Home Latest News Ukraine war updates: Russia says it’s ‘hard to believe’ Islamic State group behind terror attack; death toll rises to 140

Ukraine war updates: Russia says it’s ‘hard to believe’ Islamic State group behind terror attack; death toll rises to 140

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Ukraine war updates: Russia says it’s ‘hard to believe’ Islamic State group behind terror attack; death toll rises to 140

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Russia sentences Pussy Riot activist to six years in absentia for Ukraine “war fakes”

A Russian court sentenced Lyusya Shtein, a member of Pussy Riot and a former municipal deputy in Moscow, to six years in prison in absentia for anti-war social media posts, the court’s press service said on Wednesday.

Shtein, 27, was found guilty of spreading “war fakes” in connection with a March 2022 post on X, in which she accused Russian soldiers captured by Ukraine of “bombing foreign cities and killing people”, Russian independent news outlet Mediazona reported.

At least 19,855 people have been detained in Russia for expressing anti-war views since President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors crackdowns on dissent.

Those found guilty of spreading “false information” about Russia’s army risk 10 years in prison.

The Moscow court said Shtein, who served as a Moscow municipal deputy until 2022, would begin her sentence once she could be extradited to Russia.

— Reuters

At least one dead, 12 wounded in strikes on Ukraine’s Kharkiv, mayor says

At least one person has died and 12 have been injured, including children, in the latest Russian strikes on Ukraine’s Kharkiv, its mayor Ihor Terekhov, said on Telegram on Wednesday. Some of those injured are in serious condition, he added.

Apartment buildings and a emergency medical facility were struck and the search for those in need of help is still ongoing, Terekhov said.

CNBC could not independently verify the reports.

— Sophie Kiderlin

‘Extremely hard to believe’ IS carried out Moscow attack, Russia says

Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that it’s “extremely hard to believe” that the Islamic State (IS) militant group would be able to launch an attack like the one that occurred in Moscow last Friday, in which 140 died.

Zakharova is among senior Russian officials claiming that Western countries and Ukraine were behind the Crocus City Hall attack, despite Islamic State saying it had carried out the massacre.

Zakharova’s comments, reported by Reuters, were less cautious than those from the Kremlin, with Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov telling CNBC Wednesday that “an investigation is underway” and that “the final version [of the investigation] has not yet been announced.”

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JANUARY 8: (RUSSIA OUT) A woman eats hot corn while walking along the Red Square near the Kremlin, as air temperatures dropped to -18 degrees Celcius, January,8 2024, in Moscow, Russia. Since the beginning of the year, abnormally cold weather has settled in Moscow region, causing problems with heating in apartments. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Aside from Russian political hawks, pro-Kremlin Russian media commentators have also claimed the attack was not typical of IS, citing the fact the attackers were not wearing suicide belts and did not appear to be religious fanatics.

Russian media personalities have also parroted the line that the attackers tried to flee toward Ukraine, a line disputed, unusually, by Putin’s close ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who said the attackers originally fled toward Belarus but had been forced to change direction, toward Ukraine, because of Belarus’ enhanced security measures.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia said the West, Kyiv ordered terror attack, but can it prove it?

A raft of senior Russian officials and pro-Kremlin media have alleged this week that Ukraine, the U.K. and U.S. somehow coordinated attack in a bid to destabilize Russia and sow panic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) reviews Russian naval ships in the Crimean port of Sevastopol on May 9, 2014, with head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov (R) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) attending. 

Yuri Kadobnov | Afp | Getty Images

Political analysts say Moscow appears desperate to deflect attention from the fact that its intelligence services failed to spot or prevent the Moscow terror plot, and ignored a warning from U.S. intelligence several weeks ago that an attack could be imminent.

Kremlin officials have said Western intelligence services stood to benefit from the attack by sowing panic in Russia, while high-profile Russian media commentators have said the massacre was not typical of IS terrorist attacks. Ukraine and its allies deny any involvement, calling the claims “utter nonsense.”

Awkwardly for the Kremlin, the Islamic State militant group has already claimed responsibility for the massacre. Eight suspects, mostly nationals of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, have been charged with terrorism offences in Russia and remanded in custody ahead of trial.

Despite the discrepancies and anomalies in the Russian narrative around the tragedy, the Kremlin is unlikely to retreat from its unsubstantiated claim of Ukrainian and Western involvement, analysts say.

