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David Satter: There Was No Chance That Nondescript Putin Would Become President

David Satter: There Was No Chance That Nondescript Putin Would Become President

Is there a connection between the terrorist attack in Crocus and the explosions in the Russian Federation in 1999?

Two weeks have passed since the terrorist attack in Crocus City Hall near Moscow, but the question does not subside: who is really behind the attack.

The Charter97.org website talked about this with the famous American journalist David Satter, who specializes in the topics of the USSR and Russia.

– I still assume that it was ISIS. Our [American] intelligence services had information about the impending attack, even pointing to the Crocus City Hall as one of the possible targets of this attack. I have no doubt it was ISIS. Incidentally, ISIS-Khorasan had previously attacked the Russian embassy in Kabul. Most importantly, when the Russian special services still prevented the March 7 attack on a synagogue in the Kaluga Region, they said that it was prepared by ISIS, and that they acted on the basis of information received from America.

So here, I think, there are no big doubts. Plus the fact that ISIS advertises it. They usually do not pretend to be other people's terrorist acts. Now the terrorists said and repeated that it was they who did it, they threatened to repeat it.

Therefore, I think that all these accusations from Russia, that it was organized by Western countries or Ukraine, is just a propaganda trick.

The argument that the Russian authorities themselves organized the terrorist attack in order to have a pretext for mobilization seems unlikely to me. Naturally, I know better than many others that the Russian authorities are capable of such things. I am absolutely convinced that they organized explosions in 1999, as a result of which Putin became president. But in this case, it seems to me that it was not organized by the Putin regime.

First of all, there is no need to do it. They can carry out mobilization without it. They just don't really need to mess up the atmosphere either. Plus, such events, terrorist acts on such a scale inside Russia, actually undermine their main goal, the war in Ukraine, because they can create the impression that Russia itself is under threat, it makes no sense to attack others.

– Does it mean that you do not accept the arguments that it is possible to draw parallels between the explosions of houses in 1999 and this attack – the proximity to the elections, the mobilization of society – these arguments?

– This terrorist act was after the elections, and in 1999 they were preparing for the elections. There was a definite goal in 1999: to create panic, to justify the second war in Chechnya, to reborn Putin as the supreme commander who protects the innocently killed Russian people. It was very carefully orchestrated. Here — nothing of the kind, some specific goal — is not clear. All they can learn from this, they have learned after the fact, blaming Ukraine.

But there is, of course, one exception: I admit that they knew that a terrorist act was being prepared, did not try very hard to prevent it, and saw some benefit for themselves. Maybe they were counting on the fact that if this happened, it would be possible to blame Ukraine. Although, such a calculation (if it was) is not very far-sighted, because it creates a feeling in Russia that it is necessary to end the war, because there is a threat here that comes from other actors. I can't rule it out completely, but I don't see it being part of some kind of grand conspiracy that we saw in 1999.

– You are one of the world's leading experts on the topic of residence buildings explosions in 1999. In your opinion, there is no motive and direct reasons for the organization of the terrorist attack by the authorities in the Crocus City Hall, as well as no clear signs that the terrorist attack was organized by the authorities?

– There are no signs that it was organized by the Russian authorities. In 1999, they arrested the FSB officers who planted a bomb in the basement of a building in Ryazan — there was a lot of evidence. I think that if we could have an international tribunal, we would have indisputably proved that in 1999 there was a provocation that was arranged to seat Putin as president.

In this situation (the terrorist attack at the Crocus City Hall), we do not have such evidence – we simply have suspicions, because we know the character of the Russian leaders. We know their tendency to provoke. At the same time, there is a lot of evidence that it was organized by ISIS, including their announcement that they were responsible for it.

– At the same time, there are, let's say, minor inconsistencies with the version that Putin's special services are not involved in this. Many prominent opposition figures from Russia and commentators in Ukraine note that Crocus City Hall is a very guarded place, that there are administrative buildings nearby, and that the police did not react for a long time. According to such indirect signs, there is a suspicion that the special services did not react properly in the way they could have reacted.

