While ISIS has claimed responsibility for the devastating terror attack in Moscow, Putin has baselessly tried to shift the blame to Ukraine, says USIP’s Angela Stent: “[Putin] wants to use this to increase repression at home … and also to pursue a more aggressive path in Ukraine.”

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.


Laura Coates: Joining us now is Dr. Angela E. Stent, a USIP, Senior Advisor for the Russia and Europe Center. Dr. Sarah is one of the premier Russia experts in this country. Dr. Angela Stent, welcome and good morning. How are you?

Angela Stent: Good morning. I'm glad to be on your show.

Laura Coates: I'm glad that you're here. You know, this news out of Russia, this horrific attack that has left more than 100 people dead in fact, 137 at least including three children. ISIS claiming responsibility for the massacre, Putin saying without evidence that the suspects that were charged had were supposed to go, to flee to Ukraine. Ukraine has denied any connection. Our own Senate and our intelligence community say that they had warned Putin, can you just put into context the significance politically of this attack for Putin?

Angela Stent: So, just a week or so ago, Putin won reelection in quotes, with allegedly 87% of the vote, although I don't think anybody believes he got that much. But anyway, his message to the Russian people was, I'm a successful war leader, I'm defending you against the West against all kinds of threats. And you have to believe in me, and we are a people at war. Well, if you're a Russian, you might ask if they're defending us against all these threats, how come they were unable to defend us against these terrorists. And if you look at the record of the security services, under Putin, they hadn't been very good at defending people. I can't go into the details. But there have been a number of terrorist attacks over the past 20 years, where many people have died, and where they weren't well protected. So, I think one point to make for your listeners is that the security services in Russia, they exist to protect Putin and the elite around him from critics and from opponents, they apparently do not have as their main task to protect the Russian people from outside or domestic threats.

Laura Coates: And yet, he essentially promising the Russian people of this and that, under him, they will be the most secure. His comments that suggest that the suspects were fleeing into Ukraine, Vice President Harris certainly sees no weight in it nor do other experts in this field. Why do you think he is turning an eye towards them, even though ISIS has already claimed responsibility?

Angela Stent: Well, because I think whatever you think of the origins of this, and there's some people who think that this was a job that was it was a false flag operation done by the Russian security services themselves. Although I'm skeptical, I think it really was ISIS. He wants to use this to increase repression at home, which I think he will, and also to pursue a more aggressive path in Ukraine. I mean, if you think of the logic of it, how do you think these four gunmen in their vehicle could have crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border when there are all of these Russian bodyguards when the border is mined very heavily? So, you know, logically, it doesn't make sense. But he wants to blame the Ukrainians. And I'm waiting now. We know that these gunmen have signed statements saying, you know, that they're guilty, I'm waiting for them to say, well, actually, it was the Ukrainians who told us to do it. So far, they've just said, people, you know, message them, and offered the money to shoot Russians. So, Putin will use this as an excuse. He has not agreed that it was ISIS that was responsible for this.

Laura Coates: Now, is he trying to garner more support because there is dwindling support when it comes to his invasion of Ukraine? It's hard to tell I guess, it's a lot of propaganda. And obviously, those who control the information are going to tell you otherwise.

Angela Stent: Right. We saw some signs during the three-day election that people, opponents were out there saying "No to war." But admittedly, it was a small number of people. I think he senses weakness in the West. Here we have a U.S. Congress that cannot agree on a portioning of the money. Sending $60 billion, much of it will be spent in the United States, with U.S. firms. But you know, supporting Ukraine financially and sending it military hardware, so, we have paralysis at the moment in the Congress. And then he sees a number of European states questioning how much further should they go in supporting Ukraine? So, I think he's using this at a moment to say, okay, let's wait. He's waiting for November 2024 in the U.S. and he's waiting for Donald Trump to come to power [unintelligible] help to Ukraine to stop. And so, he's using this as a moment to say I'm going to strike now blame the terrorism on the Ukrainians and maybe bomb them more. I don't know what else he has in mind. But step up the aggression there.