Read more here: Russia claimed the West, Kyiv ordered the Moscow terror attack. Now it has the problem of proving it

— Holly Ellyatt

Moscow terror attack death toll rises to 140

The death toll from the terrorist attack in Moscow last Friday has risen to 140, according to Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko.

Russian news agencies cited Murashko as saying one of the victims of the attack, who had been in an “extremely serious” condition in hospital, had died.

A law enforcement officer stands guard outside the burning Crocus City Hall concert hall following the shooting incident in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, on March 23, 2024. Gunmen opened fire at a concert hall in a Moscow suburb on March 22, 2024 leaving dead and wounded before a major fire spread through the building, Moscow’s mayor and Russian news agencies reported. (Photo by Olga MALTSEVA / AFP) (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)

Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

The minister said 80 people, including six children, are still in hospital following the attack in which gunmen stormed the Crocus City Hall concert venue, Interfax reported. In total, 140 are now known to have died and a further 205 people were injured in the attack.

Murashko said that 19 patients, including three children, remain in serious condition.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian investigators to study request to probe Western involvement in ‘terrorism’

A police officer patrols in front of the Russian State Duma and the building of the Hall of Columns, April 8, 2022.

Natalia Kolesnikova | Afp | Getty Images

Russian state investigators said on Wednesday they would study a request from parliamentarians to investigate what they called the “organisation, financing, and conduct of terrorist acts” against Russia by the United States and other Western countries.

The director of Russia’s FSB security agency said on Tuesday that he believed Ukraine, along with the United States and Britain, were involved in an attack on a concert hall just outside Moscow that killed at least 139 people.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron posted on X: “Russia’s claims about the West and Ukraine on the Crocus City Hall attack are utter nonsense.”

Islamic State took responsibility for the Moscow shooting. Washington and Paris have said they have intelligence confirming the Islamist militant group was behind the attack.

— Reuters

Ukraine gets a morale boost after Euros qualification

Oleksandr Zinchenko and Artem Dovbyk of Ukraine celebrate after winning the UEFA EURO 2024 play-offs final match with Iceland at the Tarczynski Arena on March 26, 2024, in Wroclaw, Poland.

Mateusz Slodkowski | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

Ukraine’s spirits were lifted Tuesday night after the national soccer team beat Iceland to qualify for a place in the Euro 2024 tournament.

There was jubilation on the pitch, at least for the Ukrainian players, after they came from behind to beat Iceland 2-1. The result means Ukraine will make their fourth appearance in the quadrennial tournament in which Europe’s football teams battle it out to become the team that lifts the Henri Delaunay Cup.

Ukraine has been drawn in Group E and will face Belgium, Slovakia and Romania at the tournament, which kicks off in Germany in June.

“I am very proud to be a Ukrainian, to be of the same blood as those who are now giving their lives for our freedom,” team captain Oleksandr Zinchenko said after Tuesday’s victory, Reuters reported.

“We need to talk about it, shout about it every day. This is the only way we can win. It was one of our most emotional games,” he said. Describing the qualification as an “amazing feeling” Zinchenko said it was “another dream come true.”

“A big thank you to our fans, they helped us through these difficult times amazingly.”

Holly Ellyatt

Kyrgyzstan urges citizens to limit travel to Russia

Kyrgyzstan’s foreign ministry has urged citizens of the Central Asian nation to put off unnecessary travel to Russia after a deadly shooting that was blamed on migrants from the region.

The developments have increased existing anti-immigrant sentiment in Russia, especially towards migrant labourers from the predominantly Muslim countries of Central Asia.

A Kyrgyzstan-born man was remanded in pre-trial custody by a Russian court on Tuesday, accused of providing accommodation to the four suspected perpetrators, who are of Tajik origin. Those four and three others of Tajik origin suspected of complicity are also in pre-trial detention.

This combination of pictures created on March 24, 2024 shows (Clockwise from top L) Rachabalizoda Saidakrami, Dalerdjon (alternatively spelled Dalerdzhon) Barotovich Mirzoyev, Muhammadsobir Fayzov and Shamsidin Fariduni suspected of taking part in the attack of a concert hall that killed 137 people, the deadliest attack in Europe to have been claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, sitting inside the defendant cage as he waits for his pre-trial detention hearing at the Basmanny District Court in Moscow overnight March 24 and 25, 2024. 

Tatyana Makeyevaolga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

Islamic State has said it was responsible for the attack and has released video footage of the massacre, which killed 139 people and wounded 182. The group has not identified any of the attackers.

