Standort: / Meldung: "Russia and the #parisattacks"

Charles Maynes Moscow

Journalist in Moscow

20. 11. 2015 - 13:46

Russia and the #parisattacks

In Paris Attacks, Echoes of Russian Tragedies past

Ultimately it took the Paris attacks for the Kremlin to acknowledge what many in the West had long suspected: the downing of Metro Jet airliner 9268 over the Sinai Peninsula - which killed all 224 people on board - was an act of terror.


Mehr zum Terror in Paris

In a televised and highly theatrical meeting at the Kremlin, the head of Russia's security services, Alexander Bortnikov, informed Russian President Putin that his investigation had determined the plane was destroyed by “traces of foreign explosives“.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and staff attend a meeting on the results of investigation of Russian MetroJet Airbus A321 crash in Sinai, at the Kremlin in Moscow.


Kremlin meeting on the results of investigation of Russian MetroJet Airbus A321 crash in Sinai.

Appearing surprised by the finding, Putin promised justice and declared those responsible would be hunted down, wherever they might hide. “We will find them in any place on Earth and punish them,“ said the Russian leader.

But Putin's tough talk sounded awfully familiar to Russians who've lived through terror over the years.

Russian Apartment Bombings 1999

Boris Veshnevsky, a deputy with the liberal Yabloko party in St. Petersburg, where many of the Metro Jet victims were from, notes that Putin made similar expressions of vegeance back in 1999.

Then, a series of mysterious late night apartment bombings in Moscow and other cities killed and injured scores - terrorizing the country in their homes and in their dreams.

Putin, then a newly appointed prime minister under Russian President Boris Yeltsin, blamed Chechen guerilla fighters for the attacks. “We will chase terrorists everwhere,” said Putin at the time. “If we find them in the toilet, excuse me, we'll rub them out in the outhouse.” The bold talk launched Putin's political career - and the second Chechen War.

Veshenvsky argues that this time Putin's reluctance to label the Metro Jet crash an act of terror again has a measure of political expediency. “To admit it was terrorism right away would mean giving credence to those who said this was revenge for Russia's air campaign against ISIS in Syria,“ he says.

A campaign, many argue, the Kremlin launched for geopolitical reasons - such as propping up its ally, Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad - only to have Russian civilians pay the price. The attacks in Paris effectively internationalize that mistake, adds Veshnevsky.

Plane wreck, Sinai Crash


Nord Ost to Bataclan

Meanwhile, in the attacks in Paris and in particular the Bataclan music hall, there are echoes of another tragedy for many Russians: the theater siege of 2002.

On October 23rd of that year, Chechen fighters stormed a Moscow theater during a performance of the musical "Nord Ost", taking over 800 people hostage.

Tatiana Karpova lost her son Alexander in the ensuing rescue after Russian commandos pumped an aerosol gas into the theater - killing the Chechen attackers along with 130 spectators.

In an interview, Karpova says she has been struck by the outpouring of grief for the Paris victims in Moscow, with Russians lining up to bring flowers and candles to the French Embassy. “It is wonderful to see people coming together and sharing their grief,“ notes Karpova.

But Karpova also questions promises by President Putin to „never forget“ the victims of the Metro Jet airliner. In their moment of grief, Karpova says, the families of Nord Ost were all but abandoned: “We were on our own,” remembers Karpova. “Our government never takes responsibility for anything. Back then, when we asked for help, they told us: ‘What can we do? Go to talk to the families of the Chechen terrorists. We're not going to do anything.’ It was hurtful, believe me.“

A global anti-terror coalition?

These days the Kremlin has a different message: we are all in this together. President Putin has called for Russia and the West to overcome their differences on Ukraine and Syria by joining in a grand coalition to defeat so-called Islamic State. Already, Russia has intensified its attacks on ISIS targets in Syria - this time for real. Moreover, Putin has called on his forces to coordinate with French military operations in the region and treat them as „allies.“

But Russian cooperation in the face of tragedy, too, has a certain familiar refrain: After the 9/11 attacks in the US 2001, Putin was quick to offer condolences and argued Russia and the West should overcome their differences to combat the terror of Al Qaeda. It was an alliance many felt largely worked - until the threat seemed to go away.

Still, Boris Vishnevsky, the St. Petersburg lawmaker, says the Kremlin's new offers for an alliance with the West depend on whether it can ween itself off of anti-western rhetoric that has driven up Putin's popularity over the past two years.

“If you watch Russian TV, it is not clear who is the bigger enemy - America or Islamic State,“ says Veshnenvsky. He calls it a form of “political schizophrenia.“ And tell us, “It can't continue forever.”