Gunmen’s Siege on Moscow Venue: Echoes of Russia’s Violent Past Resurface

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Gunmen storming a popular entertainment spot. Innocent lives lost on unforgiving concrete. Moscow’s bubble of safety, shattered by an echo of violence from decades past.

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The chilling scene outside Crocus City Hall Friday night mirrored the dark day nearly 22 years prior, outside the Dubrovka Theatre. Back then, Chechen militants took 800 hostages, culminating in a deadly special forces intervention.

The 2002 theatre siege was a nadir in President Putin’s fight against Islamist extremism. Yet, last night’s carnage is a grim reminder of a past that perhaps never left the Kremlin’s shadow.

Putin still combats the same brand of Islamist adversaries as in 2002, albeit in a drastically changed world. The likely culprits, ISIS-K from Afghanistan, as claimed and pre-warned by US intel, signals a new extremist generation setting their sights on Russia after its harsh Islamic suppressions in its southern territories.

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Two decades ago, the Dubrovka attackers were shaped by Russia’s ruthless anti-terror approach, which saw countless young males executed in Chechnya.

The gunmen on Friday are likely the progeny of an ideology incubated online, post the ephemeral Caliphate era, and fanned by the stifled flames of Islamism in Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Years of state oppression haven’t quelled this fresh wave of fury. Putin’s unyielding fight against extremism in the North Caucasus, using the heavy hand of the Kadyrov clan to quash Chechen dissent, seemed effective for a time but failed to eradicate the problem. Now, the Islamist menace returns in a distorted new form, aiming to wound Russia for its Middle East exploits.

A stark contrast from 20 years ago is the Russian state’s response.

During the attack, footage shows the Crocus City gunmen moving freely for a significant time within a crowded mall, despite weeks of public US threat warnings.

In October 2002, the Kremlin acted with a ruthless efficiency. After prolonged negotiations, elite forces unleashed a sedative gas, incapacitating the theatre, accepting the resulting casualties as a lesser evil compared to an all-out attack.

The state seemed to prefer a calculated loss, keeping fatalities around 15%, over the chaos of an assault.

Friday’s response was different — the assailants managed to initially escape.

The Kremlin casts blame on a mix of Western foresight and Ukrainian involvement.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova’s claim that the attackers aimed to flee to Ukraine through a heavily militarized border reflects the Kremlin’s narrative struggle within its tightly controlled media space.

Margarita Simonyan, of Russia Today, baselessly insinuates the ISIS-K attackers were Ukrainian. A parliamentarian suggested a “Ukrainian trace” necessitates a battlefield response. Ukraine firmly denies any link to the attack.

Putin appears overstretched and adrift. The security of his urban electorate in the capital sacrificed to his Ukrainian war ambitions. Special forces are either fallen or preoccupied, with even police reassigned to the front.

The shopping center faced the same terror as in 2002, a similar shocking lapse in security. Post-Dubrovka, critics questioned how armed militants could so easily approach and enter a major Moscow venue. Two decades later, despite Putin’s advanced surveillance tech, history repeats.

Putin’s authority occasionally falters, revealing a chaotic underbelly. Russia’s authoritarian system fails to suppress all. It relies on patriarchy, loyalty, corruption, and faith in the tsar—Putin—to rectify wrongs. But he often doesn’t, exposing the system’s dysfunction. So, gunmen with automatic weapons could terrorize a major mall, reminiscent of the Dubrovka tragedy.

Two probable outcomes loom. Moscow may exploit the attack to justify its Ukrainian conflict, alleging a greater threat to its populace. Whether new retaliatory measures emerge is uncertain; Russia is fully engaged in Ukraine.

Additionally, history might repeat itself. Following Dubrovka, subsequent attacks plagued Russia. The state appears weak, inviting more extremism.

Russia’s rapport with the West has shifted. Dubrovka nudged Moscow towards a brief alliance with the US’s terror war. Now, it disregards and politicizes Western intelligence, seeking to pin some blame on the West for prescient warnings of an attack.

The recent terror revives a dark chapter for Putin, a familiar enemy his harsh tactics cannot fully defeat. A West portrayed as the foe. And a state ill-equipped to shield its people.

Putin’s history repeats, and the question persists: Will Russians still see him as their protector?

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