Ukraine war updates: Russia says it’s ‘hard to believe’ Islamic State group behind terror attack; death toll rises to 140

Russian officials continue to accuse the West and Ukraine of involvement in the Crocus City Hall attack last Friday in which 140 people were killed.

Ukraine denies any involvement and the White House said last Sunday that “ISIS bears sole responsibility for this attack,” using an acronym for the Islamic State militant group, which said it was behind the attack. White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson added that there was “no Ukrainian involvement whatsoever.”

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed the U.S.′ initial rejection of any Ukrainian involvement was suspicious and said the Islamic State group was created by the West.

In other news, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday dismissed the secretary of the country’s security council, Oleksiy Danilov, and replaced him with Oleksandr Lytvynenko, who served as the head of the Ukrainian foreign intelligence service.

No reason was given for the decision, which comes shortly after Zelenskyy replaced the head of the armed forces in a key military shake-up.

Russia sentences Pussy Riot activist to six years in absentia for Ukraine “war fakes”
A Russian court sentenced Lyusya Shtein, a member of Pussy Riot and a former municipal deputy in Moscow, to six years in prison in absentia for anti-war social media posts, the court’s press service said on Wednesday.

Shtein, 27, was found guilty of spreading “war fakes” in connection with a March 2022 post on X, in which she accused Russian soldiers captured by Ukraine of “bombing foreign cities and killing people”, Russian independent news outlet Mediazona reported.

At least 19,855 people have been detained in Russia for expressing anti-war views since President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors crackdowns on dissent.

Those found guilty of spreading “false information” about Russia’s army risk 10 years in prison.

The Moscow court said Shtein, who served as a Moscow municipal deputy until 2022, would begin her sentence once she could be extradited to Russia.
At least one person has died and 12 have been injured, including children, in the latest Russian strikes on Ukraine’s Kharkiv, its mayor Ihor Terekhov, said on Telegram on Wednesday. Some of those injured are in serious condition, he added.

Apartment buildings and a emergency medical facility were struck and the search for those in need of help is still ongoing, Terekhov said.

CNBC could not independently verify the reports.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that it’s “extremely hard to believe” that the Islamic State (IS) militant group would be able to launch an attack like the one that occurred in Moscow last Friday, in which 140 died.

Zakharova is among senior Russian officials claiming that Western countries and Ukraine were behind the Crocus City Hall attack, despite Islamic State saying it had carried out the massacre.

Zakharova’s comments, reported by Reuters, were less cautious than those from the Kremlin, with Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov telling CNBC Wednesday that “an investigation is underway” and that “the final version [of the investigation] has not yet been announced.”

Aside from Russian political hawks, pro-Kremlin Russian media commentators have also claimed the attack was not typical of IS, citing the fact the attackers were not wearing suicide belts and did not appear to be religious fanatics.

Russian media personalities have also parroted the line that the attackers tried to flee toward Ukraine, a line disputed, unusually, by Putin’s close ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who said the attackers originally fled toward Belarus but had been forced to change direction, toward Ukraine, because of Belarus’ enhanced security measures.

A raft of senior Russian officials and pro-Kremlin media have alleged this week that Ukraine, the U.K. and U.S. somehow coordinated attack in a bid to destabilize Russia and sow panic.

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