The Moscow Terror Attack Could Mean the End of Putin

Vladimir Putin
March 25, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: PutinISISISIS-KMilitaryRussiaUkraineWar In Ukraine

The Moscow Terror Attack Could Mean the End of Putin

Putin will have to be careful, however. Mass tragedies can be two-edged swords. If used wisely, they can serve as pretexts for repression and war. If used unwisely, they can expose government indifference to human suffering and spark unrest.

The most important thing about the March 22nd terrorist attack in Moscow is not the attack itself—though the horrific death of over a hundred civilians is a great tragedy—but the fact that the United States and several other Western countries had predicted it would happen two weeks ago.

It was on March 7 that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it was “monitoring reports,” presumably compiled by the CIA, “that 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.”

Putin, Russia’s self-elected president, chose to ignore the warning, claiming on March 19 that they were “provocative,” resembling “outright blackmail” intended “to intimidate and destabilize our society.”

The U.S. warning and Putin’s dismissal point to several conclusions:

First, it’s absolutely clear that Ukraine was not behind the attack. If the United States had any hint of Ukrainian involvement, it would have done more than issue a warning: it would have compelled the Ukrainians to desist. By the same token, if Putin suspected Ukrainians were planning an attack, he would have seized the opportunity on March 19 to accuse the Ukrainians of being neo-Nazi terrorists.

So, when Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claims that “we know in which country these bloody bastards planned to hide from pursuit – Ukraine,” and when Putin says Ukraine prepared a “window” of escape for them, they’re merely being true to form and spouting nonsense. Besides, if there is one thing Russia’s genocidal war has proven, it’s that not Ukraine, but Russia commits atrocities and kills civilians systematically.

Second, the Russian security service, the FSB, was exceptionally incompetent in failing to pursue Western warnings of imminent terrorism, despite consisting of highly trained professionals who are as capable of efficiently killing Putin’s opponents as they are of intimidating Russians. How could one of the Russian Federation’s few supposedly competent institutions have bungled so badly, especially as they had dealt with ISIS-affiliated insurgents on three occasions in March? Russia’s secret agents had to have suspected that something was afoot. If they didn’t, the reason may be that they were too focused on gay “extremists” and democratic “terrorists” to have noticed that real extremists were planning a real act of terrorism.

Third, it’s perfectly possible that Putin, paranoid Russian supremacist and bungler par excellence that he is, refused to give credence to the warnings of imperialist Western intelligence services—all doubtless committed to Russia’s and his demise—and made sure that hunting for gays and Navalny supporters took precedence over foiling terrorists. Since his word was law, this interpretation shifts the blame for the FSB’s failures squarely onto Putin’s shoulders.

That a radical wing of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack—even as Russian officials point fingers at Kyiv—suggests  a fourth conclusion: that Putin and the security service did nothing to prevent the attack because they wanted it to happen. After all, Putin and his FSB comrades know how the Reichstag fire in 1933 enabled Hitler to assume full power, just as Sergei Kirov’s assassination in 1934 served as a pretext for Stalin’s terror.

There’s also a fifth possibility: that Putin and his assassins were behind the attack. They collaborated in 1999 to detonate bombs in several apartment buildings and killed hundreds of innocent Russians, thereby creating an ideal pretext for renewing war with Chechnya. It would have been easy enough for the FSB to recruit potential terrorists in Russia’s vassal state, Tajikistan: the four arrested terrorists are Tajiks who were reputedly paid large sums of money and are therefore no Islamic radicals. Naturally, Putin has feigned horror and shed crocodile tears, but don’t believe him for a second. He’s a cynical, cold-blooded killer of anybody that gets in his way, so, as fantastic as this version may sound, it can’t be dismissed.

Putin has launched an investigation that will probably reveal that the perpetrators weren’t acting only on behalf of ISIS, as that would expose the breathtaking ineptness of the great leader and his spies. Instead, the Ukrainians will somehow be blamed for executing the assault or sheltering the assailants or expressing too little concern—it doesn’t matter what the charge will be—and voices will be heard demanding payback.

Putin’s sidekick, the unhinged former Russian prime minister and president, Dmitry Medvedev, has already prepared the ground for blaming Ukraine by writing on Telegram, “If it is established that these are terrorists of the Kyiv regime...all of them must be found and mercilessly destroyed as terrorists...Death for death.” What better way to make hay of Putin’s resounding “victory” in the March 17th presidential elections than to create a crisis and be morally “compelled” to save Mother Russia from the evil Ukrainian neo-Nazi fascist vermin by means of increased terror at home and a major escalation of the war against Ukraine?

Putin will have to be careful, however. Mass tragedies can be two-edged swords. If used wisely, they can serve as pretexts for repression and war. If used unwisely, they can expose government indifference to human suffering and spark unrest. Since wisdom isn’t exactly Putin’s strong suit, be on the lookout for more blunders and more tragedies in the weeks and months ahead. Also be on the lookout for signs of popular discontent with his handling of the attack. Massive catastrophes have often mobilized people to take action against their governments. It just might be Nazi Russia’s turn.

About the Author: Dr. Alexander Motyl 

Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, including Pidsumky imperii (2009); Puti imperii (2004); Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires (2001); Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (1999); Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (1993); and The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929 (1980); the editor of 15 volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism (2000) and The Holodomor Reader (2012); and a contributor of dozens of articles to academic and policy journals, newspaper op-ed pages, and magazines. He also has a weekly blog, “Ukraine’s Orange Blues.”