Prominent public figures in Russia and pro-Kremlin media have reacted to the Charlie Hebdo massacre with a mixture of paranoia and glee, seizing the chance to gloat at and blame the shootings on the West.
In their telling: The cartoonists murdered by masked gunmen in Paris on Wednesday deserved what they got for offending the religious. The gunmen killed in a shootout with police on Friday were CIA patsies set up to blame Muslims for the attack and punish France for attempting to bring an end to the Ukraine conflict. Journalists who publish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in solidarity should be punished by the state — or risk the violent wrath of Russia's Muslims.
Though not at the level of a government-directed campaign like state TV's rolling coverage of the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, last year (which presented the protests as a roiling race war) — Russia's government has limited itself to statements of condolence, while state TV has played the attack pretty straight — the unprovoked musings give an insight into Russia's political id after years of rising anti-Western sentiment.
The most common reaction among pro-Kremlin figures has been that the cartoonists brought the attacks on themselves by ridiculing Islam, the accused attackers' apparent motivation. While that sentiment has also been expressed in the West, the Russian response has recalled the public outrage over the Pussy Riot case in 2012, stoked by the government in an attempt to cast Russia as a bastion of "traditional values" against a godless, multicultural Europe. "That's Tolerance For You: European values shot in Paris," read a headline on pro-Kremlin website Lenta.ru.
Dmitry Enteo, a Russian Orthodox Christian activist who came to prominence protesting Pussy Riot, said that the shootings were an act of God.
Enteo, who is campaigning to introduce the death penalty for blasphemy in Russia, also organized protests outside the French embassy in Moscow that blamed the attacks on France.
Though Enteo — who recently said that Vladimir Putin was "transifxed" at birth by a "divine light" that allowed him to acquire "an anthological ability to acquire celestial energy" and "unite with God" — remains a fringe character even among pro-Kremlin figures, prominent figures in Russia's Muslim community share his sentiments. Russia's state-approved council of Muftis equated the attack with the cartoons that apparently inspired it, musing that the "sin of provocation in our world [may be] no less dangerous for keeping the peace than the sin of those who are capable of giving into that provocation."
Nail Mustafin, the council's top halal standards expert, even suggested that the attacks were a false flag operation to smear Muslims.
"The 'terrorists' might turn out to be soldiers or policemen in disguise," he wrote.
"They'll find defiled bodies where the terrorists blew themselves up, but with preserved penises that'll serve as proof."
"They say that special forces killed the people who supposedly 'attacked the journalists.' Now we'll never learn the truth about who really killed the journalists."
Ramzan Kadyrov, the warlord’s son who rules the troubled Muslim province of Chechnya, has even threatened reprisal for prominent liberal Russians expressing solidarity with Charlie Hebdo.
After anti-Putin oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky called on journalists to publish the offensive cartoons, Kadyrov took to Instagram to declare him his "personal enemy" and hoped that people in Switzerland, where Khodorkovsky lives, would "bring this ex-convict to account" in a "harsh and explicit way." When semi-independent radio station Ekho Moskvy posted a survey asking if Khodorkovsky deserved punishment, Kadyrov called it Russia's "top anti-Islamic bastion" and did everything but declare a fatwa against its editor if he were not punished.
Coming from a man whom reputable rights groups have impugned in horrific rights abuses and who boasted of extrajudicial reprisals against accused militants' relatives, these threats are difficult to take lightly. Khodorkovsky equated Kadyrov's threats to the Paris attackers' demands; Ekho Moskvy editor Alexei Venedikov said he would file a police complaint.
Other pro-Kremlin figures have taken the comparatively safe option of seeing the hand of the U.S. in the attacks. Several commentators saw convenient timing in the attacks, which came two days after French President François Hollande called to lift Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia.
"The Obama administration is already mobilized to offer 'protection' – Mob-style – to a Western Europe that is just, only just, starting to be diffident to the pre-fabricated Russian 'threat,'" columnist Pepe Escobar wrote for Russia Today. "And just as it happens, when the Empire of Chaos mostly needs it, evil 'terra' once again rears its ugly head."
LifeNews, a cable channel with barely concealed links to Russia's security services, interviewed an "expert" who speculated that the U.S. had not just planned the attacks, but planted the cartoons themselves in Charlie Hebdo years earlier to create a pretext for the false flag operation.
"I want to point out that in the last few years and decades so-called Islamic terrorism has been in the hands of one of the world's leading security agencies, I mean the U.S.," the man, Alexei Martynov, said. "I am convinced that American handlers are somehow behind the Islamists who committed this terrorist attack." (Other LifeNews analysts limited themselves to blaming the attack on France's drift away from Russia, which turned the country into an "American puppet.")
Russia's state newswire limited itself to a cartoon simply mocking the media coverage and journalists' declarations of solidarity.
Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71
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