Laura Coates: When you look at the weakness in the in the West, I often hear candidates like the former President Donald Trump and his bid to be reelected, describing what he thinks the world would be like if he were the president. And that often includes him saying that Vladimir Putin would not have attacked or invaded Ukraine, had he been in office. There are others who seem to suggest and echo that. When you look at the decisions of Vladimir Putin or the trajectory that you've seen in the past. Do you think that he is really thinking about the leadership in the White House, as well as what's going on Capitol Hill?

Angela Stent: So, I think I mean, his decision to invade Ukraine was made, you know, a long time ago, he only did it on February 22. Because, you know, that seemed an opportune moment for him. But I do think that when he does make these people do keep an eye on what's happening in the United States and on the congressional debates. And if you watch Russian TV, and some of the talk shows where their war propaganda is, you know, they gloat over the fact that there's so much division in the United States about support for Ukraine. And so, I think they certainly keep an eye on that. But of course, they don't know what the outcome would be. And it is quite possible that Congress will, in the end, pass some kind of bill, and they will send extra support to Ukraine. And that's not the main determining thing for the Russians, but it's certainly one of them.

Laura Coates: When you're looking at what's going on in terms of what's ahead during Putin's next term, and again, I know you put it in, in quotation marks with good reason about his re-election. It feels odd to say that as if there was a true democracy at play, we know that that certainly was not the case. But what do you see as part of the next term as relates to Ukraine, and for the Russian people more precisely?

Angela Stent: One thing for the Russian people, we could certainly see even more repression. I mean, Putin is determined to root out all opposition to his rule, to the people in the Kremlin. We know that Aleksei Navalny, you know, the major opposition figure who was jailed in a very brutal Arctic prison that he died a week before the elections. And he had been, I would say, slowly dying because of the conditions there. And so, he's really trying to root that out. I mean, just a day before the terror attacks, what were the Russian security services doing? They had passed new legislation in Russia, describing what they call the international LGBT movement, Of course, no such thing exists. but describing it as a terrorist organization. So, what were they doing, they were looking at the social media feeds of individuals in Russia and seeing if there were things on those sites, that would be a reason to arrest people.

So, you really see this attempt to, quote-unquote, restore traditional family values. They're telling women they shouldn't bother to study; they should just stay home and have lots of children. That's because, of course, they have a demographic problem. So, I think domestically, you can see more repression, and more people being arrested for expressing any kind of opposition to the regime. And I think for Ukraine, particularly, it will mean a very hard winter. I mean, we're coming out of winter now, but a very hard 2024. It's possible that the Russians will launch another offensive in the spring. On the other hand, they don't actually have enough men at the moment. So, I'm waiting to see, do they try and do another general mobilization? And the last time they did that, 100,000 or more than that a young men fled Russia because they didn't want to be drafted. Or do they just try and draft people in other ways, offer money to contract soldiers. But they will need more men in order to intensify their bombardments and the war in Ukraine.

Laura Coates: How is the support from other countries like India or China been since this election?

Angela Stent: So, the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Modi actually sent quote-unquote, warm congratulations, to Vladimir Putin. I believe the Chinese didn't use the word warm, but they certainly congratulated him on his election. And what we've seen since the war in Ukraine began is that China certainly, and many countries in what we call the Global South, for want of a better word, have been neutral in this conflict. India has traditionally had very close ties to the Soviet Union and Russia. It's a major importer of oil, Russian oil and until recently of Russian weapons. And there are many of these countries that the BRICS countries which have now expanded recently, this is a non-western grouping of countries, China, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and a number of other major countries. Who don't want to take sides in this conflict to think that it's a European conflict that doesn't affect them. And they want to maintain economic and political ties with Russia, and in some cases, also military ties.

Laura Coates: You know, it's really fascinating to have it broken down with your expertise. Thank you so much, Dr. Angela Stent, we'll be watching all that you're doing. Thank you so much.

Angela Stent: Thank you, too. Thanks.

Laura Coates: And you can always check out her work as well and read more details from the United States Institute of Peace. She details in a piece available on their website, Putin's next term and she predicts more repression in Russia, aggression in Ukraine as well.

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