Russian state media blames Ukraine and West for attack

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Screenshot of Russia's NTV showing a fake video of Ukraine's top security official Oleksiy DanilovImage source, NTV

Russian state media is firmly blaming Ukraine and the West for the deadly attack on the Crocus Hall, echoing similar narratives by the Kremlin while ignoring Ukraine’s denial of any involvement.

Those commentators who are more independent-minded are sceptical of such claims, however, arguing that state security has been distracted by the war in Ukraine and dropped the ball in preventing this attack at home.

The most startling effort at disinformation by Russian state media is perhaps NTV’s broadcast of a video with seemingly AI-generated audio of Ukraine’s top security official Oleksiy Danilov. The clip aired on Russia’s third most-popular channel, just hours after the attack.

It purported to show Danilov saying, “It is fun in Moscow today… I would like to believe that we will arrange such fun for them more often.”

But we have established that the video clip is a composite of two different interviews published in the last week, and that the voice in the video was probably generated using AI technology.

‘ISIS nowhere near there’

Russian TV presenters and popular pro-Kremlin bloggers have questioned whether the Islamic State group (IS) was behind the Moscow attack, calling this the “Western version” of events.

“There are already attempts to have everyone chasing down the wrong lead,” popular commentator and pro-Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov said during his 24 March prime-time news review programme.

“IS has different hallmarks. Acts of terror in the name of IS are perpetrated by suicide attackers who do not try to flee afterwards,” he added, claiming:

“It is an indisputable fact that the terrorists sought salvation in Ukraine, which is where they headed after committing the crime.”

Rossiya 1 commentator Dmitry Kiselyov

Image source, Rossiya 1

These comments come despite the fact that the Islamic State group (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack. The group has also published footage from the attackers’ points of view, video that the BBC has been able to verify.

“It is unclear why this bloodless group of radical Islamists decided to carry out this attack. The explanations of American experts seem forced, as if tailoring a solution to a ready-made answer,” state-controlled Channel One asserted.

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the state broadcaster RT (Russia Today) also made similar assertions.

“‘There were no ‘shahid belts’ [explosive belts] on the ghouls… None of them were going to die. None of them were religious fanatics. ISIS was nowhere near there,” she said on Telegram.

British ‘professionals’ in ‘inciting ethnic conflict’

There have also been numerous attempts to blame Ukraine and Western powers for the attack.

Some newspapers, like state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta, claim the attackers’ weapons, in yellow-green camouflage colours, “are very similar to the weapons that traitors from the Russian Volunteer Corps use”. The group is a pro-Russian formation fighting on the side of Ukraine.

Some commentators made even more outlandish claims.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, for example, told the rolling news channel Rossiya 24 TV: “Unfortunately, many of our citizens have not fully realised that the Anglo-Saxons, Nato members are simply waging a war of destruction on the Russian world.”

“This wild, absolutely disgusting barbaric terrorist attack is eloquent evidence of this,” he said, before going on to assert a conspiracy theory that the US was behind the 9/11 attack.

State Rossiya 1 reporter Andrei Medvedev saw the hand of MI6, which, according to him, “patronises the Ukrainian HUR” (Main Intelligence Directorate) and “chose precisely migrants to carry out a monstrous terrorist attack”.

“The British, due to their long colonial past, are very serious professionals in the field of inciting ethnic conflicts,” he wrote in a post on the popular platform Telegram, that garnered almost 900,000 views.

Independent commentators however, have highlighted numerous discrepancies in the narratives blaming Ukraine – that the arrests took place near the border with Belarus and not Ukraine, for example.

Putin ‘bears direct responsibility’

However, Novaya Gazeta Europe’s editor, Kirill Martynov, has said: “Russian propaganda is currently desperately seeking ways to link the terrorist attack in Moscow to Ukraine.”

Like many of the paper’s writers, Martynov is now based in Latvia having left Russia after a crackdown on independent media following the invasion of Ukraine.

“It is already clear that the tragedy became possible due to the colossal failure of Russian counter-terrorism agencies, which in recent years have been busy with anything but their direct duties,” he says.

“Russians remember the semi-conspiratorial theories about terrorist attacks from 25 years ago when [President Vladimir] Putin came to power under the slogan of fighting terrorists.

“The Russian dictator bears direct responsibility for the fact that, having unleashed a war with Russia’s neighbours in 2014 and 2022, he now has no resources left to protect the country’s citizens from real threats.”

Prominent exiled pundit Dmitry Kolezev added that “there is no reasonable evidence” to blame Ukraine.

“[Putin] portrays himself as a lawyer for all the poor and unfortunate, a defender of the “global south” before the ‘golden billion’.

“And then it turns out that for radical Islamists from this very south, Russia is the same enemy as the United States or Europe.”

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