Black Swan of the Russian-Ukrainian War

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Sergiu CEBAN
The mass murder of people in a concert hall near Moscow has become a major world event in recent days, bringing anti-terrorism issues to the forefront. This, in turn, may have major implications for Ukraine and other countries in the region
The terrorist attack in a concert hall near Moscow was undoubtedly the main event of recent days, which has overshadowed all other international topics. As official figures say, more than 130 people were killed and more than 150 suffered injuries of varying degrees of severity. According to Russian law enforcers, a group of four attackers was detained after they had fled the scene of the crime and headed towards the Russian-Ukrainian border. As a result of operative actions, the terrorists were intercepted in the Bryansk oblast. According to the initial information, the contractors contacted the executors through social networks and promised a reward of half a million Russian rubles. The day after the incident, the Russian president addressed citizens with a special statement, assuring them that the authorities would take all necessary measures to investigate the details of the crime and would find and punish all those who supported the terrorists and helped prepare the crime. Separately, Putin noted that the criminals were moving towards Ukraine, where, according to him, a “corridor” for evacuating the terrorists was organized. Experts draw attention to the uncharacteristic execution of the terrorist attack. It was not accompanied by any demands or messages that would make it possible to interpret the basic intent behind the mass murder of civilians. At the same time, importantly, the United States Embassy in Moscow and other Western embassies openly warned on 8 March of possible terrorist acts and urged their citizens to avoid crowded places, including concert halls. One of the ISIS units decided to claim responsibility for the attack, confirming this with video footage shot in the first person by one of the terrorists. At the same time, the administration of US President Joe Biden vehemently rejected Kyiv’s involvement in the armed attack and once again recalled that Washington had intelligence about the planned attack. Apparently, this was a hint that the Russian intelligence services did not take this warning seriously. All the details revealed to the public so far raise more questions than answers. The impression is that a group of Central Asian citizens, not particularly professional, was used blindly, while the contractors and forces behind this bloody action are far more numerous. The persistence with which some people vindicate others and that the ISIS version is actively brought to the fore testifies to the controlled nature of the post-terrorist information campaign. Obviously, the West’s main task now is to deprive Moscow of a chance to link this terrorist attack to the conflict in Ukraine and to develop the idea that the Ukrainian security services may have had direct or indirect involvement in its preparation. Apparently, the further storyline will continue to acquire various toxic details. Although the information about the evacuation of criminals to the territory of Ukraine, as well as the involvement of international terrorist organizations (ISIS) both in the planning and direct execution is already enough to build several versions. If the slightest Ukrainian involvement is proven, Russia will be able to actively speculate on the topic of international terrorism and its support. And this, in turn, opens up additional opportunities, including for targeted anti-terrorist operations up to changing the status of SMO to CTO. However, the most painful thing for Kyiv may be the undermining of its reputation and a decrease in international confidence in the Ukrainian leadership and intelligence services. At the same time, all this is happening at a crucial moment for Ukraine, when the West is considering further strategy and the extent of its support and direct involvement in the defense process. For the past few weeks, there has been considerable discussion about the formation of a new, notionally extra-NATO coalition of support for Ukraine led by France, as well as discussions about the deployment of limited military contingents should the Russian army advance. With no general consensus yet in place and struggles to achieve one, the emergence of the terrorism topic could end up keeping future support for Kyiv in limbo for fear of own reputation. Even if Ukraine’s Western partners deny the version of Ukrainian involvement, the appearance of such an unpleasant irritant could anyway be a turning point for resetting the positions of international players, Kyiv’s negotiating status and approaches in military diplomacy, which is expected to intensify in the next two months amid Xi Jinping’s planned contacts with Putin and Macron. The fact that such terrorist labelling of Ukraine will be a major problem for its leadership became clear from the first hours after the terrorist attack, when heterogeneous and hasty statements were voiced in the neighboring country to distance it from this horrifying crime. The Ukrainian authorities realize the danger of not so much the evidence base, but of the slightest clues of any link to well-known terrorist organizations such as ISIS. Thus, we might well expect that in the near future the Kremlin may formally accuse the Ukrainian leadership of also having some data and playing along with the organizers of the terrorist attack. This, in turn, may entail a shift in combat priorities, up to and including expanding the range of individuals to be physically eliminated. Apparently, the anti-terrorist issue will be in the foreground for the next month, and the Moldovan leadership should take this into account in the most serious way. First of all, we have to understand that the constant appeals of the Transnistrian administration to various investigations and to the need to reduce the risks of terrorist threat may find a certain international response, which is rather bad for us. Our authorities, of course, try to carefully suppress these disturbances from the left bank, but Moldova’s entry into the forthcoming anti-terrorist discourse may turn everything upside down. Even minimal confirmation of terrorist attacks in the uncontrolled territory of the left bank will severely affect the state image, its already sagging investment attractiveness and the image of a tourist-safe Eastern European country. Moreover, such reputational and political costs will inevitably affect the geopolitical perspectives as well. Most likely, the skeptical voices inside the European Union will become even stronger in claiming that the start of negotiations with Moldova and Ukraine should be postponed until we have a more or less clear picture of the future of our regional space.