The Terrorist Attack In Moscow: What Are The Consequences? – Analysis


It is not easy to analyze this tragic event. But there are some elements that stand out. Let’s start with emotions. Regardless of how one feels or perceives the conflict in Ukraine, we must sympathize with the Russian victims and refrain from judging them. This is a horrible attack and the victims are all civilians. They gathered in a cultural venue to see a performance that has nothing to do with the Ukrainian theater of war. When examining this tragedy, we must also take into account the tactics employed by the Islamic State Organization (ISO). Terrorists break into a concert hall, weapons in hand, to kill as many people as possible in a cold, cowardly, highly organized, indiscriminate manner.

And yet, there are many people who have doubts about this line of inquiry. With the memory of the Kremlin’s many lies, false flag operations, and Vladimir Putin’s manipulations still fresh in their minds, many Ukrainians don’t buy the Russian version of events. They recall that as soon as Putin came to power in the late 1990s, he organized attacks, particularly in Moscow and nearby towns, that killed hundreds of innocent Russian civilians. Investigations later revealed that Russia’s own intelligence services (FSB) had planted the bombs in apartment blocks, but quickly blamed Chechens for the bombings. These were fake attacks to create a need for a strongman in the Kremlin and revenge against the North Caucasian people, as well as to respond in kind by waging a bloody war against Chechnya. 

In the minds of many Ukrainians, the March 22 attack in Moscow is part of the same logic, and the mode of operation is similar. They anticipate that Ukraine will bear the same blame as Chechnya did in the 1990s. This will allow the Kremlin to justify further mobilization of the population. What better way to attract young Russian men to defend the homeland in what the Russian government is now willing to call a war rather than a “special military operation”? However, the Islamic State Organization has never claimed responsibility for an attack it did not carry out. The ISO doesn’t usually bluff when it comes to terrorist attacks. This marks its bloody return to the forefront of the international stage. And we can expect more communiqués about its rampage in Moscow.

How Will Putin Deal with this Situation?

There are a few factors that explain Putin’s long silence about the perpetrators and the aftermath. First, this attack is another failure of his intelligence services. These same intelligence services promised him that Ukraine would fall into his lap in a week and failed to warn him that Yevgeny Prigogine, the leader of the Wagner militia, was planning to move his troops toward Moscow in June 2023. Putin will seize the opportunity to turn this failure into a national cause and an argument for war mobilization. But against whom? That’s the challenge facing the man who has focused all his attention and resources on Ukraine. Russia thought it had bloodily wiped out the Caucasian jihadists, especially the Chechens, Ingush and Dagestanis, who joined the ranks of the Islamic State organization and consequently left Russia. Now they’re back. And some of them apparently even managed to escape after carrying out the deadliest attack in Russia in over twenty years. 

Second, an embarrassing fact for the Russian autocrat is that the United States had publicly warned that the risk of an attack in Russia was high. Putin and his regime, as usual, dismissed this as blackmail and intimidation. He has already publicly refused to see the hand of the jihadists. He’s talking about a plot hatched by what he calls the “Kyiv regime.” Unless one is a dreamer, no one can expect a reliable, independent investigation from the Russian judiciary, which is at the service of a government that kills with impunity and rarely cares about facts and truth. In Russian public opinion, yesterday’s attack will become whatever Putin wants it to be. But one thing is certain: Given the seriousness of the crime and its particularly gruesome nature, Russia’s response will be harsh, very harsh.

Putin Has a Lot to Lose

But blaming Ukraine is a very risky gamble because the evidence is mounting by the hour. None of it supports Vladimir Putin’s claims. Putin stated in a televised address that they had detained 11 people, including the four gunmen. “They tried to hide and moved towards Ukraine, where, according to preliminary data, a window was prepared on the Ukrainian side for them to cross the state border,” he said.

So far, President Putin’s allegations of Ukrainian complicity have relied on only two publicly disclosed elements. According to Russian reports, the vehicle that fled the scene after the terrorist attack stopped near Bryansk, a Russian city about 170 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. It is also about 220 kilometers from the Belarusian border. This proximity does not make the destination of the vehicle a foregone conclusion. The other element is the interrogations of the captured terrorists broadcast by the Russian authorities. It should be obvious that, under duress, they are going to say what the Russian security forces want them to say. The Kremlin will undoubtedly further distill their testimony to support its thesis. This will take place during an investigation whose findings will already be known to the lead investigator, the Russian president himself.

The hallmark of any autocracy is to impose its narrative when everything in the real world contradicts it. The Ukrainians are Nazis, even though they elected a Jewish president. When Russia attacks or assaults its neighbors, it becomes the victim. Regarding the attack on Moscow, Vladimir Putin attributes it to Ukraine, despite the evidence pointing towards the North Caucasus, which is thousands of kilometers away from Ukraine. To make people overlook this colossal security failure, the head of the Kremlin wants to make the Ukrainians pay. But what more or worse can he do? There have already been the massacres in Bucha, the teenagers tortured in the basements of Kherson, the rockets fired at Ukrainian civilians, the villages razed to the ground in Donbass, and many other crimes. Vladimir Putin is taking a big risk. He does not have the means to deal with a real problem, jihadism on Russian soil, which has just manifested itself once again. The security services have concentrated their resources on Ukrainian territory and on ridiculous missions, such as hunting down LGBT culture in Russia. This situation represents an opportunity for Islamists to strike at the heart of an enemy, Russia, which has also waged brutal wars against them on African and Syrian soil.

Richard Rousseau

Richard Rousseau, Ph.D., is an international relations expert. He was formerly a professor and head of political science departments at universities in Canada, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and the United Arab Emirates. His research interests include the former Soviet Union, international security, international political economy, and globalization. Dr. Rousseau's approximately 800 books, book chapters, academic journal and scholarly articles, conference papers, and newspaper analyses on a variety of international affairs issues have been published in numerous publications, including The Jamestown Foundation (Washington, D.C.), Global Brief, World Affairs in the 21st Century (Canada), Foreign Policy In Focus (Washington, D.C.), Open Democracy (UK), Harvard International Review, Diplomatic Courier (Washington, C.D.), Foreign Policy Journal (U.S.), Europe's World (Brussels), Political Reflection Magazine (London), Center for Security Studies (CSS, Zurich), Eurasia Review, Global Asia (South Korea), The Washington Review of Turkish and Eurasian Affairs, Journal of Turkish Weekly (Ankara), The Georgian Times (Tbilisi), among others.

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