Apr 8, 2024

Russia Continues to Link Terrorist Attack to Ukraine

Damaged Russian Concert Hall
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Russia blames the U.S. and Ukraine despite specific U.S. intelligence shared with Russia of an impending attack by ISIS-Khorasan. Read the transcript here.

Amna Nawaz (00:00):

The March 22nd terrorist attack on Crocus City Hall killed 145 people and injured hundreds. The deadliest attack in Russia in 20 years. Russia blamed the U.S. and Ukraine, despite specific U.S. intelligence shared with Russia of an impending attack by ISIS Khorasan, and that group having claimed responsibility after the attack. Nick Schifrin is back now, with a look at what a U.S. warning, and Russia’s subsequent unfounded accusations say about the U.S.-Russia relationship, and Russia’s intelligence services.

Nick Schifrin (00:35):

Before the band could take the stage, what was supposed to be a raucous concert became a living nightmare. Those they didn’t slaughter, they tried to burn alive.

Efim Fidrya (00:54):

These screams of people I understood, shots and screams from people who are frightened, who are now maybe dying. This is pretty hard to ever forget.

Nick Schifrin (01:04):

Efim Fidrya bought tickets for the Rock Group picnic to celebrate his wife Olga’s birthday. The shooting started as they arrived.

Efim Fidrya (01:14):

We headed toward the entrance to the hall, and almost immediately heard shots. We ran down the stairs and took refuge in the toilet stall. Someone was praying, someone was calling their loved ones, screaming emotionally to get us out of there. After a while, smoke began to seep in. We decided to leave. A girl’s body laid near the escalator that led to the first floor. She was dead.

Nick Schifrin (01:42):

You mentioned how it helped when you heard that the terrorists were arrested. President Putin has described them as radical Islamists, but having a connection to Ukraine. What do you think when you hear that statement?

Efim Fidrya (02:01):

Considering that their behavior is different from typical radical Islamists, they did not try to commit suicide. They did not take hostages, and went towards the Ukrainian border. It is possible that the official version will actually be correct.

Nick Schifrin (02:16):

Putin provided the initial official version.

Alexander Bortnikov (02:20):

The crime was committed by radical Islamists, but we also see that the United States is trying to convince its satellites there is supposedly no trace of Kiev.

Nick Schifrin (02:29):

Today, Russian investigators revealed what they said was a suspect’s phone, with photos inside of iconic symbols of Ukrainian resistance and Crocus City Hall. Russia’s top intelligence Officer Alexander Bortnikov has blamed the attack on Ukrainian and American intelligence.

Alexander Bortnikov (02:48):

We believe that the action was prepared by both the Islamist radicals themselves, and was facilitated by Western special services. The Ukrainian special services themselves are directly related to this.

Nick Schifrin (03:01):

The U.S. and Ukraine both say only ISIS was responsible. Two U.S. officials tell PBS NewsHour the U.S. warned Russia of a possible terrorist attack, and named specific targets including Crocus City Hall. On March the 7th, the U.S. embassy in Moscow made the warning public, “Extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow to include concerts and U.S. citizens should be advised to avoid large gatherings over the next 48 hours.” Despite the U.S. specificity, Russia would later call the intelligence, quote, too general. Before the attack, Putin disparaged the U.S. warnings.

Vladimir Putin (03:41):

All these actions represent outright blackmail, and the intention to intimidate and destabilize our society.

Andrei Soldatov (03:47):

There is a sense and a climate of conspiratorial thinking, which is quite widespread in Russian society these days, that Russia is a besieged fortress.

Nick Schifrin (04:00):

Andrei Soldatov is a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, and an investigative journalist who covers Russia’s security services.

Andrei Soldatov (04:08):

They have this sense of extreme fragility of the Russian state, and they think that, again, that this state, which is extremely fragile, is under constant attack. Even if they see, and they have this evidence that the real radical Islamists are behind that attack, and they caught them red-handed, they would try to develop a bigger theory that there are some hostile forces behind his facade.

Nick Schifrin (04:37):

Soldatov points out that Russia did make some arrests immediately after the U.S. warning, but he says Putin has created a climate where it’s impossible for society to question the security services, and impossible for intelligence officers to work with the West.

Andrei Soldatov (04:52):

People who became too close, from the Russian point of view, to the Americans and shared too much with the Americans, in terms of counterterrorism, these people were immediately punished and sent to jail. The other problem is that if you shield your security and intelligence services from any kind of criticism, your security services would always fail you, because they feel completely impenetrable.

Nick Schifrin (05:21):

Putin’s Besieged Fortress failed to protect its own people. The price, 145 innocent lives. For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Nick Schifrin.

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