Letter From the Editors

On March 22, armed terrorists burst into Crocus City Hall and opened fire on concertgoers. They also set fire to the building, which took firefighters almost 24 hours to put out. As of this issue’s coverage, the tragedy had claimed the lives of at least 144 people, with 95 still unaccounted for. However, the death toll of the attack could have been much higher if not for the people who stepped in and helped save thousands of lives. Some of them were just teenagers, like coat check employees Islam Khalilov and Artyom Donskov, who led petrified spectators to safety. Some were anonymous bystanders who assisted a mother and her wheelchair-bound child. Others include passersby just going about their day who stopped and administered first aid until paramedics arrived.

Still, the lives of those who escaped will never be the same. Veteran Kommersant reporter Andrei Kolesnikov spoke with those who returned to claim their coats and other items days after the tragedy. The “lucky” ones, as many called themselves in the interviews. Of course, many items will remain unclaimed – and not just because their owners are now dead. “There are others who couldn’t come – including some of the survivors. Some are in the hospital. Others are at home, in serious condition, but for some reason, which they can’t explain even to themselves, they are reluctant to see a doctor. They think their wounds will gradually heal without any treatment. But they won’t,” writes Kolesnikov. And even something as simple as claiming a lost item becomes a weighty decision: “That night will be hard to forget as it is,” said one survivor, Yevgeny. “I don’t think I want the coat to remind me of it.”

The investigators have already arrested several suspects – reportedly Tajik nationals – in connection with the attack. Just a few weeks ago, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon warned that “groups and special services with a vested interest” are using poorly educated young people from Tajikistan in terrorist acts. At the same time, the Tajik Foreign Ministry expressed concern that “the dissemination of unverified and inaccurate information could harm Tajik citizens.” Considering that a slew of Russian politicians have already called for toughening migration laws and even bringing back the death penalty, the concern is not exactly irrational.

Perhaps to cool some hotheads, Putin said in his address that terrorists do not have a nationality (which “rocked the camp of ultrapatriots,” writes NG). At the same time, the Russian president pointed the finger at Ukraine: “All four direct perpetrators of the terrorist attack. . . were attempting to escape and were moving in the direction of Ukraine, where preliminary information indicates that the Ukrainian side prepared a window for them to cross the state border.” According to Republic commentator Aleksandr Zhelenin, the discovery of a “Ukrainian trail” is a clear sign that the Crocus attack was a typical Kremlin false flag operation.

Zhelenin also questions how Central Asian migrants could have procured automatic weapons and even a flamethrower, given the sort of scrutiny they face from Russian special services. The cherry on top was the discovery of a Tajik passport in one of the detained suspects’ vehicles, because clearly “every terrorist, when planning a terrorist attack, remembers to take his passport with him.”

How the Crocus City Hall attack will affect the war in Ukraine is another question experts are trying to answer. Meduza spoke with several insider sources. Some don’t expect “unpredictable, far-reaching, or fundamental” changes following Crocus, such as a new wave of mobilization. Another source says that the attack won’t change any existing plans – “It’s just a question of the situation at the front.” Of course, for the victims and survivors of Crocus, political grandstanding and military muscle-flexing is little consolation. They will carry their physical and emotional scars for a long time. And like the item they may have claimed, wrapped neatly in a blue plastic bag, it is a lasting reminder of the fragility of human life.