The Kremlin challenged in a Moscow suburb

In the absence of concrete explanations regarding the planning and execution of the attack, it is evident from the outset that the crisis challenges Russia’s power structure and its stance on international relations. The handling of the situation has laid bare the characteristics associated with Putin’s regime: ambiguity, inconsistency, and aggression. Simultaneously, concerns arise regarding the level of control and the “vertical” chain of power that have long characterised this regime. President Putin himself was caught off guard, having dismissed a few days earlier US intelligence about a potential terrorist threat against a concert venue as “blackmail” and an “attempt to intimidate and destabilise our society.” This, despite Russian intelligence also sounding alarms about potential attacks, including mentions of ISIS-K, the ISIS affiliate operating in the Khorasan province (encompassing parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia). Furthermore, on March 7, partly relying on Western intelligence, the FSB thwarted an attack on a synagogue.

Isis or not

The failure of information dissemination within Russia’s vast security apparatus, coupled with a deficit in intelligence sharing and coordination among agencies, underscores the systemic shortcomings. Contradictions between official statements and the evasive responses of even seasoned spokesperson Dmitri Peskov further highlight the disarray. Eventually, the Kremlin had to concede that ISIS-K was indeed responsible for the attack—a claim the terrorist group made hours after the attack. The Tajik connection comes as no surprise; Tajikistan has been identified as a conduit for importing Muslim radicalism into Central Asia, posing a threat to Russian security. Tajik nationals feature prominently in the ISIS-K network, participating in conflicts and terrorist activities across the Muslim world, as well as plotting attacks against Western nations.

This is a reality well understood by Russian experts, diplomats, and political figures who have grappled with the multifaceted threat landscape since the dissolution of the USSR and the onset of the Tajik civil war in 1992. Incursions by groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) peaking in 1999-2001, along with the spillover of conflict and illicit activities from Afghanistan into the Pamir valleys, have further complicated matters. Throughout these challenges, Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) have provided the primary source of security, although their interventions have been criticized by some Muslim opposition groups for propping up autocratic regimes in Central Asia. Additionally, millions of Central Asians working in Russia contribute significantly to both countries’ economies, fostering a mutual dependence that ensures social stability in the region of origin.

Bitterness towards Ukraine

Given this backdrop, the Kremlin’s response to the attack should have been more nuanced. It presented an opportunity to underscore Russia’s solidarity with Central Asia and Muslim nations, including the Taliban, where daily fatalities occur at the hands of various ISIS-affiliated groups. Internationally, the Moscow attacks offered the Kremlin an unexpected chance to reassert itself as a global player in the global fight against terrorism, akin to its post-9/11 moment. Yet, in 2024, following an attack merely 30km from the Kremlin, Putin denied its Islamist dimension and ISIS-K involvement, despite Tajik nationals being implicated and ISIS-K’s claim of responsibility, validated by terrorism experts.

Instead, Putin’s initial response fixated on blaming Ukraine, alleging that the terrorists fled south toward the Ukrainian border, where, according to him, the true organisers awaited them. Subsequently, he reluctantly acknowledged ISIS-K’s responsibility. However, Putin and other officials, including those within the faltering intelligence apparatus, insinuated Ukrainian manipulation behind Tajik ISIS radicals and in further developments Western orchestration against Russia via Ukraine. This narrative shift not only rebranded the “special operation” as a “war” but also depicted Ukraine as being under terrorist control, starting with President Zelensky. Astonishingly, a Financial Times poll indicates growing credence in the Ukrainian ‘trail’ narrative, even among anti-war factions, bolstered by Ukrainian military intelligence’s attacks on Russian territory using Western-provided equipment. The ensuing attacks on Russian installations and the evacuation of 5,000 children from the Belgorod region further fuel this perception.

These developments yield contradictory interpretations. Some suggest Putin and his inner circle succumb to unfettered paranoia, while others posit a recalibration toward viewing the West, rather than Ukraine, as the primary adversary, shedding new light on Putin’s recent overtures for negotiations—to be held with the West, not with a Ukrainian president whose mandate, by May 20, as the narrative goes, will have expired, rendering him illegitimate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *