NewsDisinformation and blame: Unpacking the deadly attack near Moscow

Disinformation and blame: Unpacking the deadly attack near Moscow

Attack in Russia PAP/EPA.
Attack in Russia PAP/EPA.
5:33 PM EDT, March 23, 2024

"We are faced with a unique informational chaos. The Kremlin disseminates conflicting information, making it all seem plausible," observes Michał Marek, a disinformation researcher, in an interview with WP. "Even if ISIS were responsible for the attacks, it still plays into Putin's hands," adds Nikolai Ivanov, a former Soviet dissident.

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Russian media and government officials often provide information that serves as propaganda, a component of the information warfare waged by the Russian Federation.

Armed assailants targeted the Crocus City Hall concert venue in Krasnogorsk, near Moscow, on Friday. They opened fire on individuals and there were also reports of explosions. A fire ensued, leading to the collapse of the building's upper floor.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack without providing evidence. Ukraine has declared its non-involvement, whereas the Russian Federal Security Service and Putin, in a propagandistic speech, have accused Kyiv. According to Russian claims, the assailants planned to escape to Ukraine, where they had "contacts".

The FSB announced that the attackers intended to cross into Ukraine, with four suspects detained near the border.

Russia is intent on blaming Ukraine. A video that was circulated on social media, described as part of an NTV broadcast, employed deepfake technology to make it seem as though Security Council Secretary Danilov confirmed Kyiv's involvement in the terrorist act near Moscow.

The attack in Russia: Kremlin disinformation

"From the very start, with the emergence of information about the attack, it was evident that the Russians would point fingers at Ukraine or the West. This tactic isn't new," notes Michał Marek, a disinformation researcher at Jagiellonian University.

He recollects initial reports about a van with Ukrainian plates, labeling it a simplistic narrative. Yet, as more information surfaced, including claims about the US being aware of ISIS's plans, it hinted at deeper implications," shares the WP interviewee.

"We're witnessing an unprecedented level of informational chaos, but this isn't novel. The Kremlin releases a myriad of conflicting reports, making the public regard all as plausible. Their objective is also to propagate anti-Ukrainian and anti-American conspiracy theories globally," Marek explains.

He advises vigilance against the tide of disinformation, as Putin aims to erode trust in the media and government.

Nikolai Ivanov, a former Soviet dissident of Belarusian descent and a professor at the University of Opole, sheds light on the information provided by the Americans.

On March 7, the American embassy in Moscow issued a warning to US citizens in Russia, advising them to steer clear of large gatherings, including concerts, over the next 48 hours. The advisory was based on information about a planned "extremist" attack, which the US shared with Russia as part of their "duty to warn" policy.

Nonetheless, Vladimir Putin criticized these warnings, calling them provocations aimed at destabilizing society and likening them to "blackmail".

Did Putin intentionally avoid action?

"If the theory that ISIS conducted the attacks holds, then Putin, forewarned by the USA, deliberately chose not to intervene. This situation plays into Putin's hands," Ivanov argues. "The ensuing propaganda flurry will further unify the nation around the dictator, implicitly benefiting the war's continuation. Perhaps, Putin did not anticipate the high number of casualties," he opines.

"Regardless of ISIS's involvement, Putin will cast blame on Ukraine, asserting that Ukraine could have contracted and financed Islamic terrorists. Regardless of the truth, Ukraine will be held accountable by Russia," the expert preempts the Kremlin's narrative.

He emphasizes that Putin will exploit this tragedy to rally more support and escalate military efforts. This will serve as a pretext for further conscription. "The truth about the orchestrators behind the assaults may only come to light long after Putin's demise," concludes Nikolai Ivanov.

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