– The Crocus City Hall is located outside Moscow, in another administrative region, where the security regime is weaker and access to this facility is easier. You can easily get there without Moscow supervision. This object was selected intentionally. Naturally, there may be new facts and new evidence indicating that it was a provocation that was organized by the Putin regime. But at the moment, it seems to me that it was a terrorist act that was committed by ISIS.

Now the Putin regime is trying to benefit politically from this. Earlier, in 1999, they themselves blew up houses for political reasons. Now they are trying to use what others have done for political purposes.

But there is one vague possibility that they knew about it, and did not try to prevent it. This is the hardest thing to prove. This possibility cannot be ruled out. But in fact, they have very little benefit from it. They could accuse Ukraine for completely different reasons of atrocities against Russia. Mobilization did not depend on it.

Speaking about the 1999 explosions, we can say that there was no chance that the nondescript, completely non-charismatic Putin would have become president without these explosions. These explosions made Putin the president of Russia.

The goals that the attack on the Crocus City Hall could have helped to achieve are very vague and blurred, not very definite and not very important. They can be achieved in completely different ways. Therefore, although I do not exclude the idea that they knew about the attack and decided not to do anything (this also corresponds to their moral standards), it seems to me, on the basis of the information that we now have (and I want to emphasize that new information can change the picture), everything that I see in this situation pushes me to the idea that it was a failure of the special services after all, that they did not want to respond promptly and seriously to warnings from America. Now they are trying to use this in favor of the war in Ukraine.

– Over the decades of being in power, Vladimir Putin became known for the fact that he used very terrible failures in ensuring security, which led to large human casualties, to his advantage. After each such failure, he became stronger. How do you think this failure will be used?

– If we talk about Dubrovka, Beslan, I am not sure that these were failures from their point of view – they participated in the planning of these terrorist acts, they controlled the course of events. They had a certain plan, and this plan worked: there were no negotiations on the settlement in Chechnya, they destroyed the democratic, at least non-extremist Chechen wing.

In the case of Beslan, their agents were among the terrorists. They released people from prisons on the eve of the terrorist attack – and these people appeared there. The authorities received warnings that pointed to this particular school, and they did nothing, ignored.

I do not exclude such facts in this case as well. But they have not been made public so far. We must now draw conclusions only on the basis of the information we have. Their participation is not visible. We cannot say that among these terrorists were FSB agents who led the operation. We know that the US embassy warned about the Crocus City Hall, but they warned two weeks before the event and said this was one of the possibilities.

If you look at it soberly, it seems to me that we can say for sure that they demonstrate their complete cynicism: "we will try to use this terrorist act for political purposes." We can also say that there is no information yet that they themselves were preparing this terrorist act.

– We've already seen cynicism, political opportunism, and complete disregard for human life. But we have not seen such brutal cruelty towards the detainees. Terrible atrocities were committed, the mildest of which was that the detainee was brought to the court directly from the intensive care in a wheelchair. What are the reasons for such demonstrative cruelty towards the detainees?

– This corresponds to the idea that this was a failure of the Russians, and they are now showing to the public that they are strong. They perceived the fact that it could happen as humiliation. The Russian authorities, as people who are not very far away and, of course, without much respect for the law, would like to demonstrate to Russian society that after all "we are strong, we can and will protect you, we will torture them." This clearly testifies to the level of civility, respect for the law and moral code in Russia. It seems to me that this is a psychological reaction to defeat most likely: these terrorists managed to do it all despite the warning. Naturally, the instigators and organizers did not fall into the hands of the Russian special services, and idiotic performers can be beaten and tortured simply to demonstrate strength.

– How will this terrorist attack affect Russian society? Will it change?

– It should be borne in mind that ISIS promised that this would be repeated. They are strengthening in Afghanistan. They are close. They have access to Russia through Central Asia. A lot of people from Central Asia work in Russia on a temporary or permanent basis.

If this is repeated, if there is a whole series of such attacks, it may affect the situation not in favor of the war in Ukraine, not in favor of Putin.

Such a symbol, an example of instability, lack of control, I think, will not benefit the regime.

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