Videos and photographs circulated online appear to show the suspects being tortured. The Kremlin declined to comment on the matter and many Russian politicians heaped praise on the security officers involved in the detentions.

Hundreds of thousands of people from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan work in Russia, and some have already said it has become tougher for them to do so. Some passengers, for example, refuse to board taxis with Tajik drivers.

In an advisory issued this week, the Kyrgyz foreign ministry urged citizens to visit Russia only if necessary and, if they do, to make sure they have all the required documents on them at all times and comply with lawful orders of Russian police.

— Reuters

U.S. defended Ukraine too quickly after terror attack, Russian foreign ministry says

Russian officials continue to accuse the West and Ukraine of involvement in the Crocus City Hall attack last Friday in which 139 people were killed.

Ukraine denies any involvement and the White House said last Sunday that “ISIS bears sole responsibility for this attack,” using an acronym for the Islamic State militant group, which said it was behind the attack. White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson added that there was “no Ukrainian involvement whatsoever.”

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed the U.S.’ initial rejection of any Ukrainian involvement was suspicious and said the Islamic State group was created by the West.

“The fact that the Americans in the first 24 hours [after the attack], before they even had time to put out the fire, started shouting that this is not Ukraine, I think this is evidence. I cannot classify this in any other way, this is evidence in itself,” Zakharova told the Sputnik radio outlet, news agency Tass reported.

“The second point is the U.S.’ cries that this is definitely the banned terrorist organization ISIS,” Zakharova said, adding that “the speed with which they did all this is amazing.”

“The actions of the Ukrainian regime will not go unpunished,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, according to comments published by state news agency Tass.

Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

“It seems to me that they drove themselves into an absolute dead end, because as soon as they started shouting that it was ISIS, all the people who deal with international relations, who are political scientists and experts, remembered and asked everyone else to remember, what is ISIS?” she said.

“You are behind ‘ISIS’, you – the United States, Britain created them yourself,” Zakharova claimed. Russia has repeatedly accused the West of fostering instability in the Middle East, ignoring its own history of war in the region and against Muslims, most recently with the Soviet war against Afghanistan, and two Chechen wars in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Holly Ellyatt

Russia sees no chance of Swiss leading Ukraine peace process, envoy says

Russia sees no chance of Switzerland leading efforts to secure peace in Ukraine, a senior Russian diplomat said on Tuesday, after Bern said it planned to host a high-level Ukraine peace conference in the coming months.

Swiss authorities have said that Russia is unlikely to take part, at least not at the outset of the talks.

“As of now, we don’t see any possibility that Switzerland would take the lead and organise something,” said Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, has said the Swiss initiative is doomed to fail without Moscow’s participation.

Gatilov said that while Moscow was not against negotiations to end the war, it would not take part in talks in Switzerland, a country he said had relinquished its neutrality with its stance on the conflict.

Switzerland has adopted the European Union’s sanctions against Russia over the invasion and frozen some 7.7 billion Swiss francs ($8.53 billion) in financial assets belonging to Russians, which Gatilov described as “stolen money”.

“That’s why we believe that Bern unfortunately devaluated its status as a neutral state,” he said.

— Reuters

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy dismisses head of security council

Ukrainian politician who has been the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov attends the ‘Ukraine. Year 2024’ forum in Kyiv. 

Aleksandr Gusev | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday dismissed the secretary of the country’s security council, Oleksiy Danilov, according to a Google-translated decree published on the government website.

Danilov has held the position since October 2019. His position will now be held by Oleksandr Lytvynenko, who served as the head of the Ukrainian foreign intelligence service.

No reason was given for the decision, which comes shortly after Zelenskyy replaced the head of the armed forces in a key military shake up.

— Sophie Kiderlin

Russian intelligence chief claims U.S., U.K. and Ukraine behind Moscow attacks

The head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on Tuesday said that the U.S., U.K. and Ukraine were behind a deadly terrorist attack in Moscow last week.

FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov told pro-Kremlin journalist Pavel Zarubin claimed that the U.S., U.K. and Ukraine were responsible for the attack, claiming that the attack was beneficial to Western intelligence services and Ukraine to destabilize Russia.

“We believe that the action was prepared by the radical Islamists themselves, and naturally the Western intelligence services contributed to this, and the Ukrainian intelligence services themselves are directly related to this,” Bortnikov said, RIA Novosti reported.

