Tuesday, April 23

Moscow attack shows Putin’s grip on Russia ‘not nearly as tight as we think,’ says ex-US ambassador to Ukraine

Last week’s terrorist attack at a Moscow concert hall that killed 139 people suggests that Russia’s security apparatus is much weaker than Vladimir Putin has led the world to believe, says former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, John E. Herbst.  

“The attack is one more indication that Putin’s control of the country is not nearly as tight as we think,” Herbst told Fox News Digital in an interview. “This is not what you would expect from a tightly wound dictatorship with a vast security force.” 

Herbst argued that Russia’s myopic obsession with the war in Ukraine, now in its third year, has inadvertently weakened Russia’s internal security at the expense of other threats.  

“If you assume that, in fact, ISIS carried out this attack, this shows how the overemphasis of Russian security resources on their aggression against Ukraine is making them weaker against true threats to Russian security,” Herbst said. 

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Luke Coffey, senior fellow at Hudson Institute, argued it was precisely because of Russia’s war in Ukraine that allowed for Friday’s attack to happen. 

“We cannot underestimate the amount of national resources that Russia is having to devote to this large scale war against Ukraine and how this has on other aspects of Russia’s daily life, including its domestic security,” Coffey told Fox News Digital, pointing to the economy of Russia changing over to a war-time industry. 

“Its security services are probably constantly chasing down Ukrainian leads in terms of sabotage groups inside Russia … and dealing with the fighting inside Ukraine itself,” Coffey said. “This is on an industrialized scale that no country in the world is used to waging. And the fact that this is taking place probably means Russia has fewer resources and less attention on some of the other threats it might be facing.” 

Putin was quick to link Friday’s terrorist attacks at the Crocus City Hall music venue back to Ukraine. He finally conceded on Monday that “radical Islamists” were behind the attack, but repeated unfounded accusations that Ukraine could have still played a role, despite Kyiv’s strong denials. 

Putin also failed to mention that the U.S. confidentially shared with Moscow its concerns earlier this month about an imminent terror attack. Three days before the attack, Putin denounced the U.S.’ warnings as an attempt to frighten Russians and “blackmail” the Kremlin ahead of the presidential election.  

Putin was further undermined by ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, claiming credit for the attack. The four suspected attackers – all of them nationals of Tajikistan – were charged in Moscow court Sunday night and ordered to remain in custody pending an official probe. 

Russian media reported that the four men had been tortured during investigation, and they showed signs of having been severely beaten during their court appearance. 

Herbst and other observers have argued that the beatings the prisoners endured during interrogation undermine their testimony. 

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Ivana Stradner, research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Fox News Digital, that last week’s terrorist attack shows that the Kremlin is “fragile” and “unstable,” particularly in light of last summer’s mutiny attempt by founder and leader of the mercenary Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin. She argued that the West should be using this to its strategic advantage. 

“The West should play off Moscow’s paranoia and launch new information operations to communicate Putin’s diminished strength, security failures and greatly reduced influence on Russia’s allies,” Stradner said. “If Putin cannot protect his own people, how is he going to protect his allies?”

ISIS has long regarded Russia as an enemy over its intervention in Syria, as well as its alliance with Iran and the Taliban in Afghanistan. 

“ISIS considers Russia to be an enemy. Russia has worked very closely with the Assad regime in Syria against various Islamic groups – including ISIS,” Herbst said. “Russia is best pals with the mullahs in Iran – also an enemy of ISIS. And Russia has cooperated with the Taliban, who are also an enemy of ISIS. So, it’s very clear that ISIS has multiple reasons to strike Russia.” 

In October 2015, a bomb planted by ISIS downed a Russian passenger plane over Sinai, killing all 224 people aboard, most of them Russian vacationers returning from Egypt.

The group, which operates mainly in Syria and Iraq but also in Afghanistan and Africa, has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Russia’s volatile Caucasus and other regions in past years. It recruited fighters from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

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