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Ukraine cites Moscow attack as sign of Russian weakness

FILE - In this photograph distributed by the Russian state agency Sputnik, President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting on measures taken after the massacre in the Crocus City Hall. In the aftermath of the attack, Putin tried to tie the gunmen to Ukraine, which Kyiv flatly denied.
FILE - In this photograph distributed by the Russian state agency Sputnik, President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting on measures taken after the massacre in the Crocus City Hall. In the aftermath of the attack, Putin tried to tie the gunmen to Ukraine, which Kyiv flatly denied.

Weaknesses in the power model built by Russian President Vladimir Putin were exposed by the state’s inability to protect people against last week’s terrorist attack on a Moscow concert hall or respond to advance warnings from Western special services, a Ukrainian defense spokesperson said Tuesday.

Andriy Yusov, spokesperson for the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, told VOA’s Ukrainian Service that Putin's vulnerability became apparent, including to his closest circle.

Yusov noted during an interview in Washington that the military intelligence of Ukraine has no reason not to trust the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence that the Islamic State-Khorasan group is responsible.

Earlier, a U.S. State Department official confirmed to VOA that the United States gathered intelligence suggesting IS-Khorasan was planning an "imminent" attack in the Russian capital, leading to a warning earlier this month from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Russia continues to try to shift blame to Ukraine for the attack. On Tuesday, Russian media quoted Alexander Bortnikov, the director of Russia's FSB, saying that American, British and Ukrainian special services may be involved in the attack.

Yusov once again denied Ukraine's involvement and suggested the attack itself and the Russian disinformation campaign around it might help the Kremlin to mobilize more Russians for war against Ukraine and recast Russia's image from an aggressor to a victim.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: Putin and his subordinates are trying to tie the terror attack near Moscow with Ukraine. Considering their new arguments, do you have anything to add to the original response, denouncing it as nonsense?

Andriy Yusov, spokesperson for the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense: [Russian minister of foreign affairs, Sergey] Lavrov's refusal to accept Interpol's aid in investigating this crime tells a lot. It is typical for Putin's regime to try to use any situation in their war against Ukraine, even such a tragedy.

Ukraine unequivocally responded, saying that Ukraine is liberating its territory from invaders and fighting with the military; we are not at war with civilians. Anything else — whether Putin's regime was involved in the attack and to what extent because it did not take the necessary measures despite being warned, or whether there are other more compelling reasons to blame it — are matters of separate investigations.

VOA: How much threat do you see in the Kremlin's attempts to blame this terrorism on Ukraine? Will it help them mobilize more soldiers and escalate the war?

Yusov: Putin and Putin's Russia are waging a genocidal war against Ukraine, using the entire arsenal of weapons, except weapons of mass destruction. They destroy our critical objects of civil infrastructure, energy, cultural objects, social sphere and public health. Putin's tanks are killing our civilians and our defenders. What can they escalate?

At the same time, they will try to mobilize the population politically. Also, they will try to use this terrorist attack to reset the image of Russia worldwide from an aggressor — a state that kills peaceful Ukrainians, attacks a neighbor that did not commit any aggressive actions and violates international humanitarian law — into the image of the victim. Putin is trying to do that today. But neither Putin, Lavrov, nor [Minister of Defense Sergei] Shoigu nor other killers look like victims.

VOA: Can you tell us about the degree of cooperation between Ukraine's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces and Russian volunteer battalions — Russian Volunteer Corps, Free Russia Legion and Siberia Battalion — when they operate on the territory of Russia? Do you plan the operations together and provide any support?

Yusov: In Ukraine, these units operate within the framework of Ukrainian legislation and are components of our security and defense forces. These people help fight Putin's invaders, the Russian occupying army, within the ranks of our security and defense forces. They are citizens of the Russian Federation. Inside the Russian Federation, at home, they try to implement principles and values and fight for their rights, which Putin's dictatorship deprived them of. There, they act autonomously and independently.

VOA: But military weapons, heavy weapons — they didn't buy them in a store.

Yusov: The full-scale war lasted more than two years. These people captured many arms in the battle, including the Russian equipment used against the Russian army today.

VOA: Do you see a practical benefit for the defense of Ukraine from their actions?

Yusov: We can confirm that it benefits us. Undoubtedly, the military actions on the territory of the Belgorod and Kursk regions helped somewhat stabilize the situation in other areas of the front, diverted the enemy's forces and means and demonstrated the vulnerability of the Putin regime and its security forces.

VOA: What is the primary purpose of your visit to Washington?

Yusov: One of the tragic components of this genocidal war against Ukraine is the humanitarian aspect — thousands of kidnapped civilians. Russia kidnapped thousands of Ukrainian children. These are, of course, prisoners of war, both combatants and noncombatants, taken in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The International Committee of the Red Cross does not have access to their places of detention; there is no way to check the condition of our prisoners of war. Their rights are violated; they are abused and tortured. The world needs to know about it. Fortunately, many in the United States are ready to hear us — in the government, among nongovernmental public organizations and in mass media. One crucial component is increasing the pressure of the international community on Russia to comply with the Geneva Conventions.

VOA: What about the military aid to protect Ukrainian territory from occupation and its consequences?

Yusov: For sure, it is another aspect. Every meter of lost land means additional deaths of our civilian children and women; it means more hostages and prisoners of war. Also, we need assistance in verifying people on the territory of the Russian Federation who were kidnapped or illegally convicted — prisoners of war and civilians. In the end, bringing war criminals to justice is also important.

Additionally, thousands of family members of those who are in captivity in Russia need support. Already, thousands of Ukrainians have returned from Russian captivity. They all need support and social, psychological and medical help. This is another subject of our interaction with our international partners.