Moscow Terror Attack: ‘No longer really fit for the times’, How Moscow attack dents Putin’s strongman image | World News – Times of India

Last week’s terrorist attack at Crocus City Hall, just outside Moscow, has sent shockwaves throughout Russia and the international community. This brutal assault, carried out by Islamic State gunmen, left over 130 people dead, marking it as the deadliest act of terrorism in Russia for decades.
In the wake of a horrific tragedy, Russia finds itself at a critical juncture.This deadly episode stands as the most severe act of terrorism the country has faced in decades, challenging the very foundations of the Russian state’s promise of security to its people. The incident unfolds against the backdrop of an already tense political landscape, with Russia embroiled in a grueling war of attrition against Ukraine. This external conflict, while taxing in its own right, has inadvertently exposed vulnerabilities within Russia’s internal security mechanisms.

Why it matters

  • This tragedy strikes at the heart of Putin‘s carefully crafted image as a steadfast protector of Russian security and challenges the state’s ability to safeguard its citizens.
  • Historically, Putin’s political persona as a decisive, iron-willed leader has been integral to his domestic approval and international perception. However, the bloody assault at Crocus City Hall threatens to dismantle this image, unveiling a critical breach in the nation’s security framework that he so confidently claimed to uphold.
  • In the aftermath, Putin’s response was markedly somber. His appearance in an Orthodox chapel, lighting candles for the victims, was a rare public display of solemnity. Yet, this act of mourning does little to quell the rising doubts among the Russian populace and the international community regarding the effectiveness and priorities of his regime.
  • Mark Galeotti, leader of Mayak Intelligence consultancy, noted a significant impact on Putin’s persona as the “tough defender of the motherland.”
  • The intensity of the raid, marking the most severe on Russian ground in twenty years, undermines Putin’s authority, leading to a gradual but growing doubt, as he described: “that slow and accelerating sense that this is no longer the Putin that was, that he’s no longer really fit for the times, that he’s no longer able to deliver on his promises.”

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The ripple effects

  • The attack does not occur in isolation but amidst a backdrop of escalating tensions with Ukraine and a broader geopolitical chess game. Russia’s ongoing military engagement has not only strained its resources but also shifted the focus of its security apparatus away from internal threats, potentially enabling such devastating acts of terrorism.
  • Critically, this incident casts a long shadow over Russia’s foreign relations and internal policy-making. The Kremlin’s attempt to link the attack to Ukraine—despite the claim by Islamic State—smacks of political opportunism, an effort to deflect blame and perhaps to justify further military aggression. Yet, this strategy risks alienating global partners and undermining Russia’s standing on the world stage.
  • As Russia grapples with the aftermath of this calamity, the incident has sparked a broader discourse on the state’s priorities and its ability to protect its citizens from emerging threats. The echoes of this tragedy will undoubtedly reverberate through the corridors of power in Moscow, prompting a reevaluation of national security strategies, international relationships, and the very essence of Putin’s rule.

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What they are saying

  • Putin refrained from directly blaming Ukraine for the recent attack but indicated that the alleged terrorists were heading towards Ukraine, where they found “a window” opened at the border.
  • High-ranking Russian officials have rejected the Islamic State’s admission of the attack, instead hinting at retaliatory measures against Ukraine.
  • According to a Wall Street Journal report, Abbas Gallyamov, once a speechwriter for Putin and now a critic, questions the president’s effectiveness: “This is perceived as Putin’s failure to deliver—he had come with promises of peace and stability, and where is that peace and stability now? If it’s indeed Islamic State, then your entire foreign policy is worthless—which is why they are trying so hard to pin blame on Ukraine.”
  • As per the WSJ report, Mikhail Vinogradov, a political analyst, expressed skepticism on RBK TV about Ukraine’s potential motives: “What could Ukraine gain from this terror attack is not very evident,” he questioned. He suggested a shift in focus is necessary: “We need to redefine the theme of security,” he advocated. “The priority of law enforcement has been mostly the public figures who are critical… Terrorism was defined as criticism of the Russian authorities and Russian policies.”
  • Maria Pevchikh, a top associate of opposition leader Alexei Navalny who died in an Arctic penal colony last month, said the security agencies were “too busy fighting politicians, activists and journalists, so they didn’t have time left to deal with terrorists.”
  • “What happened is unique in that for the first time in Russia, during a terror attack of this scale, security forces were unable to prevent the terrorists’ action in any way: they freely entered the building, killed and wounded scores of people, and calmly left the scene of the massacre,” political analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev wrote in a commentary. “Years of tightening security and trillions of rubles were spent in vain.”

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Between the lines

  • Beyond the immediate political fallout, the attack has societal implications that resonate deeply within the Russian fabric. The influx of migrant workers from Central Asia, the growing dissent against the war in Ukraine, and the pervasive sense of insecurity among ordinary citizens are all coming to a head. The narrative of unity against external enemies, long propagated by the Kremlin, is increasingly being challenged by the stark realities of internal disarray and discontent.
  • The resurgence of Islamist terrorism poses a significant challenge for the Kremlin, as it contradicts the narrative propagated by Russian media. This narrative suggests that Russia, in partnership with developing nations and the Muslim world, is engaged in a vital battle against the influences of the American-led Western powers.
  • Moreover, the tragedy has reignited debates over Russia’s counterterrorism efforts and its preparedness to deal with such unforeseen threats. The notable delay in the security response to the Crocus attack has sparked outrage and skepticism, undermining public confidence in the very institutions meant to protect them.

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What next

  • The Kremlin faces the dual challenge of responding to the terrorist threat while managing the narrative around the attack. With officials in Kyiv fearing the incident will be used to justify further escalation in Ukraine, the situation remains tense.
  • Russian hawks also have pushed for tough steps like restoring capital punishment, which was outlawed when Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1997. After Friday’s attack, some lawmakers said they will consider introducing the death penalty, even though the country’s Constitutional Court has forbidden it.
  • “The issue will be thoroughly considered, and the resulting decision will answer society’s mood and expectations,” said Vladimir Vasilyev, a senior lawmaker with the main Kremlin party, United Russia.
  • The Russian public and the international community await clear answers and a coherent strategy to address the resurgence of terrorism and its implications for the war with Ukraine.

(With inputs from agencies)

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