Is Putin using the Moscow terror attack to usher in a new Great Terror?

Vladimir Putin recently warned that terrorism is a ‘double0edged weapon’ (Picture: AP/Rex/Getty)

In the aftermath of the Moscow concert hall attack – the bloodiest in Russia for two decades – Vladimir Putin appears to be setting the stage for a new Great Terror.

He ominously warned that terrorism is a ‘double-edged weapon’ while vowing to hunt down the masterminds of the March 22 massacre which left 145 people dead.

Videos and photos of the suspects show them apparently being tortured by the security forces, with propagandists swiftly praising the response and dismissing any criticism of the brutality.

One of Putin’s top lieutenants, Dmitry Medvedev, even proclaimed that if Ukraine was involved, the Kremlin should respond by dispatching a hit squad to Kyiv to ‘liquidate’ its leaders.

Net Freedoms, a Russian group focusing on freedom of speech, noted the harsh statements from Putin and Medvedev coming amid ‘the backdrop of demonstrative torture effectively sanction extrajudicial executions and give law enforcement agencies a directive on how to treat the enemies’.

‘We are seeing the possible beginning of the new Great Terror,’ the group said, referring to the purges by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin of the 1930s.

‘There must be no illusions — the developments follow a very bad scenario, and the slide is rapidly accelerating.’

The Great Terror, or Great Purge, was the name given to Stalin’s purges of the 1930s when he sought to eliminate dissenting members of the Communist Party and anyone else he considered a threat.

Experts believe at least 750,000 people were executed while a million more were sent to brutal labour camps.

The attack looked to have dealt an immediate blow to Putin, coming just days after he cemented his grip on power for another six years (Picture: Getty)

Saidakrami Murodali Rachabalizoda, a suspect in the Crocus City Hall shootings, sits in court with a heavily bandaged ear (Picture: AP)

Last month’s Moscow attack looked to have dealt an immediate blow to Putin, coming just days after he cemented his grip on power for another six years with a highly orchestrated election landslide.

It marked a glaring failure by his vaunted security agencies which had been tipped off by the US that extremists were planning an imminent atrocity.

Kremlin critics argue they have become so consumed with launching the harshest crackdown on dissent since the Soviet era they are distracted from tackling real threats.

Putin and his cronies quickly sought to link the attack with Ukraine in an apparent bid to divert attention from the security lapse and bolster support for the ongoing war.

That is despite an offshoot of the Islamic State group having claimed responsibility.

The four suspects, all citizens of Tajikistan, were detained around 86 miles from the Ukrainian border.

Video confessions were released by Russian news outlets, but their veracity has been called into question after they appeared to show signs of brutality when they appeared in court.

Another suspect, Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, sits in court with a heavily bruised face (Picture: AP)

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The attack on the Moscow concert hall, the bloodiest assault on Russian soil in two decades, appears to be setting the stage for an increasingly harsh response by President Vladimir Putin (Picture: AP)

One had a heavily bandaged ear – reportedly cut off during interrogation.  Another had pieces of a plastic bag on his neck, a possible sign of attempts at suffocation.

A third was in a wheelchair, barely conscious, accompanied by medical personnel.

Their appearance came after grisly footage circulated on social media showing a man in combat fatigues cutting off part of one of the suspects’ ear and forcing it into his mouth.

Another suspect was seen with his trousers pulled down and wires attached to his genitals.

Human Rights Watch said it has determined the men in the photos and videos were the same as those in court for their pretrial hearings.

Tanya Lokshina, HRW’s associate director for Europe and Central Asia, said: ‘The rapid and widespread sharing of these videos appears to be no accident but rather some kind of appalling boast by the Putin government of its brazen disregard for basic rights, fundamental humanity, and the rule of law.’

Kremlin propagandists were quickly rolled out to cast their treatment as a proper response to the massacre.

A massive blaze is seen over the Crocus City Hall on the western edge of Moscow, Russia (Picture: AP)

Margarita Simonyan, head of state-funded broadcaster RT, rubbished any criticism and insisted the law enforcement personnel involved shouldn’t be disciplined.

‘Imagine yourself in place of our guys who were chasing those ghouls who just mowed down many, many of our fellow citizens,’ she told viewers.

‘What were they supposed to do? Serve them some warm porridge and yogurt?’

Many observers saw the tacit endorsement of such brutality as an ominous sign of more to come.

‘All that serves a double function – a show of terror as a mechanism of intimidation and rallying hatred,’ political analyst Kirill Rogov said in a commentary.

‘It normalises hatred as a response, including to those who have questions and disagreements.’

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, served as liberal-minded placeholder president from 2008 to 2012, when term limits forced Putin to shift to the premier’s seat.

But his is now one of the harshest voices emanating from the Kremlin, regularly making headlines with outrageous rants on his social media channels.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, declared that if investigators prove Ukraine’s involvement, Russia should deploy hit men to kill Ukrainian leaders (Picture: AP)

He has called for the extrajudicial killings of officials in Kyiv, arguing Russia should return to last century’s assassinations, like those of Ukrainian nationalists Yevhen Konovalets and Stepan Bandera.

‘What should we do? Simply crush the Banderite swine as the Soviet MGB did after the war,’ Medvedev wrote, referring to a forerunner of the KGB, ‘and liquidate their leaders on convenient occasions – like Konovalets and Bandera – in Kyiv or any other convenient places’.

The concert hall attack also revived demands from some senior lawmakers to reinstate the death penalty, which has been suspended since 1996 when Russia joined the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights organization.

Calls for its restoration have circulated often, particularly after attacks blamed on insurgents from the region of Chechnya and other militant extremists.

They increased after Moscow left the Council of Europe after its invasion of Ukraine.

Vladimir Vasilyev, head of the parliamentary faction of the pro-Putin United Russia party, said the lower house would look into it, taking into account ‘society’s mood and expectations’.

Some Kremlin-connected lawmakers and others oppose the move, in an apparent sign of Putin’s hesitation.

Andrei Klishas, the influential head of the constitutional affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, argued its restoration is impossible unless Russia approves a new constitution.

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Andrei Medvedev, the deputy speaker of the Moscow City Council, said Russia should never bring back capital punishment because of its troubled history in the Soviet era.

‘Regrettably, our judicial system isn’t ideal and isn’t immune from mistakes,’ he wrote in a commentary.

‘The country that saw repressions, Red Terror … and executions of those who believed in God must forget about the death penalty once and for all.’

Lidiya Mikheyeva, the secretary of the Public Chamber, a Kremlin-controlled advisory board, also spoke against reinstatement and reverting ‘to the times of savagery and barbarity’.

‘The abolition of the death penalty is one of our country’s major historic achievements,’ she added.

Dmitry Kiselyov, a Russian state TV commentator, also hinted that Putin doesn’t support its reinstatement.

‘It’s good that Russia is led by Putin, for whom the life of each of our citizens is priceless,’ he said.

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