With its own homegrown Islamist insurgency in the volatile North Caucasus region, Russia is no stranger to brazen terrorist attacks.
But while President Vladimir Putin promptly offered his condolences to those affected by Wednesday’s shooting in Paris, other officials and commentators in Russia were quick to point out it actually has nothing to do with Russia.
“The tragedy in Paris shows that it’s not Russia threatening Europe and its safety. This is a bluff,” Alexei Pushkov, head of Russia’s parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, wrote on Twitter. “The real threat comes from adherents of terror. That’s a fact.”
Officials in Moscow have resented the United States and much of Europe for months over those countries’ criticism of the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy.
The US and EU governments slapped several rounds of sanctions on the Kremlin after it annexed Crimea last March and stirred up an armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine shortly after.
But that has only boosted Russian defiance and stoked anti-Western sentiments, thanks mostly to state-controlled media.
Nowadays, Russians have grown used to catching what seems like unending flak from the West. That’s why many Kremlin loyalists also searching for opportunities to criticize it — and the Paris attack appeared to be no exception for some.
Igor Korotchenko, a defense analyst and prominent pro-government commentator, said the shooting represented a failure of the French security services — as well as Europe’s allegedly bad attitude toward its international partners.
“To a certain extent, if Europe will continue to engage in self-isolation and not work with Russia and the security services of other countries, it jeopardizes its own safety,” he told the pro-Kremlin tabloid LifeNews.
Russia has also experienced its own share of controversy over the offense of religious sensibilities — though in a different, more politically charged form.
Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012 was marked with the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church and its promotion of conservative values.
Russia’s liberal minority was outraged when authorities jailed members of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot over a raucous performance in Moscow’s main church.
That move was part of the official onslaught against the country’s political opposition, which has now been all but crushed. But elements of the debate are still relevant today.
Georgy Mirsky, a prominent Russian expert on the Middle East, harshly condemned the attack. But he also believes caricatures of Muhammad have no place in the free press.
“There are certain things you cannot touch,” he wrote in a blog for the Echo of Moscow radio station.
Pointing out that the Muslim population in Europe is growing, Mirsky added: “If both sides argue, ‘So why should we limit ourselves if there is freedom of speech,’ then the prospects for coexistence will look very pale.”