Digest of Russian media
The Kremlin Seeks to Downplay Threat of Islamic Terrorism in Russia
July 5, 2024
Three months after the horrific IS-claimed terrorist attack at Crocus City Hall, a concert venue on the outskirts of Moscow, several inmates convicted of terrorism and IS connections took two prison guards hostage at a detention center in Rostov-on-Don. Just a week later, another terrorist attack occurred in Russia.

Several gunmen opened fire in two cities in Dagestan on June 23. They targeted an Orthodox church during a Trinity Sunday service, as well as a synagogue and a police post, taking the lives of over 20 people.

The newspaper Izvestia reports that one of the victims, Orthodox Priest Nikolai Kotelnikov, was the initial target of the terrorists, according to a source close to the investigation of the attack.

In the predominantly Muslim republic in the Northern Caucasus, the terrorists scribbled “2:120” and “8:39” on the wall of the synagogue, a reference to verses from the Koran that say: “never will the Jews or Christians be pleased with you until you follow their faith,” and “Fight against them until there is no more persecution, and your devotion will be entirely to Allah,” respectively.

The day after the attack, Dmitri Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, said that the authorities are not concerned about a return to the situation of the 2000s, when terrorism was one of Russia’s most serious problems.

“No. Now Russia is different, society is completely consolidated, and such criminal, terrorist acts, like the one we saw in Dagestan yesterday, are not supported by society either in Russia itself or in Dagestan,” Peskov said at the press conference the day after.

Back in March, when IS claimed responsibility for the Crocus City Hall attack, where 144 people were killed, Putin stated that “Russia cannot be a target of terrorist attacks by Islamic fundamentalists,” adding the aim of the perpetrators was to dent Russia’s unity.

“We have a country that demonstrates a unique example of interfaith harmony and unity, interreligious and interethnic unity. On the international stage, it conducts itself in such a way that it is unlikely to be a target of attacks by Islamic fundamentalists,” Putin said at the trade union congress in April.

Instead, Russian officials blamed Ukraine for the Crocus attack. A month after, Russian Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov stated that “the Ukrainian trace is obvious,” while FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov added that the attack was organized by Western intelligence agencies and Ukraine to destabilize Russia and create panic among its people.

The Kremlin did not claim a “Ukrainian trace” in the Dagestan attack, yet it is not publicly confirming the IS version, according to the Russian news outlet Verstka, whose journalists spoke with several anonymous sources close to the authorities. Putin has not commented on the attack, and according to Verstka’s sources, there is a deliberate approach to avoid highlighting the issue of terrorism too much.

On the day of the terrorist attack, Channel One, Russia’s main state TV channel, did not report on the tragedy in Dagestan until halfway through its evening news broadcast – a whole hour and a half after it started – despite the news of the shootings breaking three hours earlier. The coverage lasted slightly more than two minutes.

In contrast, that day Russian independent news station TV Rain (Dozhd) started its evening news with Dagestan, adding more details in the middle and at the end of their broadcast, devoting more than 25 minutes to the story.

The top news on state television channels that day was a missile strike by Ukrainian forces near the city of Sevastopol in annexed Crimea. Debris from one of the missiles fell on a beach, causing the deaths of four people. Channel One called this a “terrorist act.” Meanwhile, the anchors referred to the events in Dagestan as an “armed attack,” while still using the term “terrorists” to describe the perpetrators.

Whereas the Kremlin was reserved in attributing responsibility for the Dagestan attack, Abdulhakim Gadzhiev, a Duma deputy from Dagestan, wrote on Telegram that responsibility lay squarely with Ukraine and NATO. He claimed that they attempted to destabilize the situation in the country amid the “successes” of Russian forces on the battlefield.

Meanwhile, Dmitry Rogozin, the former head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and now a senator from occupied Zaporizhzhia Region, urged against linking the terrorist attack in Dagestan with Ukrainian intelligence.

“I believe that if we attribute every act of terrorism stemming from national and religious intolerance, hatred and Russophobia to the machinations of Ukraine and NATO, this rose-colored fog will lead to significant problems,” wrote Rogozin on his Telegram channel.

Another incident with religious and nationalist motives took place in Dagestan last October in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel, when a crowd stormed the Makhachkala airport. People broke onto the runway in search of Israeli refugees who, according to local Telegram channels, were supposedly coming to Dagestan from Tel Aviv. Over 20 people were injured.

Despite frequent Russian claims about the effectiveness of their counterterrorism efforts, Alexander Cherkasov, chair of the human rights organization Memorial, told Kavkaz.Realii that such rhetoric is merely “distorting and swapping of concepts.”

In the interview, he mentioned that Putin came to power during the Second Chechen War, which the authorities officially labeled a counterterrorism operation. Cherkasov pointed out that even now the authorities use the pretext of fighting terrorism to “crack down on oppositional politicians and movements.” As an example he cited the branding of Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) as an “extremist organization.”

“The fight against terrorism and extremism was not the primary goal but rather a method to achieve other objectives… a tool for seizing and maintaining power,” Cherkasov said.

It is not surprising, Cherkasov concluded, that the government is unable to protect its citizens against terrorist attacks.

He also linked the increase in the number of terrorist attacks to the fact that the state is currently preoccupied with the war in Ukraine.

“If those who are supposed to fight terrorists are trying to ‘restore order’ in, say, Kherson Region, there is obviously no one else to do their job,” said Cherkasov. “Russia is at war; Russia has turned away from its internal problems. And it is clear that these problems are only growing.”
  • Sofia Sorochinskaia

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