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Putin expected to use the deadly attack on Moscow to Russia’s advantage, no matter who was responsible

In this pool photo distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin lights a candle during his visit to a church at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on March 24, 2024, as Russia marks a national day of mourning after a year of the Crocus City massacre Hall, which killed more than 130 people, the deadliest attack in Europe ever claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

Mikhail Metzel | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s next move is being closely watched after he linked Ukraine to the deadly terrorist attack at a Moscow concert hall that killed at least 137 people.

Russian officials and pro-Kremlin hawks continue to blame Kiev for the attack on Crocus City Hall, in which gunmen killed concertgoers, including three children, and injured at least 140. Kyiv vehemently denies any involvement.

Four suspects, three of whom were confirmed as Tajik nationals, appeared in a Moscow court on Sunday evening. They looked beaten, bruised and disoriented. They were accused of committing a terrorist attack and were remanded in custody before trial.

A man suspected of taking part in the concert hall attack that killed 137 people, the deadliest attack in Europe claimed by the jihadist group Islamic State, sits in the defendant’s cage awaiting his sentencing hearing Remand the Basmanny District Court in Moscow on March 25, 2024.

Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

The Islamic State said over the weekend that it was behind the attack and released footage of the incident through an ISIS-affiliated news agency. U.S. officials and defense experts agreed that it is very likely that IS was responsible for the attack.

That hasn’t stopped senior Russian officials from blaming Ukraine – and the West – for the attack.

Putin claimed the attackers had ties to Ukraine and said they were caught on their way into the country, claiming that “a window for them to cross the border had been prepared on the Ukrainian side.” He did not provide any evidence to support the claim.

Russian hawks blame Kiev

After reports of a shooting on March 23, 2024, firefighting efforts continue at the Crocus City Hall concert hall near Moscow, Russia.

Ali Cura | Anadolu | Getty Images

On his Telegram channel Dmitry Medvedev, former president and deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council commented on Telegram that “if it is established that these are terrorists of the Kiev regime, it is impossible to deal with them and their ideological inspirers any other way,” he said.

Medvedev, a well-known Russian hawk and ultra-nationalist, added that “they must all be found as terrorists and mercilessly destroyed. Also the officials of the state who committed such atrocities. Death after death.”

Kiev strongly denies having any role or involvement in the attack. President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday that “what happened yesterday in Moscow is obviously only the fault of Putin and the other scum who want to blame someone else.”

“They always have the same methods. It’s happened before. There were bombed houses, shootings and explosions. And they always blame others.” he said on Telegramin comments translated by NBC News.

Russia was blamed Stage false flag attacks to justify subsequent military operations or attacks. There has been some speculation over the years that Russian security services were involved in a series of bombings in Moscow in late 1999 that allowed Putin, then in his early days as prime minister, to justify launching a second Chechen war and a large-scale bombing campaign that crushed a Chechen separatist movement.

The war significantly increased Putin’s popularity and hold on power and led to his first election as Russian president at the end of 1999.

What could happen next?

At least part of the Kremlin’s motivation for shifting blame to Kiev may be a desire to deflect uncomfortable questions about why Russian intelligence services failed to detect the attack in advance.

Moscow openly rejected and ignored a warning from the USA at the beginning of March “Extremists” had “imminent attacks on large gatherings.” In Moscow.

Police officers stand guard near the Crocus City Hall concert venue following a reported shooting near Moscow, Russia. Several gunmen in combat fatigues stormed into a concert hall on March 22 and fired automatic weapons into the crowd, injuring an unspecified number of people.

Maksim Blinov/Sputnik via AP

The attack also raises uncomfortable questions about the real security risks Russia faces from Islamist militant groups, at a time when Ukraine is clearly seen as the greatest threat to Russia’s existence.

Just days before the attack, Putin ordered Russian security services to focus their efforts on supporting Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. He also said Western warnings of possible attacks inside Russia were an attempt to intimidate and destabilize the country.

“Putin is so obsessed with this conflict in Ukraine that I think he will focus his security response there and essentially use that as an excuse to try to build this narrative,” said Maximilian Hess, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute said CNBC on Monday.

Noting that “Russia’s entire security apparatus is focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine,” Hess said Moscow has lost sight of the threat posed by the Islamic State, which has previously carried out attacks in Moscow and St. Petersburg. and that this may be motivated by Russian operations in Syria.

Putin will use the attack on the Moscow Concert Hall for his “domestic political goals,” says an analyst

“What is interesting, however, is that Putin does not seem to focus on this aspect. He is trying very hard to blame Ukraine for this attack. There is no evidence of Ukraine’s involvement, this does not match the types of attacks.” “The measures that Kiev has carried out in the past, including the ongoing ones,” Hess said.

“That alone will compromise the security of Russians because he is focusing on a security risk that is not real.”

Although Putin has not yet accused Ukraine of directing the attack, defense analysts said it was almost certain that the tragedy at Crocus City Hall would be used to bolster domestic support for the war against Ukraine.

“Regardless of who is behind the shooting, the Kremlin is likely to frame the tragedy to further its broader geopolitical goals,” Andrius Tursa, Central and Eastern Europe adviser at consultancy Teneo, said in a note on Saturday.

“Although Kiev denies any involvement, Putin’s attempts to link the shooting to Ukraine may be an attempt to divert public attention from internal security deficiencies and mark the Kremlin’s efforts to drum up public support for the ongoing war to win with Ukraine,” he added.

A man suspected of involvement in the concert hall attack that killed 137 people, the deadliest attack in Europe ever claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, is being held in custody ahead of his hearing Russian law enforcement officers escort the Basmanny District Court in Moscow on March 24, 2024.

Tatyana Makeyeva | Afp | Getty Images

The rhetoric could also be “an attempt to prepare the public for a prolonged confrontation with Ukraine and the West, which could entail increased military recruitment, higher taxes to support the war and increased repression at home,” Tursa said .

CNBC has reached out to the Kremlin for a response to the comments and is awaiting a response.

On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was inappropriate to comment on the investigation into the attack when asked by reporters to respond to a statement from the Islamic State militant group claiming responsibility for the attack .

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