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OPINION

Propaganda War Over Moscow Terror Attack Now Epic

sign reading crocus city hall on top of burned building

A view shows the burned-out Crocus City Hall concert venue in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow. (AFP via Getty Images)

Dr. Lucja Swiatkowski Cannon By Thursday, 28 March 2024 09:30 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

On March 22, there was a terrorist attack in Crocus City Hall in Krasnogorsk on the Moscow beltway. This is an elegant shopping center with designer boutiques, a concert hall, hotel and exhibition hall, nicknamed Dubai for its luxury, owned by a Russian-Azeri oligarch.

Four gunmen walked in the front door and immediately started shooting passersby with machine guns, then proceeded to the concert hall, killing people and throwing smoke bombs that ignited the building. One-hundred, thirty-seven people were killed, most in a fire made worse by locked doors and lack of sprinklers.

Watching it unfold in real time with discovery of new information and running commentary tells us a lot about the state of Russia today.

The first reaction among émigré and social media Russian and East European commentators was that it was a false operation, arranged by Putin’s FSB. This is a level of distrust after several previous terrorist incidents, which turned out to be secret police provocations or were never fully explained.

Now in similar cases, Putin is immediately under suspicion. At the same time, this skeptical commentary was accompanied by aggressive statements by Kremlin backers, blaming Ukraine and its so-called Western puppet-masters for the attack.

For the first time, a word “war” was used instead of “special military operation.” There were proposals to establish “sanitary zones” in Ukraine, hinting at total devastation; promises of assassinations of leadership of the “Kyiv neo-Nazi regime;” and creation of prison camps, similar to the gulag, in the Donbas.

After a time, details of the attack started to come in. There was information that mall private guards were somehow absent and metal detectors at entrances did not work; even though they were stationed nearby, police and internal security guards did not arrive until an hour after the attack ended and terrorists left of their own accord.

Then, ISIS officially claimed the responsibility for the attack. The commentariat started speculating that maybe there were Islamist guerillas responsible, but the Kremlin authorities lifted their security procedures to allow them to attack for their own reasons. Kremlin propagandists ignored the ISIS announcement or denied its significance. Anti-Ukrainian propaganda intensified.

The issue of the U.S. warning to the Russian government about an imminent terrorist attack was brought up as “proof” of Western cooperation with terrorists. If the U.S. knew that terrorists would attack, it was because it was in league with them. The West supposedly encouraged trans-border groups to attack Russia.

The official investigation identified terrorists as Tajiks, living in Russia. But the Tajikistan government announced that three of them were living peacefully in Tajikistan and could not be present at Krasnogorsk. Four Tajiks were arrested on the road and questioned by the FSB on camera where they “confessed” to killings for $5,000 payment.

Some claimed they did not look like terrorists from Crocus City. One observer noticed that one of the terrorists had a characteristically disfigured ear, while those arrested did not.

Shortly afterward, one of the captives had his ear cut off. Thus, it is not entirely clear that these are the same people. They could be random people, tortured into confessing.

Now, the narrative changed that these were genuine Islamic terrorists but it still contained a “Ukrainian track.” The FSB announced that they were driving toward the Ukrainian border, and that Ukraine, where they supposedly had contacts, prepared a border “window” for them to enter.

The original report said that they were near the Belarus-Russia border, which is open. Photos of Chechen soldiers, fighting on the Ukrainian side, were published.

Commentator opinion was divided among those who regarded the terrorists as genuine and a minority who stayed with their FSB provocation theory. Yuri Felshtinsky, a famous Russian dissident who wrote a book with Aleksander Litwinienko, poisoned with radioactive polonium by the FSB in London, believes it is an inside job. He called it the Kremlin’s Reichstag moment.

Russians are fond to quote Joseph Stalin who said:” It does not matter who you vote for but who counts the votes.” Here it was adapted to mean that it does not matter who committed the attack but who the authorities will blame and how they will use it politically for their own ends.

Judging by the initial pronouncements of Kremlin backers, such as former Russian officials, known journalists, and TV celebrities, it appeared that the attack will be used to mobilize society for an all-out effort to win the war in Ukraine as well as to intensify internal repression against those who silently opposed this course of action.

Everybody was waiting for an official pronouncement from Vladimir Putin who would outline who is assigned the blame and what is the retribution.

But Putin did not appear in public for about 24 hours until Saturday. Facts on the ground did not fit in with his pre-established narrative: Connections with Ukraine are tenuous and vigorously denied, the West is anti-Russian and evil but it did warn Russia of the attack, Muslims are supposed to be Putin allies against the West.

The biggest problem for Russia’s credibility is the U.S. terrorist warning of March 6, which Putin ridiculed publicly only a few days before. He called it “blackmail, intimidation, and destabilization of Russia.” Everybody was waiting to see how Putin squared this circle.

Putin’s speech was short, somewhat ambiguous and not as decisive as expected. He never mentioned ISIS until the following Monday. He talked about protection of national sovereignty and countering international terrorism.

He emphasized his main propaganda line, ignoring uncomfortable facts: Kyiv is resorting to terrorist methods on instructions from the West.

But the more definite answer came from Alexander Bortnikov, head of the FSB, on Tuesday. To bury the incompetence of the regime, lack of preparedness and the chaotic “bardak” reigning even in Moscow, he announced that that it was the United States and Great Britain, who issued a warning about the possible terrorist attack in Moscow, that were the chief perpetrators.

They made this warning because they arranged for this attack, the Ukrainians were the implementers, who arranged it by paying Muslim Tajiks to kill Russians. It is the West and Ukraine who are the real terrorists.

This is propaganda for morons. It is not aimed at the well-informed West but at terrified Russians and the so-called Global South. The struggle over the attribution and interpretation of the Krasnogorsk terrorist attack will have an effect on the course of international politics for the near future.

Dr. Lucja Swiatkowski Cannon is a senior research fellow at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. She was a strategist, policy adviser and project manager on democratic and economic reforms in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and Central, South and Southeast Asia for Deloitte & Touche Emerging Markets, Coopers & Lybrand, and others. She has been an adjunct scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Dr. Cannon received a B.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. from Columbia University where she was an International Fellow and IREX Scholar at Warsaw University, and the London School of Economics. Read more of Swiatkowski Cannon's reports Here.

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DrLucjaSwiatkowskiCannon
This is propaganda for morons; it is not aimed at the well-informed West but at terrified Russians and the so-called Global South.
russia, terrorism, propaganda, ukraine
1178
2024-30-28
Thursday, 28 March 2024 09:30 AM
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