ISIS: Putin Ain’t So “Bad” | Steve Berman

Russian wannabe-tsar Vladimir Putin continues to insist that the massacre at Crocus City Hall which killed at least 137 (up to 143 depending on the news source) concert-goers is linked to Ukraine. He has instructed Russian and Russia-funded media to play up possible “traces” of “Ukrainian involvement” in the shootings.

Four men have been arrested in connection with the mass killing, all of them are from Tajikistan, Novaya Gazeta Europe reported. The men have made their first appearance in a Russian court, with two of them entering guilty pleas.

The court named the men as Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, Saidakrami Murodali Rachabalizoda, Muhammadsobir Fayzov and Shamsidin Fariduni. All four are citizens of Tajikistan.

Further, by Friday evening, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, countering Putin’s claims it was related to Ukraine. On Saturday, ISIS provided video of the massacre, which seemingly could not have been posted unless ISIS obtained video directly from one of the gunmen.

U.S. intelligence officials, according to the New York Times, informed their Russian counterparts in early March that some kind of attack was brewing.

The United States collected intelligence in March that Islamic State-Khorasan, known as ISIS-K, the branch of the group based in Afghanistan, had been planning an attack on Moscow, according to officials. ISIS members have been active in Russia, one U.S. official said.

Since 2015 and before, ISIS has been active in Tajikistan. One of their senior commanders was previously a member of Tajik special forces and police, was trained inside the United States in counterterrorism techniques. He defected to ISIS, and had been issuing threats to Russia ever since.

I predict that Putin might use this link to try to rope the U.S. into the ISIS conspiracy, which has been given little press in Russia–that ISIS-K is an American creation–but is held by many Russians.

The Ukraine “traces” arguments will inevitably fall flat, regardless of the forced confessions or fake news in the Russian press. That won’t stop Putin from ordering retaliatory strikes against civilian targets in Ukraine, as if the links were there, even though they’re not. And in response to those attacks, Europe will move ever closer to a larger war.

On Sunday, Poland detected a Russian cruise missile inside its airspace, and has demanded an explanation from Russia. These incursions, which have happened from time to time during the Ukraine war as Russia launches wave after wave of missile and drone attacks, are dangerous since Poland is a NATO country. Even inadvertent escalation of the war into NATO-protected territory can potentially draw all of NATO, which now includes Finland and Sweden, in addition to (of course) the United States, Great Britain, and Germany.

America’s response to ISIS has been to do whatever is necessary to destroy the group where it is found to operate, when those places are within the U.S. military’s area of operations. U.S. forces leveled Mosul to destroy ISIS there; it has become the model for how to deal with “dense urban environment” controlled by a terrorist organization. Israel is using the same strategy dealing with Hamas in Gaza.

Russia is not afraid to level cities. But its army is occupied trying to hold and expand its territory in Ukraine, at least until Ukraine exhausts its supply of military-age men fit to fight (that could be a few more years), or until western powers stop funneling military aid to Ukraine. Russia has little military capacity to begin leveling cities in Tajikistan, which sits between Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tibet and India.

From a political angle, I suppose we could say if in 2021 the U.S. had not so disastrously left Afghanistan and allowed the Taliban to take complete control, maybe ISIS would not have found so easy a path to Moscow. I think that argument is as tenuous as the ISIS conspiracy theories in Russia, or the “traces” of Ukrainian involvement. However, watch: someone here will make that claim, because when fake news gets loose, its hard to put back in its cage.

The biggest takeaway here is that Putin failed to stop ISIS from striking at a city near Moscow, obtaining automatic weapons, and slaughtering 137 or more Russian citizens. This happened right after Putin “won” his election to be president of Russia for (as many years as he lives) another six years. It shows that Putin isn’t as “bad” (in the sense of being tough) as he wants everyone to believe.

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.

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