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Eager to Label Ukraine as Terrorist, Kremlin Keeps Pushing Ridiculed Conspiracy Theories

A view shows the burnt-out Crocus City Hall concert venue in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, on March 26, 2024. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA /AFP)
A view shows the burnt-out Crocus City Hall concert venue in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, on March 26, 2024. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA /AFP)

Despite launching a massive disinformation campaign, Russia failed to frame Ukraine and the West for Friday’s terrorist attack in the Moscow region. Even after ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack and published video evidence, Russia keeps lying.

Immediately after the terrorist attack on the outskirts of Moscow that killed at least 139 people and injured 182 last Friday, Russia launched a massive disinformation campaign to implicate Ukraine and the West in masterminding the tragedy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, the nation’s heads of intelligence and law enforcement agencies, top propagandists, state-owned news media and an army of Kremlin trolls are instrumental in spinning this conspiracy theory.

Russia paid no attention to the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group claiming responsibility for the attack and even presenting evidence – video footage allegedly filmed during the attack by the perpetrators and showing close-ups of the terrorists shooting at people.

The Kremlin only intensified its propaganda after the IS claim of responsibility.

Putin’s closest ally, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, currently the deputy chairman of the Security Council, launched the campaign on the evening of the attack by calling for the murder of Ukrainian officials:

“If it is established that these are terrorists of the Kyiv regime,” Medvedev wrote in a Telegram post, “all of them must be found and mercilessly eliminated as terrorists. Including officials of the state that committed such an atrocity.”

Then NTV, a television channel owned by Russia’s state energy monopoly Gazprom, broadcast a fake AI-generated video in which the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov admits Ukraine’s involvement in the terror attack.

Announcing the poorly edited fake video, the NTV host said: “The involvement of the Kyiv regime in the terrorist attack in the Moscow region was confirmed publicly and on television by the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov.”

The Russian Defense Ministry’s official TV channel Zvezda and many other media outlets rebroadcast the fabricated video, repeating the false claim that Ukraine took responsibility for the attack.

On Saturday morning, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) announced the detention of 11 suspects allegedly captured near Russia’s border with Ukraine and Belarus. The FSB alleged that the four suspects tried to cross the Russian-Ukrainian border by car and “had contacts” in Ukraine.

Also on Saturday, Meduza, a Latvia-based independent Russian news site, reported that the Kremlin “instructed state and government-loyal media to emphasize the possible ‘Ukrainian trace’ in reports about the terrorist attack in Crocus.”

That same day, Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the state-own media conglomerate MIA Rossiya Segodnya that includes Sputnik and RT, directly accused Ukraine of the terrorist attack: “So, yes. This is not ISIS [IS]. These are Khokhols,” using a Russian derogatory term for ethnic Ukrainians.

On Saturday evening, Putin addressed the nation for the first time after the attack. He confirmed that the perpetrators had been arrested and emphasized that they were heading toward Ukraine. On the Ukrainian side, Putin claimed, a “window” was prepared for the terrorists to cross the Russian state border.

In the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, Deputy Alexey Chepa spoke about Ukraine’s involvement like it was a proven fact. “Of course, there is a Ukrainian trace. ... All of today’s events are connected with Ukraine,” Chepa told RIA Novosti.

The head of the Defense Committee in Russia’s State Duma, Andrei Kartapolov, said on the same day that “Ukraine and its patrons” are the main “interested parties” in the terrorist attack in the Moscow region.

Aleksandr Dugin, the Russian ultra-nationalist intellectual, added Israel to the list of suspects.

"No hypotheses should be rejected a priori. For example, Zionist revenge for the Russian position on Gaza, and, accordingly, the trace of the Mossad, which, in fact, has close contacts with ISIS," Dugin wrote in a Telegram post on Monday.

The chairman of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the leader of the Communist faction in the State Duma, Gennady Zyuganov, repeatedly accused the “Anglo-Saxons, NATO members.”

At a meeting Monday with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Zyuganov said that the United States and Great Britain were behind the shooting in the Moscow region:

“And no ISIS. ... This is complete nonsense! Although ISIS and everything else are the creation of the CIA and MI6, and everything we saw this time was their work.”

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev joined the chorus on Tuesday, implicating Ukraine in the terrorist attack. When asked to clarify what indicates Ukraine’s involvement, Patrushev responded, “A lot.”

Also on Tuesday, the head of the Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov, said that the mastermind and organizers of the terrorist attack at Crocus had not yet been identified.

Still, Bortnikov voiced the same baseless accusations as the other Russian intelligence chiefs:

“The terrorist attack in Crocus was needed by Western intelligence services and Ukraine in order to shake up the situation and create panic in society in Russia.”

Russian authorities announced Tuesday the detention of 11 people implicated in the terrorist attack, including four alleged perpetrators.

After the arrest of the suspects, Russia’s pro-government Telegram channels began distributing videos and photographs showing how the detainees were being tortured. One such video showed how a piece of the detainee’s ear was cut off and shoved in his mouth. Another video showed the electrocution of a detainee.

Photos and videos from the courtroom, where the alleged perpetrators were brought for arrest warrant, showed the signs of torture — all four had bruises on their faces.

Ukraine dismissed Russia’s allegations, accusing Russian security services of a false flag operation.

More than two weeks before the shooting, on March 7, the U.S. Embassy in Russia warned of the threat of “extremist plans to attack large gatherings of people in Moscow, including concerts.”

Three days before the shooting, on March 19, Putin, at an extended meeting of the FSB board, dismissed the U.S. warning, calling it “outright blackmail and an intention to intimidate and destabilize our society.”

U.S. officials said that, prior to the attack, the U.S. shared with Russian intelligence the information indicating that IS-Khorasan, an Islamic State affiliate active in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, was planning an attack in Moscow.