Russian state-controlled television has posted videos in which the four main suspects of the March 22 Crocus City Hall terrorist attack claim that they were heading to Ukraine for purportedly promised ‘remuneration’ and safe passage. 

Such ‘confessions’ are in keeping with the attempts made by Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Moscow in general to blame Ukraine, but clash with the fact that a faction of ISIS has twice claimed responsibility and produced corroborating evidence.  The ISIS admission, furthermore, closely coincided with the direct warnings that the US issued to Moscow but which the latter chose to ignore. 

The above and other implausible aspects of the claims do not mean that they can simply be dismissed, and not only because of the torture very clearly (and demonstratively) being used against the four suspects.  Russia’s state propaganda channels are also very strongly pushing a narrative about Ukraine being ‘a terrorist state,’ using fake or carefully edited video footage, interviews, etc.  

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It is quite possible that the apparent ‘drone attacks’ on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, currently under Russian occupation, are aimed at pushing the same narrative on the international scene.  While there is no way of independently probing who launched the drones, Ukraine has considerably more to lose from any nuclear accident.  This is primarily because such an accident would in the first instance endanger Ukrainian citizens and vast parts of Ukrainian territory, but also because such actions would seriously compromise its position internationally.  It would be a gift, for example, to those far-right Republicans in the US who are currently blocking desperately needed military aid to Ukraine.

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As reported, Russian propaganda television began flogging obvious fakes and unsubstantiated claims about Ukrainian involvement as soon as they, very belatedly, began coverage of the attack.  Putin took 19 hours to first make an address about the attack which killed at least 145 people, and blamed Ukraine. Two days later, although forced to admit that Islamic militants carried it out, he still pushed the claim of a “Ukrainian link.”

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With ‘the leader’ so stubbornly determined to accuse Ukraine, Russia’s Investigative Committee had its task set out.  Some incriminating details have been quietly discarded such as Belarus’ boast on March 23 that they had helped Russia seize the suspects as they tried to cross into Belarus.

By March 29, the Investigative Committee [IC] was claiming to have proof that the men had been planning to cross the Russian-Ukrainian border in order to be paid by Ukraine  On 1 April, IC went even further, reporting that they were probing the involvement not only of Ukraine, but “of the USA and other Western countries in the organization of terrorist attacks in Russia.” 

The insanity of all of this cannot be overstated.  The US had warned Moscow of a planned attack, and had, together with the embassies of several other western countries, also advised their nationals to avoid public events.  Putin had publicly rubbished the warnings, and the claims now that the US warning was too vague would still beg the question of why no measures at all appear to have been taken.  This is especially shocking if Washington Post’s sources are correct and the US specifically warned of an attack on Crocus City Hall, but even if the warning only mentioned large venues, this was an obvious target.  Yet it took the FSB and other enforcement bodies an hour at least to even appear at the scene.  No extra security had been provided, and evacuation exits, according to survivors, were locked.

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Putin’s ‘Ukrainian link’ needs to be ‘found’, however implausible, and however obviously the ‘testimony’ has been obtained through torture.  Russia has been using these methods against Ukrainians since 2014 but does not normally broadcast to the world that it has beaten, maimed and half-killed suspects.  The four men from Tajikistan suspected of carrying out the attack were all shown in court in a horrific state, with one man having had part of his ear cut off and another needing to be brought to court on a stretcher.

On April 5, IC claimed to have uncovered data from the suspects’ mobile phones that they had purportedly “tried to destroy”  Crocus had supposedly been chosen by the ‘handler’ with one of the suspects having been asked to send this alleged handler “screenshots of images of the entrances to the Crocus City Hall and approaches to it.” The use of the term screenshot would seem to suggest that the man was not supposed to photograph the building, but merely find the details on the Internet, which rather begs the question why the ‘handler’ did not do it himself.  In fact, the reason for all of this is doubtless the date, with the handler’s request supposedly sent on Feb. 24, 2024, i.e. the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

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The same report mentions that one of the telephones had photos of men in camouflage gear with a Ukrainian flag in front of destroyed buildings and a Ukrainian postal stamp “with a foul gesture.”  The latter probably refers to the stamp commemorating the courageous Ukrainian defenders on Zmiyniy Island who told the Russian invaders (in a rather more vulgar manner) to go to hell.  Even by the Russian IC’s standards, this all seems pitifully weak and scarcely ‘evidence’ of a ‘Ukrainian link’   At present, in fact, the only ‘evidence’ of the claimed “complex of investigative and operational measures aimed at proving the involvement in the organization and financing of the terrorist attack by Ukrainian security service and international Islamist terrorist organization” comes from the videoed ‘confessions’.  These were made by men who have obviously been tortured and know that they will be again unless they provide the ‘testimony’ demanded.  By now, 14 men have been arrested, with it by no means clear what, if any, real link to the actual crime the men had.

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Russia has imprisoned a huge number of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners on charges backed only by ‘confessions’ which were retracted in court as given under torture.  On one memorable occasion, IC was forced to withdraw ‘war crimes’ charges after it was proven that neither the alleged ‘victims’ nor their addresses had ever existed.  They came up with different, no less absurd, charges and Serhiy Lytvynov was still sentenced to eight and a half years.  In another case, two Ukrainians (Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klych) were held incommunicado for up to 18 months.  The ‘confessions’ given during that period, and retracted in court, were to ‘crimes’ supposedly committed by Ukraine’s then Prime Minister.  In their case, and a huge number of others, no amount of proof that the charges are fiction and any material evidence fabricated has stopped Russian or Russian occupation ‘courts’ from handing down horrific sentences. 

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This story, by journalist Halya Coynash, was reprinted from the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) website. See the original here.

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