terror groups.

On Friday night, images of the Tajik nationals alleged to have carried out the attack were circulated widely on Telegram as claims of Islamic State’s involvement gained traction. Having called for journalists to take a “responsible attitude” when reporting “misinformation” about Tajik involvement, Tajikistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday morning that two of the alleged attackers had been in Tajikistan since November, while a third had been with his family in the city of Samara in Russia’s Volga region at the time of the attack.

On Saturday morning, just a few hours before Putin’s address to the nation, reports emerged that the perpetrators had been detained in Russia’s western Bryansk region while travelling towards the Ukrainian border, with the FSB alleging that those behind the attack had “links with Ukraine”.

At this point, another version of events emerged: the attack was no longer solely the work of Ukraine, but was orchestrated with the assistance of Western powers and made to look like an Islamist terror attack.

RT head and Kremlin propagandist Margarita Simonyan said that the perpetrators of the attack had been “chosen in a way to convince the stupid global public that it was ISIS”, citing Western reports of ISIS responsibility “before the arrests and the identities of the perpetrators were known” as evidence that the US and Ukraine were behind the attack. She then published videos she said showed the detained perpetrators admitting to having come to Russia from Turkey earlier in March and agreeing to carry out the attack for half a million rubles (€5,000) at the behest of a “preacher”.

Ukraine, meanwhile, had been quick to deny its responsibility for the attack, with presidential advisor Mykhaylo Podolyak saying on Friday that accusations of Ukraine’s involvement made “no sense whatsoever”. The Russian Volunteer Corps, an anti-Kremlin paramilitary group of Russian volunteers fighting alongside the Ukrainian Armed Forces, also denied any involvement in the attack when contacted by Novaya Europe on Friday.

Instead, Podolyak said, the attack was the work of Putin himself to provide a pretext for “a sharp increase in military propaganda, accelerated militarisation, expanded mobilisation, and, ultimately, the scaling up of the war. And also to justify manifestly genocidal strikes on the civilian population of Ukraine”.

Ukraine’s Military Intelligence spokesperson Andriy Yusov echoed Podolyak’s claims, telling news outlet Ukrainska Pravda that the attack was a “deliberate provocation by Putin’s special services, warned about by the international community”, adding that Putin had employed “crimes against his own citizens” to bring himself to power in 1999 and was now doing the same to justify further escalation in the war against Ukraine.

Editor in chief — Kirill Martynov. Terms of use. Privacy policy.