Russian spy chief makes bizarre claim that the US, UK and Ukraine were involved in Moscow attack

Russian spy chief makes bizarre claim that the US, UK and Ukraine were involved in Moscow attack

In a sign of the Kremlin’s increasing desperation to drag its invasion of Ukraine into the Moscow concert hall attack, the director of Russia’s powerful Federal Security Service (the FSB) has claimed that Kyiv, the US and the UK were behind the incident.

The bizarre claim comes despite a branch of the Isis terror group having claimed responsibility for the attack and published graphic video footage of the shooting, and the US, France and a number of other nations saying they believed the jihadists were behind it. Russia says 139 people were killed when four armed men burst into the Crocus City Hall concert complex on Friday evening. Another 22 remain in a serious condition, including two children, officials say.

The claim that Ukraine and two of its allies orchestrated the incident becomes even less believable given that the US issued a warning to Russia earlier this month of an imminent attack.

But with the Kremlin wanting to deflect questions about how Russian security services failed to prevent the incident, and seeking justification for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, allies of the Russian president have sought to accuse Kyiv.

Officials in Ukraine have been clear that these claims are unfounded. “We believe that the action was prepared by both the Islamist radicals themselves and was facilitated by Western special services,” Alexander Bortnikov, the director of the FSB, said on television. “The special services of Ukraine are directly related to this,” he added.

When asked by Russian reporters if Ukraine and two of its allies, the United States and Britain, had been involved in the attack on the concert hall, Mr Bortnikov said: “We think that’s the case.” Mr Bortnikov, 72, who has served as head of the FSB since 2008, said that Russia had yet to identify those who had specifically ordered the deadliest attack inside Russia for two decades, but he assured the reporters that retaliatory measures would be taken.

Since Mr Putin sent forces into Ukraine in 2022, the Kremlin has cast the West – and particularly the United States and Britain – as enemies whose decision to support Ukraine essentially outs them as parties to war with Russia.

Earlier, Russian news outlet SHOT published a video of an exchange in which a reporter asked Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, whether the attack had been perpetrated by “Isis or Ukraine?”

“Of course Ukraine,” Mr Patrushev replied. Asked about his remark later, he said there were “many” indications of Ukrainian involvement.

“The lies are officially spread by Patrushev, and after that by the head of the FSB Bortnikov,” Mykhailo Podolyak, senior presidential aide to Volodymyr Zelensky, said on X, formerly Twitter.

US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Washington had shared intelligence with Russia earlier this month about a planned attack in Moscow. Mr Bortnikov said Russia was thankful for the warning but described it as very general.

“The information about preparations for terror attacks in large gatherings of people was of a general nature,” he said. “Of course, we reacted to that information and took corresponding measures to prevent such incidents.”

Mr Putin claimed over the weekend that Ukraine had prepared a “window” for the attackers to cross the border, but on Tuesday that was undermined by Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko, who said the gunmen had tried initially to flee to Belarus.

Mr Lukashenko, a close ally of Mr Putin, told journalists that Belarusian and Russian security services had coordinated their actions as the suspects’ car fled southwest from Moscow to the Bryansk region, bordering both Ukraine and Belarus, where it was apprehended. He said Belarus had quickly set up checkpoints at the border.

“That’s why they couldn’t enter Belarus. They saw that, so they turned away and went to the area of the Ukrainian-Russian border,” he was quoted as saying by the state news agency Belta.

The four men accused of carrying out the attack appeared in a Moscow court on Sunday on terrorism charges and showed signs of having been severely beaten. One appeared to be barely conscious during the hearing. The men are citizens of Tajikistan, authorities said, and were identified as Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, 32; Saidakrami Rachabalizoda, 30; Shamsidin Fariduni, 25; and Mukhammadsobir Faizov, 19. They were charged with committing a terrorist attack resulting in death, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

On Monday, having been quick to blame Ukraine over the weekend, Mr Putin said for the first time that radical Islamists had carried out the attack, adding that Moscow “wants to know who ordered it”.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report