Zelenskyy refutes Ukraine link, says Putin seeking way to divert blame for Moscow concert hall massacre

Image Source : AP Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Refuting claims, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was seeking ways to divert blame for a massacre at a concert hall near Moscow on Friday (March 22).

Chechen rebels accused Russian secret services of being behind apartment bombings in Moscow, Buynkask and Volgodonsk, blamed on Chechens, that killed more than 200 people in Russia in 1999, prompting Putin, who was then prime minister, to send troops back to Chechnya.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Zelenskyy was “the only head of state crazy enough to blame Russia for the terrorist attack.” Earlier, Putin said 11 people had been detained following the attack, including the four gunmen. “They tried to hide and moved towards Ukraine, where, according to preliminary data, a window was prepared for them on the Ukrainian side to cross the state border,” Putin said. Zelenskyy said Putin should use his own men to fight terrorism at home instead of invading Ukraine.

VIDEO: Zelenskky refutes Ukraine’s involvement in Moscow attack

ISIS-K claims responsibility for the Moscow concert hall attack

The Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate claimed responsibility. Putin did not mention ISIS in his speech to the nation, and Kyiv accused him and other Russian politicians of falsely linking Ukraine to the assault to stoke fervour for Russia’s war in Ukraine, which recently entered its third year. US intelligence officials confirmed the claim by the IS affiliate.

“ISIS bears sole responsibility for this attack. There was no Ukrainian involvement whatsoever,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement. The U.S. shared information with Russia in early March about a planned terrorist attack in Moscow and issued a public warning to Americans in Russia, Watson said.

Tajikistan nationals involved in Moscow attack: Reports

Russian news reports identified the gunmen as citizens of Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia that is predominantly Muslim and borders Afghanistan. Up to 1.5 million Tajiks have worked in Russia and many have Russian citizenship. Tajikistan’s foreign ministry, which denied initial Russian media reports that mentioned several other Tajiks allegedly involved in the raid, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the arrests.

Many Russian hard-liners called for a crackdown on Tajik migrants, but Putin appeared to reject the idea, saying “no force will be able to sow the poisonous seeds of discord, panic or disunity in our multi-ethnic society.” He declared Sunday a day of mourning and said additional security measures were imposed throughout Russia. The number of dead stood at 133, making the attack the deadliest in Russia in years. Authorities said the toll could still rise.

The raid was a major embarrassment for the Russian leader and happened just days after he cemented his grip on the country for another six years in a vote that followed the harshest crackdown on dissent since the Soviet times.

(With inputs from agencies)

Also Read: Putin woes revenge as FSB intelligence agency tracks down 4 terrorists linked to Moscow concert hall attack