View from Delhi: Such a massive attack against innocent civilians could negatively affect world opinion towards Ukraine

11:18 28.03.2024 •

Photo: AP

ISIS claiming responsibility for the massacre doesn’t end matters, while Washington and Kiev’s reactions raise even more doubts, notes Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary and Ambassador to Russia between 2004 and 2007, and to Turkey, Egypt, France, Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington DC.

President Putin in his address to the nation after the terror attack has pointed a finger at Ukraine. The terrorists, he said, were heading towards the Ukrainian border and there were arrangements to take them across it.

In his second address on Monday night, he went a step further, saying the attack may be only a link in a whole series of attempts by those who have been fighting Russia since 2014, “using the neo-Nazi Kiev regime as their hand.” This is a grave charge, with very serious implications.

The US is trying to deflect attention away from any Ukrainian involvement. Immediately after the terrorist mayhem in Moscow, the White House spokesperson stated that Ukraine was not involved. This is unusual. Even before any investigation has taken place the US seems to have reached a conclusion about Ukraine’s non-involvement. For the spokesperson to affirm this so categorically would suggest that the US agencies would be aware of who is involved.

The US, and the UK, had in early March warned their citizens in Russia to avoid mass gatherings, concerts etc. Very often countries do issue such advisories as a precaution because they have got a whiff of some terrorist attack being planned. But, for the White House spokesperson to immediately after the attack in Moscow rule out Ukrainian involvement raises some questions. It is not clear why Ukrainian extremist elements intending to target Moscow would share their plans with the US.

In this light, whatever the current differences between the US and Russia, if the US had hard information about the planned terrorist attack in Moscow one could argue that they should have alerted Moscow more precisely. More so to stave off the real possibility of Russia holding Ukraine responsible for this act. The Russians have long accused Ukrainian nationalists of terrorising the Russian ethnic civilian population in Donbass and also cite the case of pro-Russians set on fire in a building in Odessa by Ukrainian nationalists in the early days of the conflict, in May 2014.

More recently, Moscow has accused Kiev of numerous terrorist attacks, including two bombings of the Crimean Bridge, in which civilians were killed, as well as the targeted assassinations of Russian public figures, including journalist Darya Dugina, the daughter of prominent Russian philosopher Aleksandr Dugin in August 202, and military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky. Last year, the Washington Post reported that Ukrainian security agencies “have carried out dozens of assassinations against Russian officials in occupied territories, alleged Ukrainian collaborators, military officers behind the front lines and prominent war supporters deep inside Russia.”

Many are questioning the narrative of the West, led by the US, that ISIS is responsible for the Moscow attack. In their view the political intention is to deflect attention away from any Ukrainian complicity because such a massive attack against innocent civilians could negatively affect world opinion.

No doubt Russia has acted against Islamic State in Syria and remnants of ISIS could have planned this attack. However, its timing raises some doubts. It could have been planned just before the presidential elections in order to seriously disturb them. But then, it could have been reasoned that in that case the public would line up more solidly behind Putin. Committing this monstrosity after the presidential election would, however, “spoil Putin’s party,” as it were. And so the choice was made.

It would not be difficult for intelligence agencies to manipulate Islamic extremists from behind the scenes, organise funds and arms for them, and even have them claim responsibility. This would be standard practice to ensure deniability. The fact that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Crocus City Hall attack does not definitively close the matter.

If it was ISIS that was behind this monstrous act of terror, the four suspects arrested and interrogated do not fit into the profile of ideologically committed Islamic extremists. They do not come across as persons ready for martyrdom for a cause they deeply believe in. Rather, they come across as small-time mercenaries, ready to do a job, however heinous, for some money.

Russia does not need the excuse of a major terror attack to step up its operations against Ukraine. With President Macron ready to send French troops into Ukraine – 2,000 soldiers to begin with, according to the Russian intelligence chief Naryshkin – and General Pierre Schill of France expressing French readiness to show “strength” in an Op-Ed in Le Monde, the Baltic states egging for NATO intervention in Ukraine, the move to supply F16s to Ukraine, the clear warning by Russia that French/NATO troops would be legitimate targets, are enough reasons for a worsening military conflict in Ukraine, concludes Kanwal Sibal.


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