Ukraine has already vehemently denied any involvement in the attack and the White House has said Russian claims to the contrary are “Kremlin propaganda.” The U.K., U.S. and Ukraine have not commented on Bortnikov’s latest claims.

Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Alexander Bortnikov waits to watch the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in central Moscow on May 9, 2022. 

Kirill Kudryavtsev | Afp | Getty Images

Almost 140 people were killed in the Crocus City Hall concert hall, when gunmen entered the venue and opened fire, as well as set fire to the venue. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility, but Russia was quick to connect Ukraine to the outrage, without presenting evidence.

Since then, Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted that the attack was carried out by so-called “radical Islamists,” but continued to claim Ukraine was linked to the attack.

Bortnikov reiterated Russia’s claim that the attackers were caught, as they tried to flee toward Ukraine, where, he said, they were expected and were going to be greeted “as heroes.”

“The bandits intended to go abroad. Precisely to the territory of Ukraine. According to our preliminary operational information, they were expected there,” he told Zarubin, in an interview posted in Russian on his Telegram channel.

— Holly Ellyatt

One of Russia’s most powerful officials backs baseless claim of Ukraine involvement in attack

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with the BRICS countries’ senior officials in charge of security matters at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 26, 2015.

Sergei Karpukhin | AFP | Getty Images

One of the most powerful and influential men in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle claimed unequivocally on Tuesday that Ukraine was responsible for the Moscow terrorist attack carried out last Friday.

Nikolai Patrushev — the secretary of Russia’s Security Council and in charge of issuing guidance and policy proposals on national security issues — was asked by Russian reporters whether Ukraine or the Islamic State militant group was behind the attack that killed 139 people. The Islamic State group said it had carried out the attack.

“Of course Ukraine,” Patrushev answered reporters, according to a Google-translated article from news agency RIA Novosti.

A former intelligence officer and an ideological Kremlin figurehead who is extremely close to Putin, Patrushev joins the ranks of several high-profile Russian officials pointing the finger of blame at Ukraine without presenting any evidence of Kyiv’s involvement.

Ukraine itself denies any role in the attack. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was “absolutely predictable” that Moscow would try to pin the blame on Ukraine.

Patrushev’s comments could signal that Moscow is ready to double down on its allegations of a link between Kyiv and the terror perpetrators. Analysts say the Kremlin is likely to use the attack to its advantage, politically, in any case, perhaps to put Russian citizens on a firmer war footing and ahead of possible further mobilization.

So far, the Kremlin has been cautious about giving further details or evidence to back up its claims of a connection. Putin’s press secretary refused to be drawn on the matter earlier on Tuesday.

On Monday, Putin conceded that the attack had been carried out by “radical Islamists,” but once again claimed there was a link with Ukraine, again without presenting proof.

— Holly Ellyatt

Kremlin refuses to comment on alleged link between Moscow attackers and Ukraine

A man walks in Zaryadye park in front of the Kremlin’s Spasskaya tower and St Basil’s cathedral during the sunset in downtown Moscow on April 19, 2022. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP) (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

Kirill Kudryavtsev | Afp | Getty Images

The Kremlin refused to comment Tuesday on whether it believed there was a link between the Ukrainian government and the gunmen who killed 139 people in a terrorist attack on a Moscow concert hall last Friday.

Asked during a call with reporters whether there was a direct link between Ukraine and the “radical Islamists” that were behind the attack, as President Vladimir Putin described the suspects on Monday, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said he had “nothing to add to what has already been said on this topic.”

“As for whether it is possible to say ‘one way or another’: you can say it any way you want. And observers and analysts can probably afford this. But (…) while the investigation is underway, the official authorities cannot afford to do any statements on this matter,” Peskov told reporters, news agency Interfax reported.

“Although I recommend that you very carefully reread President Putin’s statements that he made over the last two days. In this context, they are very important,” Peskov said.

During a conference call with Kremlin officials on Monday, President Putin said the attack was carried out by “radical Islamists” but again claimed that there was a link to Ukraine, or a “Kyiv trace,” as Moscow has described it and that U.S. intelligence dismissing any link was unconvincing.

Russia has presented no evidence that there was any involvement by Ukraine and Kyiv itself vehemently denies any role in the deadly attack on concertgoers.

Eight suspects, nationals of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, have been remanded in custody and charged with terrorism offenses ahead of trial.

—  Holly Ellyatt

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:

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