Attack in St. Petersburg: Who benefits?

Law enforcement officers near Sennaya Ploshchad station of the St Petersburg metro in the aftermath of an explosion.

Law enforcement officers near Sennaya Ploshchad station of the St Petersburg metro in the aftermath of an explosion.

Sergei Konkov/TASS
It’s believed the vicious metro attack on innocent civilians in Russia’s second city was likely masterminded by the Islamic fundamentalist group ISIS, but ultra-nationalists from Ukraine shouldn't be ruled out.

Irrespective of who carried out the bombing (intelligence services of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan assert the terrorist was of Kyrgyz origin), it doesn’t have the usual characteristics of a "one wolf" attack but is typical of a premeditated, carefully planned terrorist act.

The target (civilians), scale (the bomb was placed in the center of the carriage and the blast occurred in the tunnel, probably to maximize the number of victims), location (the birth place of President Putin), and timing were almost certainly chosen to wreak as much havoc and human tragedy as possible, as well as attracting huge media coverage.

But who really benefits from all this, or as the Ancient Romans once said: "Cui prodest?"

Convulsions of the losers

ISIS militants are on the retreat in Syria. Steady advancements on several fronts by two anti-ISIS coalitions leaves the promoters of the medieval Caliphate little if any chance to withstand the pressure, let alone stage a full-scale comeback.

Looking down the barrel of defeat, ISIS might be planning more desperate attacks on European cities, the likes of which have already devastated Paris, Nice, and Berlin. Russia is also on the terrorists’ radar given Moscow’s military action in Syria.

Since autumn 2015, Moscow has been offering military and diplomatic support to Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria fighting both a civil war and ISIS, who have taken over almost a third of the country. Russia has proved to be an efficient actor capable of turning the tide in favor of the anti-terrorist forces.

As recently as this March, ISIS carried out a suicide raid on the Russian National Guard base in Chechnya. There have been many ISIS incursions into Russia, although most of them have either been aborted or averted, as stated by security agencies.

According to published data, some 9,000 jihadists were born either in Russia or in post-Soviet republics. Sensing that the Islamist dream of restoring the Caliphate is dimming out, some of these radicals might have returned home. Since these hardened fighters have probably known nothing more than the art of killing and destroying for the last few years, settling for a peaceful existence might be difficult. They may be trying to bring the war to Russia and continuing what they were trained to do – slaughter infidels.

The St. Petersburg attack might well have been plotted by ISIS after employing jihadists that journeyed home to seek revenge for Russia’s bombing raids in the Middle East.

Spillover of extremists from Ukraine

Despite the persistent triumphalism of ultra-nationalists in Ukraine, who managed to subjugate the government of Petro Poroshenko, the prospects of restoring stability and prosperity to the country appear a long way off.

Slowly realizing that things went wrong and assessing failures on multiple fronts (successful defiance of the "regime change" in Kiev by two self-proclaimed republics in Donbass, rapid deindustrialization of the national economy, cold-shoulder attitude of the European Union to demands of financial assistance, etc.), the ultra-right coalition, which is incorporating the neo Nazi party Svoboda, is becoming frustrated and, as a result, even more violent.

Given the fact that the Ukrainian ultra-right have succeeded in recruiting and rallying foreign collaborators, some of whom are professional mercenaries with combat experience, one should not exclude the possibility that they would want to target the perceived culprit of all their setbacks: Russia.

Vladimir Mikheev is a freelance commentator for Russia Beyond The Headlines. His opinion does not reflect the position of RBTH or its staff.

Read more: Kyrgyzstan’s special services identify St. Petersburg terror attack suspect

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