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Is There Connection Between Crocus City Hall Attack and West's Interests in Central Asia?

© AFP 2023 / STRINGERMembers of emergency services work at the scene of the gun attack at the Crocus City Hall concert hall in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, on March 23, 2024.
Members of emergency services work at the scene of the gun attack at the Crocus City Hall concert hall in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, on March 23, 2024.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 28.03.2024
The Crocus City Hall terror attack could be aimed at sowing ethnic tensions in Russia and driving a wedge between the nation and Central Asian states, experts believe.
It is no coincidence that the masterminds behind the Crocus City Hall terror attack in the Moscow region picked terrorists associated with ISIS* originating from Central Asia, Sputnik's pundits say.
"In addition to sowing panic and facilitating distrust in the government, which allegedly cannot provide security for citizens, the goal of those behind the terrorist attacks was to play an ethnic card," Andrey Popov, a reserve colonel of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and member of the Association of Veterans of the Alfa anti-terror group, told Sputnik.
"That is, to drive a wedge between us, Russians and Tajiks, as well as other migrants. Subsequently, this could decrease the motivation of the aforementioned nationalities participating in the special military operation," he explained.
Popov noted that many Russian citizens of Tajik and Uzbek origin, as well as representatives of other ethnic groups, are serving in the zone of the special military operation as soldiers of the Russian Armed Forces.
Crocus City Hall - Sputnik International, 1920, 28.03.2024
Russian Investigative Committee Has Proof of Crocus Terrorists' Connection With Kiev Nationalists
In the wake of the Crocus City Hall tragedy, the Russian special services have detained 11 people in connection with the terrorist attack. The suspected executors of the heinous crime are citizens of Tajikistan, a Central Asian country bordering Afghanistan. Shortly after the attack ISIS took responsibility for it.

ISIS and other terrorist organizations have a history of recruiting Central Asian nationals, most notably migrant workers, according to Stanislav Pritchin, associate professor at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation.

The reason is that migrant workers are usually vulnerable to both legal and psychological pressure, making them an easy prey for jihadi recruiters.
Tajik authorities immediately launched an investigation into the four suspects believed to be directly involved in the shooting spree, a source in Tajik police agencies told Sputnik on March 26.
According to Popov, the reaction of Dushanbe, which immediately provided assistance to Russia in the ongoing probe, clearly indicates that the attempt to undermine Russia's relations with Central Asian nations has failed.
Terror attack on Crocus City Hall concert venue. - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.03.2024
In Bed With Jihadists and Neo-Nazis: Why Crocus City Hall Terror Attack Cast Slur Upon West

Central Asia is of Strategic Importance for the West

The strategic importance of Central Asian countries for the West have taken on a new significance after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the beginning of the special military operation, according to Sputnik's commentators.
Following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Pentagon had maintained a considerable presence in the Central Asian region, establishing military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan which were eventually closed in 2005 and 2014.
Prior to the botched pull-out from Kabul in August 2021, the Biden administration sought to extend its presence in the region by transferring the US military to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. However, the attempt did not bear fruit.
After the launch of the special military operation, Central Asian states emerged as logistics hubs for Russia, as Moscow redirected its trade from the West to East in the aftermath of sweeping sanctions introduced by Washington and its allies against Moscow.
"Why is it important for Westerners to be in the region? Because Central Asia borders Russia and China, the main geopolitical competitors of the West," said Pritchin. "Central Asia closely interacts with Russia and is intertwined with it in terms of security, economics, and migration flows. Of course, this is a very important point of application for influencing Russia."
In addition, the Western special services could be seeking to open a "second front" in Central Asia in order to thwart Russia's advance in Ukraine, according to Popov. He does not rule out the West trying to use Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to accomplish those goals.
Last October, FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov warned about the US and UK special services efforts to create a "belt of instability" on Russia's south-eastern borders by recruiting jihadists of all stripes — including ISIS fighters.
"I believe that they are interested and will make every effort to set fire to the underbelly of Russia," Popov remarked.
The FSB reserve colonel suggested a possible connection between the Crocus City Hall terror attack and the West's interests in the Central Asian region.
"I see clearly that this is one of the [their] integral operational tasks," Popov said. "That is, to weaken our allied or neutral relations with countries in the region and develop some kind of unfriendly relations between Russia and the region. And also, perhaps, to further strengthen its influence in these countries through the work of the special services and, as a result, to deploy bases and military contingents in these countries."
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.02.2024
West Seeking to Create Hotbed of Instability in Central Asia - Russian Security Council
*a terrorist organization banned in Russia and many other countries.
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