Concert hall shooting ‘may bring more uncertainties’ to Ukraine crisis

Russia skeptical of US’ claim of Islamic State links to attack

As four suspects connected to the deadly shooting at a music venue in the Moscow Region have been brought to court, the question of “who is behind the attack” remains unclear. The US and the West blamed the Islamic State as the perpetrator of the attack and denied any Ukraine involvement. However, this explanation has been met with skepticism by the Russian side.

Analyst said the incident may have a major impact on Russia’s foreign policy and could further escalate Russia-Ukraine conflict, depending on the outcome of Russia’s investigation. Also, they said that the possibility of the Islamic State (IS) being behind the attack adds another layer of complexity to the situation. The tragedy in Moscow serves as a reminder of the challenges countries face in countering terrorism in the midst of complicated global geopolitics.

On Sunday, Moscow’s Basmanny District Court ordered pre-trial detention for four suspects, all of whom are citizens of Tajikistan, charged with acts of terrorism in connection with the terrorist attack, according media reports. 

The attack at Crocus City Hall music venue in Moscow on Friday has killed at least 137 people.

While the investigation on the terrorist attack is ongoing, a new battle centering on “who is behind the attack” has intensified in recent days amid increasing worries on more uncertainties the attack may bring to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Analysts said some related parties are trying to interpret the incident to fit their own interests, which may further complicate the current situation. 

Various rhetoric

After the attack in the concert hall, the Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), a branch of the IS, claimed responsibility, and the US intelligence also “confirmed” with Reuters on Friday of IS’ responsibility. The White House also said on Friday it had no initial indication that Ukraine was involved in the attack in Moscow. 

However, during a televised address on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said 11 people involved in the attack have been apprehended, including the four suspected attackers. They tried to hide and moved toward Ukraine, where “a window was prepared for them on the Ukrainian side to cross the state border,” Putin said, according to Russian media TASS.

The US and the West hope the blame is on a terrorist organization because if Ukraine is found to be linked to the deadly shooting in the concert hall, they will lose legitimacy in supporting Ukraine, Wang Xiaoquan, an expert with the Institute of Russian, Eastern European & Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

As for Putin, he needs to hold people accountable for the attack to appease the Russian people, said Wang.

The US’ rushing to deny Ukraine’s involvement has also led to questions. In an article for, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the US of trying to “bail Ukraine out” by mentioning the IS terror group. 

The possibility for IS to carry out the attack in the concert hall remains. A previous attack in Iran in January, which two IS members had detonated explosive belts in the crowd and killed nearly 100 people, shared some similarities with the one in Moscow, Cui Heng, a scholar from the Shanghai-based China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation, told the Global Times. 

Wang believes that it would be a bit far-fetched for the IS to be the mastermind behind the attack as the situation in Syria has already stabilized, and the conflicts in the Middle-East are mainly between Israel and Palestine. “If IS were to carry out a terrorist attack, wouldn’t it make more sense to target Israel instead of Russia?” said Wang.

Li Wei, an expert from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, also said the terror attack at the concert hall does not quite fit IS’ previous attack pattern. 

“Driven by religious extremism, members of IS usually perpetrate ‘lone wolf’ or suicide attacks,” said Li, noting that if IS changes its core characteristics of religious extremism, it would no longer be IS.

It would also be unlikely for the Ukrainian government to be involved in a terror activity, but if any extremist forces in Ukraine were found to be involved, it would put Ukraine in an unfavorable situation, said Li. 

Some analysts have noted that the possibility of extremists in Ukraine participating in the attack cannot be ruled out, given the pessimism within Ukraine due to the situation on the battlefield and decreasing support from the West.

They also said it is premature to assign blame for the attack, and that the ultimate outcome will be determined by the ongoing investigation and the big-power politics between the parties involved. 

While condemning terrorists, some politicians from other Western countries accused Russia of pinning blames on Ukraine. For example, UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt told Sky News on Sunday that they have “very little confidence in anything the Russia government says” and said Russians are “creating a smokescreen of propaganda to defend an utterly evil invasion of Ukraine.”

On Sunday, an underground gas storage site in Ukraine was attacked in the latest wave of Russian missile strikes on power facilities. Also on Sunday, Russia struck critical infrastructure in Ukraine’s western region of Lviv with missiles early on Sunday, Kyiv said, in a major airstrike that saw one Russian cruise missile briefly fly into airspace of Poland, Reuters reported.

These latest attacks show that the situation is changing in the battlefield, said Wang.

An escalation on the Russia-Ukraine conflict may also affect the security situation in other regions. Terrorists may see geopolitical conflicts as an opportunity to launch attacks, said analysts, warning more countries to keep vigilant. 

According to TASS on Sunday, people were evacuated from about 10 shopping malls in Moscow following bomb threats, said a spokesman for the city’s emergencies services.

Moscow has seen a string of fake bomb threats since November 2019, with threats to schools, courts, shopping malls, stores and higher education institutions coming from unidentified people by email. Not a single threat has been real yet.