Russia Terror Attack Ignites Further Instability and Tensions

Moscow Firefighters at Crocus City Hall (CC)

The horrific terror attacks on the outskirts of Moscow on 22 March shocked and repulsed Russians and people everywhere. At the time of writing, the death toll is officially 139 and rising. Over 180 people have received hospital treatment for injuries in Russia’s worst terror attack in 20 years. It is expected that more bodies will be found in the debris of the burnt Crocus City Hall.

The CWI condemns these indiscriminate attacks against civilians, no matter who the perpetrators.

The attack began when gunmen opened fire inside the Crocus City Hall before a rock concert was due to take place. The assailants set fire to the building and part of its roof collapsed. Within hours, an offshoot of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility. The slaughter is the worst such attack in Europe and Russia since the 2004 attack on a school in the town of Beslan in southern Russia.

Hours after the attack, the Russian security service, the FSB, claimed it arrested several of the attackers while they were trying to flee from Russia to Ukraine. Four alleged attackers were brought to an Investigation Committee headquarters in Moscow on 25 March, showing signs of beatings and torture. Videos of what happened have been circulated on social media.

Within hours of the atrocity, Russia, Ukraine and the West started pointing fingers at each other over the real identity and motives of the attackers. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility, but the Kremlin has linked the attack to Ukraine. The four suspected gunmen are reportedly from the central Asia country of Tajikistan, an impoverished state which borders Afghanistan, the basis of the Islamic State Khorasan group, also known as ISIS – Khorasan (IS-K), which claimed to have carried out the atrocity. The group released pictures of the attackers before they launched their assault and bodycam footage made by attackers of the slaughter.

However, in his first televised statement about the attack, President Vladimir Putin made no mention of IS-K. He claimed the attackers were caught while “moving towards Ukraine where, according to preliminary information, a window was prepared for them from the Ukrainian side to cross the state border”.

Putin’s claims were furiously denied by Kyiv. “Putin and other scoundrels simply tried to blame everything on someone else,” remarked Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian President.

Certainly, ISIS has reason to want to strike against Russia. Russian military intervention was instrumental in saving the Assad regime in Syria during the civil war, often striking against ISIS targets. ISIS has carried out deadly attacks against the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan, which ISIS regard as an ally of Moscow. Islamic terror attacks emanating from central Asia against Russian targets took place in the 1990s and early 2000’s when Putin was mercilessly crushing independence movements in Chechnya and other parts of the region. However there have not been Islamic terror attacks on Russian soil for some time.

Ukraine and Western politicians allege that Putin is using the atrocity to further whip up Russian nationalist outrage against Ukraine to prepare the way for wider troop mobilisation in the war against its neighbour, and to provide a pretext for more repressive legislation domestically to shut down any anti-war and oppositionist voices. They argue that Putin seeks to falsely hold Ukraine responsible as he has been badly exposed by the attacks, seen as incapable of providing security for Russian people while at the same time conducting a war in Ukraine involving hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers. Some politicians in Ukraine have gone as far as to directly blame Moscow for orchestrating the Crocus City Hall massacre.

In return, Moscow has indicated that the attacks were the dirty work of the Zelensky regime backed by US and other Western powers. Putin has now conceded that the attack was conducted by “radical Islamists” but reasserted the claims that Ukraine could have been involved in the shootings. “We are interested in who ordered it ”, Putin told government officials. “This atrocity may just be one part in a whole series of attempts by those who have been at war with our country since 2014 by the hands of the neo-Nazi Kiev regime”.

Kremlin sources point out that the CIA has had long involvement with Islamic terror groups in Central Asia and parts of the Middle East, and it is not beyond them to have used IS-K as a cover or ‘flag of convenience’ to carry out attacks to destabilise the Putin government. Firefights between Russian neo-Nazi paramilitaries that are pro-Ukraine and Russian police have been reported in recent weeks. Only last week Putin emerged as the clear winner of presidential elections, which saw no real opposition, and the war in Ukraine has been steadily going in Putin’s favour. Moscow sources imply that the IS-K assailants were manipulated by Ukraine and the West, with FSB claims that one of the four detained attackers confessed that he was paid to carry out the massacre.

None of the claims being made by either side can be dismissed as completely implausible given the history of murderous dirty tactics used over decades by Western powers in many parts of the world, and also by the Putin regime against its opponents. It is widely thought in Russia and beyond that the FSB had a hand in the blowing up of four tower blocks in Moscow and two other Russian cities in September 1999 to provide the pretext for Russian military invasion of Dagestan, triggering the Second Chechen War, and consolidating Putin’s rule. But also US, UK and French imperialism have a long history of covert activities in many countries, including helping to create and direct terror groups and infiltrating paramilitaries for their own ends.

It remains to be seen if any hard facts emerge over the Crocus City Hall massacre over the next weeks and months and from the trial of the four suspects, albeit it is highly unlikely this will be a fair trial. It has already been announced by Russian authorities that it will be “closed”.

At the same time, questions have been raised about the relative slowness of the Russian security forces to respond to this attack which took place on the edge of Moscow, not in some provincial backwater. Putin may attempt to use to this as an excuse for a further tightening of controls in Russia. The popular welcome which Prigozhin’s attempted military uprising last June received among sections of the population in Russia was a warning of Putin’s potentially fragile base and the regime will try to use this massacre to strengthen its internal position.

For socialists, it is clear that whoever was behind the Crocus City Hall mass slaughter acted with thoroughly reactionary motives. The attacks will heighten ethnic tensions in Russia and the region. In response to last Friday’s massacre, both Putin and Zelensky pit worker against worker with their right-wing nationalist rhetoric and propaganda. Western powers hypocritically condemn the concert hall attacks and also Putin’s war machine but have armed and abetted Israel’s six-months long bombardment of Gaza.

The Crocus City Hall massacre is a symptom of the devastating impact of the war in Ukraine, now in its third year, and simmering ethnic and national conflicts across the region, and ultimately of the system of barbarous capitalism imposed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Only a mass united struggle of working people against the rule of the oligarchs and for the socialist transformation of society can bring lasting peace and prosperity.

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March 2024