Russia knew of terrorist attack plot weeks ago, Ukraine’s military spy chief says

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Law enforcement officers stand guard near the Crocus City Hall concert venue following a reported shooting incident, near Moscow, Russia.

Maksim Blinov / Sputnik via AP

Russia was aware that a terrorist attack was being planned weeks before the massacre at the Crocus City Hall in Moscow last Friday, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief has claimed.

“At least since February 15, 2024, the Russian Federation had been aware about the plot,” Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, told a forum Wednesday.

“I will tell you more, this information passed through their intelligence station in Syria. From there it was forwarded to Moscow. So they shouldn’t be telling tales that this all materialized in a strange way out of nowhere,” Budanov said Wednesday at the Kyiv Stratcom Forum, news agency Ukrinform reported.

Chief of the Military Intelligence of Ukraine, Kyrylo Budanov, attends the Kyiv Stratcom Forum 2024 in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 27, 2024.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

The Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed it was behind the Moscow attack last Friday in which 143 died. Russian authorities have arrested several people, including four suspected gunmen, who have been charged with terrorism offenses and are awaiting trial.

IS’ claim has not stopped high-ranking Russian officials and pro-Kremlin media from pointing the finger at Ukraine and its Western allies, saying they were behind the attack. Russia has not produced evidence to back up its claims which Ukraine, the U.S. and U.K. reject as “utter nonsense” and “categorically false.”

The White House emphasized that it had warned Russia weeks ago that it believed “extremists” planned to carry out an attack, warning its own citizens in Russia against attending large gatherings as the threat was “imminent.” Russia had, at the time of the warning, dismissed the threat, with Putin saying such pronouncements were “provocative” and designed to intimidate Russia.

Kyrylo Budanov, chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine, speaks during the farewell ceremony for Dmytro Kotsiubailo on Independence Square on March 10, 2023, in Kyiv, Ukraine.

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Budanov claimed Russia knew where the combat groups would come from, and which countries the attackers would travel through to reach Russia. Discussing why Russia would allow an attack to take place, Budanov said it could be a precursor to the removal of “several high-ranking officials” or that “another option is that they actually underestimated the scale of what would happen.”

“They thought that the incident would be more local, and wanted to blame Ukraine for everything,” the intelligence official said.

Ukraine’s military intelligence chief did not present evidence to support his claims.

Russia blames Ukraine

It was not long after the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack — in which gunmen entered the concert venue and started shooting at concertgoers and starting fires in the building — that Russia claimed that there was a “Ukrainian trace” to the attack, despite IS claiming responsibility for the massacre.

Russian President Vladimir Putin conceded on Monday that “radical Islamists” had carried out the attack but insisted that Ukraine and its Western backers were linked to it, without presenting evidence. He said the plotters aimed to destabilize Russia and sow panic in Russian society.

Then the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov, claimed Tuesday that the U.S., U.K. and Ukraine were behind the attack, saying Russia had “factual information” to suggest this was the case, although he didn’t produce any specific evidence.

The damaged Crocus City Hall concert venue near Moscow, Russia, following an attack by gunmen.

Russian Ministry of Emergencies | Anadolu | Anadolu | Getty Images

On the same day, close Putin ally Nikolai Patrushev — the secretary of Russia’s Security Council and in charge of issuing guidance and proposals on national security issues — was also asked by Russian reporters whether Ukraine or the Islamic State group was behind the attack. “Of course Ukraine,” Patrushev answered, news agency RIA Novosti reported.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed the U.S.′ initial rejection of any Ukrainian involvement was suspicious.

With ultranationalist Russian hawks and the pro-Kremlin media issuing plenty of comment into the Russian news space, the Kremlin has remained aloof. Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the alleged Ukraine link, or to state how Russia would respond if it confirmed Ukraine’s involvement.

Peskov told CNBC on Wednesday that the Kremlin is awaiting the results of an investigation before it comments, stating in an email: “An investigation is underway. The final version has not yet been announced.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his spokesperson Dmitry Peskov at the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting at the Congress Hall in Bishkek on Dec. 9, 2022.

Vyacheslav Oseledko | Afp | Getty Images

Budanov said the Kremlin had changed its version of what happened at the Crocus City Hall several times because it was eager to create a so-called “Ukrainian trace” in the attack.

“Patrushev and Bortnikov’s explanations emerged as both accused me personally, and Ukraine in general, of doing this all. This is nonsense. By the way, if we touched on this painful issue, even though it is an enemy, I do not approve of terrorist attacks against civilians in principle,” Budanov said.

Russia had accused Ukraine of trying to sow chaos but had in fact sown it itself, Budanov said, believing it could control it.

“[There is an expression that] circulates in intelligence circles: everyone tries to create controlled chaos. Absolutely all more or less serious organizations have tried to do this at different times. And the axiom is that none of them could make it controlled. The same thing happened here,” he said.

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