Deadly Moscow Attack Shatters Putin’s Security Promise to Russian People

The fact that Mr. Putin apparently ignored a warning from the United States about a potential terrorist attack is likely to deepen the skepticism. Instead of acting on the warnings and tightening security, he dismissed them as “provocative statements.”

“All this resembles outright blackmail and an intention to intimidate and destabilize our society,” Mr. Putin said on Tuesday in a speech to the F.S.B., Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, referring to the Western warnings. After the attack on Friday, some of his exiled critics have cited his response as evidence of the president’s detachment from Russia’s true security concerns.

Rather than keeping society safe from actual, violent terrorists, those critics say, Mr. Putin has directed his sprawling security services to pursue dissidents, journalists and anyone deemed a threat to the Kremlin’s definition of “traditional values.”

A case in point: Just hours before the attack, state media reported that the Russian authorities had added “the L.G.B.T. movement” to an official list of “terrorists and extremists”; Russia had already outlawed the gay rights movement last year. Terrorism was also among the many charges prosecutors leveled against Aleksei A. Navalny, the imprisoned opposition leader who died last month.

“In a country in which counterterrorism special forces chase after online commenters,” Ruslan Leviev, an exiled Russian military analyst, wrote in a social media post on Saturday, “terrorists will always feel free.”

Even as the Islamic State repeatedly claimed responsibility for the attack and Ukraine denied any involvement, the Kremlin’s messengers pushed into overdrive to try to persuade the Russian public that this was merely a ruse.

Olga Skabeyeva, a state television host, wrote on Telegram that Ukrainian military intelligence had found assailants “who would look like ISIS. But this is no ISIS.” Margarita Simonyan, the editor of the state-run RT television network, wrote that reports of Islamic State responsibility amounted to a “basic sleight of hand” by the American news media.

On a prime-time television talk show on the state-run Channel 1, Russia’s best-known ultraconservative ideologue, Aleksandr Dugin, declared that Ukraine’s leadership and “their puppet masters in the Western intelligence services” had surely organized the attack.

It was an effort to “undermine trust in the president,” Mr. Dugin said, and it showed regular Russians that they had no choice but to unite behind Mr. Putin’s war against Ukraine.

Mr. Dugin’s daughter was killed in a car bombing near Moscow in 2022 that U.S. officials said was indeed authorized by parts of the Ukrainian government, but without American involvement.

U.S. officials have said there is no evidence of Ukrainian involvement in the concert hall attack, and Ukrainian officials ridiculed the Russian accusations. Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, said Mr. Putin’s claim that the attackers had fled toward Ukraine and intended to cross into it, with the help of the Ukrainian authorities, made no sense.

In recent months, Mr. Putin has appeared more confident than at any other point since he launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Russian forces have retaken the initiative on the front line, while Ukraine is struggling amid flagging Western support and a shortage of troops.

Inside Russia, the election — and its predetermined outcome — underscored Mr. Putin’s dominance over the nation’s politics.

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