“Putin is directly responsible for this.” Аleksandr Cherkasov and Maksim Reznik — on the potential consequences of the terrorist attack in Moscow

23 March 2024

by Andrei Presnyakov 

Source: Spektr.press

By the evening of 23 March, 133 victims of the terrorist attack on Crocus City Hall had been officially announced. There were 140 injured. President Putin, whom many had expected to make a statement in the hours immediately following the incident, said nothing for more than 20 hours and only addressed the nation at 1530 on the day after the attack. Before that, Putin had merely offered Health Minister Tatyana Golikova words of gratitude to doctors and wished all the injured a speedy recovery. 

In his address to Russian citizens, the president of the country clearly designated a “Ukrainian lead” in the tragedy that had occurred, but did not mention any specific steps he intended to take in the immediate future. Putin also declared 24 March a day of national mourning, which followed automatically upon the tragic circumstances that had come about. 

Even before Putin’s video-address was published, Spektr online magazine had interviewed ex-chair of the now-abolished Memorial society Aleksandr Cherkasov and opposition politician Maksim Reznik, who shared their thoughts on the head of state’s responsibility for the tragedy and the potential political consequences of the terrorist attack on Crocus City Hall.

Photo: Nikita Mouraviev

Aleksandr Cherkasov, ex-chair of the now-abolished Memorial society

– Are they right, the people who are saying that those behind the terrorist attack on Crocus City Hall acted in the interests of Vladimir Putin and his entourage? Or is this actually an exaggeration?

– I would word the claim that those behind the terrorist attack acted “in the interests of Vladimir Vladimirovich and his entourage” differently. Vladimir Vladimirovich and his immediate circle exploit any crisis situation with the aim of strengthening his power. At the end of the day, we are dealing with an organized crime grouping, set up and operating with the aim of seizing and retaining power and of carrying out war crimes and crimes against humanity. They do all of this very well, the rest not so much.

– Can this terrorist attack switch public attention in Europe and the USA to the fact that Russia is now a victim of terrorism?

– Switching attention in America to anything at the moment is pretty difficult since the election campaign there is in full swing and Americans are primarily interested in their own domestic issues. It’s very difficult to flick that switch. In the current situation, no one who has made clear their support of Ukraine and their understanding of the essence of the Russian regime is awaiting a signal that says, “Let’s all switch to something else.”  While those to whom Vladimir Putin and co. are dear need no additional signals.

– Still how is it that such monstrous events as the tragedy at Crocus City Hall can occur in a country with such developed and well-funded security services? 

– These are two very different processes and two completely different challenges: the fight against the opposition (when you have a file on someone whom you can identify from their photograph and arrest on the Metro) and the fight against terrorism which requires the arrest of someone you don’t know, who is preparing to carry out a terrorist attack and who must be found among tens and hundreds of thousands of people.

Completely different algorithms are needed here. Here what’s called the “security theatre” (that is sensors and the metal detectors people are so fed up of) won’t work.  A completely different rationale is needed and fundamentally different training. 

If the state is not built to protect its citizens from danger but, on the contrary, is built to protect itself from its citizens, then ultimately we have precisely this outcome. The system can be bypassed and no one is safe. This is the result of a quarter century of restructuring the state on the pretext of fighting terrorism. 

– Is it possible, in your opinion, to liken yesterday’s terrorist attack to the blowing up of residential buildings in Moscow 20 years ago? 

– Firstly, if we’re talking about the blowing up of residential buildings in Moscow (and Volgodonsk), then as far as I know the only thing it was possible to prove at the time was the involvement of some grouping from Karachay-Cherkessia. Whether [Chechen military leader Shamil] Basayev or the security services were pulling the group’s strings was never proven. It’s clear that it’s much simpler to think that the state is the source of all evils here. That’s the Manichean version where there’s a single source of evil. But the situation is more complex and there are far more such sources [of evil].

If we’re talking about the latest terrorist attack, I am not going to make judgements about details of any kind. I don’t have any extra information.  

– What, in this tragic situation, should we make of the warning issued by the US Embassy in Moscow on 7 March?

– Since it pointed to no specific details, only representatives of the US security services can relate the warning to this terrorist attack if, of course, they wish to do so. 

We are in the fog of war and a situation of total uncertainty. However, as William Baskerville, the hero of Umberto Eco’s novel, The Name of the Rose, says, “I prefer to commit many errors all at once so as not to be the prisoner of any.” We have still to live in a situation in which there are many potential versions. And without excessive need, no single one should be taken on trust just because it’s easier to live that way. 

