Crocus City Hall in flames
© The International AffairsCrocus City Hall in flames.
The State Department scrambled within two hours of the horrific attack on the mall in Moscow's Crocus City Hall on March 22 with a statement declaring that Ukraine was not responsible for the attack. The US's European allies also began parroting the same line. As can be expected, the Americans got a head start in the propaganda war and that in turn enabled them to craft a narrative โ€” also in real time โ€” naming the Islamic State as the culprit in the horrific crime.

Yet, the very next day, President Vladimir Putin went on to reveal in his address to the nation that what happened was "a premeditated and organised mass murder of peaceful, defenceless people," harking back to the Nazis "to stage a demonstrative execution, a bloody act of intimidation," writes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.

Importantly, Putin disclosed that the perpetrators "attempted to escape and were heading towards Ukraine, where, according to preliminary information, a window was prepared for them on the Ukrainian side to cross the state border." But he stopped short of finger-pointing as the investigation was a work in progress.

That is to say, from Putin's disclosure, it appears that the perpetrators' mentors / handlers gave them instructions to exit Russian territory after their mission by using a particular route for border crossing into Ukraine where they were expected by people on the Ukrainian side of the border. What now remains in the realm of the 'known unknown' is really about the chain of command. This is the first thing.

Second, a storyline has been propagated by Washington that this was an ISIS attack. Indeed, it has been effectively propagated by the western media and was intended as a red herring to confuse dumb-witted folks abroad.

However, in reality, the perpetrators did not behave like ISIS killers on suicide missions who would have sought martyrdom but in this case behaved like fugitives on the run. Nor were they answering the call of 'jihad'. They were reportedly ethnic Tajiks who admitted that they were hirelings lured by the money in it.

Significantly, on March 26, Alexander Bortnikov, Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) said in an interview with Rossiya TV channel that from the interrogation of the detainees so far, there is a political background to the incident. He said radical Islamists alone could not prepare such an action on their own, they were assisted from the outside.

Bortnikov stated: "The primary data that we received from the detainees confirm this. Therefore, we will continue to refine the information that should show us whether the participation of the Ukrainian side is real or not. But in any case, so far there is every reason to say that this is exactly the case. Since the bandits themselves intended to go abroad, it was to the territory of Ukraine, according to our preliminary operational information, they were waiting there."

Bortnikov added that the terrorist attack had the support of not only the special services of Ukraine, but countries such as Britain and the United States are also behind the massacre. According to him, the prime mover of the incident has not yet been identified, and the threat of a terrorist act in Russia still persists.

Bortnikov's remarks hint at a classic predicament: Russia possesses evidence of Ukrainian involvement but no 'proof' remains inadequate as yet. This is a predicament that countries often face in countering the cross-border terrorism, especially when it happens to be state-sponsored terrorism. Of course, no amount of evidence will be accepted as proof by the adversary ultimately โ€” while in Ukraine's case, often there is an eagerness to claim credit for bleeding Russia by staging operations on its soil, such as assassinations.

As for the US or the UK, Russians assess that without intelligence inputs, satellite imagery, and even logistical backing by the western powers, Ukraine does not have the capability to undertake operations deep inside Russia or the sort of complex attacks targeting Russian war ships of the Black Sea Fleet. But the western powers are invariably in a denial mode when confronted with such accusations by Russia.

There is no question that the Crocus City Hall attack will have profound geopolitical consequences and will impact the trajectory of the Ukraine war. The incident has rallied world sympathy massively for Russia. It is a huge challenge of statecraft now for Putin to act decisively, as the Russian public will expect, to completely uproot the dark forces entrenched next-door.

Conceivably, that may involve Moscow shaking up the very foundations of the house that Washington built in Kiev after the 2024 coup. The New York Times recently disclosed that the CIA keeps a string of intelligence outposts all along the Ukraine-Russia border regions.

Make no mistake, the US is determined to hold on to the extensive infrastructure it created in Ukraine to mount covert operations and destabilise Russia, no matter what it takes. The bottom line in the western strategy is to weaken Russia and prevent it from playing an adversarial role on the global stage.