Putin vows punishment as Moscow mourns victims
Russia likely more united as people want govt to seek revenge: expert
Published: Mar 24, 2024 09:39 PM
Firefighters work in the burned concert hall on March 23, 2024, after an attack on the building of the Crocus City Hall in Moscow's Krasnogorsk suburb, Russia, the day before. Photos: VCG

Firefighters work in the burned concert hall on March 23, 2024, after an attack on the building of the Crocus City Hall in Moscow's Krasnogorsk suburb, Russia, the day before. Photos: VCG

The terror attack in Moscow that has reportedly caused at least 137 deaths will further unify Russians, as Chinese experts said the incident will not weaken, but will strengthen the authority of Russian President Vladimir Putin as Russians want the government and military to revenge for the victims, and Russia will surely retaliate not only against the terrorists but also other related hostile forces behind the attack.

Although the Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack, Russia's investigation and interrogation of the arrested suspected attackers show that the case is complicated, as the suspects were reportedly trying to escape from Russia to Ukraine. Analysts said that Russia will retaliate, but they will not ease up on their operations in Ukraine. If Moscow confirms that Ukraine and the US are involved in this attack, the Ukraine crisis would be further escalated, said the experts.  

Due to the struggles and strategic competition between the US and other non-Western major powers like Russia and China, international counterterrorism cooperation has been paralyzed. This has allowed some terrorist groups like IS to reemerge in many regions of the world and undertake deadly attacks. Experts noted that China will keep boosting counterterrorism cooperation with its partners, especially among developing countries, to better safeguard the world from the terrorist attacks. 

More united

According to a report from Russian state media TASS on Sunday, the death toll from the terrorist attack has climbed to 137 people, the Russian Investigative Committee said.

Some voices from the West said the attack will damage Putin's authority in the wake of his recent reelection as he tries to prove that Russia is safe and stable despite the conflict with Ukraine and Western sanctions. 

Chinese analysts disagree with this opinion, as the counterterrorism operation is more likely to strengthen Putin's authority. Russian public calls for retaliation and a more effective counterterrorism response will enable the Russian government to strengthen control and law-enforcement activities in many fields. Therefore, Putin's authority will not be weakened, but will be strengthened and reinforced. 

Zhang Hong, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday that "this attack will bring some interruptions to Russian society, and bring pressures to Putin's governance in his new six-year term. But all of these are controllable, and the pressures will prompt Russia to make more adjustments and improvements to its policies and strategies."

Russians, including Moscow residents, reached by the Global Times said that many people have been lining up to donate blood, as they want to help save lives among the survivors of the Friday attack on the Crocus City Hall. They said they believe the government will hunt down and destroy all hostile forces related to the attack.

Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov told TASS that terrorist raids and the hybrid war of the West will not force Russia to change its course and foreign policy.

"I want to say no change of the foreign policy, the course of President [of Russia Vladimir Putin], particularly after elections - nothing will take place," the Ambassador said. "Such strikes from behind... will not change our line, our course, and we will continue our work," Antonov noted, referring to the terrorist act at Crocus City Hall.

It is the West that chose the line for the hybrid war with Russia, the Ambassador said. "If they chose their line aimed at undermining Russia, at strikes against Russia, with the aid of Ukraine in this case, now - this is their choice," Antonov stated. "Everything they are supplying [to Kiev], items that they will forward - all that will be destroyed," he cautioned.

People lay flowers at a makeshift memorial in front of Crocus City Hall in Krasnogorsk on March 24, 2024, as Russia observes a national day of mourning after a massacre that killed at least 137 people. Photo: VCG

People lay flowers at a makeshift memorial in front of Crocus City Hall in Krasnogorsk on March 24, 2024, as Russia observes a national day of mourning after a massacre that killed at least 137 people. Photo: VCG

Retaliation against whom?

In a televised address, Putin said 11 people had been detained, including the four alleged gunmen. "They tried to hide and moved toward Ukraine, where, according to preliminary data, a window was prepared for them on the Ukrainian side to cross the state border," he said, Reuters reported.

On Saturday, RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan posted footage of the interrogation of one of the suspects. The man in the video claims that he went on the killing spree after he was promised 500,000 rubles ($5,400). The suspect also claimed that his handlers had instructed him as to where the attack should take place. He said he was ordered to "kill people there… doesn't matter who." The suspect claimed that the terrorist act was organized on Telegram with an unknown person who provided weapons.

After the attack, the terrorists planned to flee to Ukraine, Russia's FSB security service said in a statement on Saturday, RT reported.

"This attack is quite different from the attacks launched by the IS in the past. As the attackers [this time] were motivated by money rather than extremist thoughts, and after the attack, they were not like jihadists who would normally launch a suicide attack to become 'martyrs,' they were trying to escape to Ukraine," said a Beijing-based expert on international security who asked for anonymity.

This is very strange because although the IS has claimed responsibility, it will surely make Russia continue to investigate to uncover the hostile forces behind the attackers, the expert said. The IS in recent years has frequently attacked countries like Russia and Iran which have tensions with the US, and terror attacks against Western countries have reduced, he noted.  

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said any statement from the US authorities to justify Kiev until the end of the investigation into the terrorist attack "should be considered as evidence," TASS reported.

"Over the decades, the political elites of the US have learned how to skillfully divert attention from high-profile crimes and all sorts of staging. Therefore, until the investigation into the terrorist attack in the Crocus City Hall is completed, any phrase from Washington justifying Kiev should be considered as evidence," the diplomat wrote in her Telegram channel.

She noted that the financing of "the terrorist activities of the Kiev organized crime group by American liberal democrats and participation in the corruption schemes of the Biden family have been going on for many years."

Li Wei, an expert from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Sunday that "in recent years, IS has claimed responsibility for some attacks that are not conducted by them, as it wants to improve its influence. So at this moment, we still need to pay attention to the investigation result rather than simply believe that this is just an attack launched by the IS."

Li also said although the US released a warning of terror attacks earlier this month, the information released was too vague, and was not really helpful for Russia to prevent an attack. The attackers can adjust their plan due to the warning released to the public. 

Against the backdrop of Ukraine crisis, relevant parties will possibly use intelligence about terrorist attacks to achieve their military and political goals, and right after the attack, the US' act to immediately clarify for Ukraine looks very strange, Li noted. 

Russia will surely take actions to retaliate for attack, but against whom it will retaliate remains in question, analysts said. Some Western voices said Russia should focus on counterterrorism after the attack rather than "imaginary foes" in Ukraine, but Chinese experts said if Russia confirms that Kiev and Washington are involved in this attack, the Ukraine crisis will not be eased but will also escalate.