Photo: Facebook

Maksim Reznik, a member of the Anti-War Committee of Russia, co-founder of the European Petersburg movement

– Last night you were one of the first to raise the question of Vladimir Putin’s possible responsibility for the horrific terrorist attack at Crocus City Hall. You wrote on your Telegram channel, ‘Ask yourself: is Putin capable of the mass murder of people in his own capital for his own ends? The answer is obvious.’ Today, after the news about the detention of suspects, have you changed your mind?

– When it comes to Putin and his gang, such a version must always be considered. This does not exclude, of course, the version related to ISIS, but it makes the crime of Mr. Putin and his associates only slightly less heinous. Mr. Putin has ruled the country for 24 years, Patrushev has been secretary of the Security Council for 16 years, Bortnikov has headed the FSB for 16 years, Kolokoltsev has been head of the Interior Ministry for 12 years, and Zolotov has headed the National Guard for eight years. It’s easy for all these people to deal with dissenters, effectively fight the opposition, put people in jail for reposts, for words, and so on. This is the most real dictatorship, which is maintained by bayonets directed against its own people, to suppress them, and not to protect them.

Putin is certainly directly responsible for everything that has happened. How can one explain the presence of so many law enforcement officers, ‘oprichniki’ and the ease with which a monstrous terrorist attack of this kind was carried out? Even though both the Americans through official channels other countries warned that such a thing was possible. Of course, it is now impossible to construct versions of what happened with any certainty, but Putin’s responsibility is obvious. He is responsible for the deaths of these people. I have no doubt about that.

– Do you think Putin will shift this responsibility to someone else in his inner circle? Will he have to sacrifice someone or are his own people always forgiven for everything?

– The option of sacrificing someone is obvious, but look at his reaction: so far Putin has been sending his condolences through deputy prime minister Golikova. It’s a disgrace. I don’t even know how to comment on this: more than a hundred people have died, more than a hundred people are injured, people are dying from their injuries, and the president of the country can’t find the words to address people at this moment and passes on something through one of his subordinates. It’s absolutely disgusting.

The fact that he can fire someone won’t change the situation. Of course, Putin can swap one of his classmates for another. We see he has no shame no matter what he does: he is putting his classmate, who is a complete unknown, at the head of the Supreme Court. The degree of degradation of the regime is already obvious in this. And, in fact, the regime needs to be changed, and fundamentally. The main thing is to remove Putin from power because this man is completely inadequate. Absolutely. He lives in an illusory world. Putin, in my opinion, is the only person in the country who believes the 87% (the official result of the March 15-17 presidential election – ed.), and, of course, no matter who he gets rid of, the ‘sum of the parts’ will hardly change.

I think that no matter how events develop in the coming days, no matter how the propaganda machines works, no matter what it tries to foist on the people, it is clear to everyone who has anything in their head (and not in the form of the letter Z) that Putin bears direct responsibility for this. I think that this event will certainly be a blow for Putin, because this is the way he built the system: he promised Russians security and greatness, when ‘everyone will respect and fear us’, but instead people are being shot dead right in the capital with complete impunity, with the full connivance of the security forces.

I don’t see any way for Putin to turn the terrorist attacks in his favour. Yes, the Russian authorities are cynical enough to try to use the loss of life to strengthen their regime. But I don’t think it will work.

On the other hand, what’s the point in guessing? We shall see everything very soon. Already the creation of new armies and divisions has been announced, already, as people are saying, call-up papers are being handed out in the subway system and electronically.

I hope that this tragedy will make some more people think and realize what is happening in the country and who is responsible for the deaths of Russians on a daily basis.

– Many Western officials have expressed condolences to Russia with regard to the victims of the terrorist attack. In your opinion, could something seriously change in the attitude towards the Kremlin in the West because of this tragedy? 

– No, I don’t think that will happen. In the West, after 17 March and the murder of Aleksei Navalny, the tendency to distinguish the Russian people from the Russian government and Putin’s dictatorship is particularly clear. Condolences have been addressed to the Russian people.

What is happening once again confirms the idea that the pacification of any maniac is possible only by means of their elimination. There are no other ways. 

Putin himself is the main criminal who today is destroying a neighbouring state with terrorist attacks. Condolences to Russians from Western countries are very right and to the point. This is right from the point of view of humanity, but in no way should Putin be the object of such condolences, for he carries either criminal or political responsibility for the terrorist attack.

What we have before us is the result of criminal negligence on the part of the head of state and the security services entrusted to him, which, as I have already said, have been run for decades by the same people. This shows that they are at the least accomplices in this crime in one way or another. They are complicit in what happened at Crocus City Hall. And Russians are the victims.

Translated by Melanie Moore and Simon Cosgrove