Putin’s Disinformation Campaign Following the Moscow Attack

By Felix Maradiaga (Elected WLC Leadership Council member)

(March 27, 2024) World Liberty Congress.-

The recent terrorist attack at the Crocus City concert hall in Moscow, which resulted in at least 133 casualties and the complete incineration of the building, underscores Vladimir Putin’s readiness to sow hatred and disinformation regarding Ukraine. Despite the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claiming responsibility for the attack, Putin, without providing any evidence, insinuated on Saturday that the terrorists received assistance from individuals based in Ukraine. Shortly after the attack, it was revealed that Putin had ignored a warning from U.S. intelligence services.

Ukraine has vehemently denied any involvement in the massacre. As further details about the attack emerge, it becomes increasingly evident that this was an act of Islamic extremism. Such attacks are not part of any Ukrainian military strategy, and there is no historical precedent for Ukraine engaging in such actions against civilian targets. Furthermore, a core element of Ukraine’s strategy is to garner as much Western support as possible for its defensive efforts against the Russian invasion. Any association with such attacks would severely damage Ukraine’s image and strategy, adding yet another layer of incredulity to Russian disinformation.

This incident ranks as one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on Russian soil in recent memory. Putin announced that 11 individuals have been detained in connection with the killings, including the four gunmen. “They attempted to evade capture and fled towards Ukraine, where, according to preliminary information, arrangements were made for their escape across the border,” Putin stated in a televised address on Russian television.

Likewise, several Telegram channels closely linked to Putin have irresponsibly implied Ukrainian involvement in the attack. Phrases such as “It wasn’t ISIS, it was the Ukrainians” are frequently echoed on these channels. However, this speculation lacks any factual basis and serves only to divert attention from the genuine threat posed by international terrorism.

This gross manipulation of information is echoed by some media outlets or organizations in Latin America. Many of these institutions are simply relay stations for the official narrative of the Kremlin and the RT apparatus. One of the many examples I can cite is the Institute of Latin American Studies (IELA) of the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil. IELA has devoted itself to replicating the conspiracy theories of Michel Chossudovsky, director of the Centre for Research on Globalization in Montreal. Chossudovsky, who runs the website globalresearch.ca, and his research center, have been identified by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as key players in the dissemination of pro-Russian propaganda. Likewise, the U.S. State Department has pointed to the site as a proxy for Russian disinformation. This type of disinformation is designed to give the appearance of legitimacy, and thus does greater damage when it is picked up as supposedly valid information by media outlets or users who assume the information to be truthful.

The Kremlin is trying to install the idea that this terrorist operation was devised in Kiev even though the jihadist group claimed responsibility for the massacre. The aim of this disinformation maneuver is not only to stoke the hatreds of the Russian public opinion towards Ukraine, but also to divert attention from the serious Russian security failures. It is a humiliation for Putin that not only did Russian intelligence services fail to prevent the attack, but that he himself disregarded U.S. warnings that extremists were planning to attack Moscow.

The most reliable available evidence points to the attack being carried out by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), a regional affiliate of the ISIS terrorist organization. This organization has been implicated in some of the largest recent terrorist attacks in Russia, including the 2017 St. Petersburg subway bombing that killed 15 people and injured 45. 

It is important to note that these types of attacks are not unusual and are almost always related to Chechen or Ingush groups, when not carried out by the FSB itself, as some have alleged. Attributing these attacks to Ukraine is a strategy that lacks historical basis, as there is no history of Ukraine carrying out such actions against civilian targets.

ISIS’s fixation with Russia.

The Islamic State’s fixation with Russia is not a recent phenomenon. Putin’s intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015, supporting President Bashar al-Assad against the opposition and the Islamic State, changed the course of the conflict. Since then, Russia has been in the terrorist group’s crosshairs.

The Islamic State has long recruited fighters from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. In addition, there is a Caucasus branch of ISIS that operates primarily in the largely Muslim North Caucasus region of Russia, in the Russian republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Chechnya has a long history of rebellion against the Moscow government, with an Islamist insurgency that led to an armed conflict between Russia and militants from 2007 to 2017.

The attention of the group, which is an offshoot of ISIS based primarily in Afghanistan, has increasingly focused on Russia since the U.S. left Afghanistan in 2021. The group was formed in 2015 by members of militant groups, including those from Pakistan and Uzbekistan, and is active in Central Asia and Russia.

It is critical to strongly condemn the terrorist attack in Moscow and express our heartfelt condolences to the families and all those affected by this horrific crime. Furthermore, it is imperative to understand that the Russian disinformation machine has no moral or ethical boundaries. Like a cancer, this sophisticated form of propaganda is designed to erode the free press worldwide. The Kremlin has long spread such propaganda to justify its invasion of Ukraine. Below, you will find an example of the Russian regime’s many lies about its invasion of Ukraine, along with the truth. This information is based on Government of Canada intelligence. While there is no easy antidote to such disinformation campaigns, it is possible to limit the spread of disinformation by knowing how to identify it and being critical about what you read.

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