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Conspiracies, West-Bashing, And Sympathy -- Russia Reacts To Charlie Hebdo Attack

People hold placards as they pay tribute to the 12 people killed by two gunmen at the French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo's editorial office, outside French Embassy in Moscow on January 9.
People hold placards as they pay tribute to the 12 people killed by two gunmen at the French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo's editorial office, outside French Embassy in Moscow on January 9.

After gunmen killed 12 people at the Paris offices of the weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Russian President Vladimir Putin swiftly condemned the attack and promised to continue "active cooperation in combating the threat of terrorism."

Some of his allies, though, may not have gotten the memo.

A day after the shooting, LifeNews, a news channel believed to have ties to Russia's security services, ran a 10-minute segment with a pro-Kremlin political analyst who claimed that U.S. intelligence carried out the attack on the satirical weekly.

"As for the events in Paris, I am sure that one way or another American curators stood behind the Islamists that carried out the attack," said Aleksei Martynov, the head of the International Institute of the New States, an organization created shortly before the 2008 Russia-Georgia War that appears to focus on promoting breakaway regions in Russia's periphery.

In a somewhat disjointed argument, Martynov said at various moments that the attack was both a result of Europe's souring ties with Moscow over the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and that it may have been Washington's way of pressuring Paris not to ease sanctions on Russia.

​Russian officials and state media frequently promote rumors about alleged U.S. plots shaping world events. In 2014, they floated U.S.-tied conspiracies about Ukraine, the September 11 attacks, and the falling price of oil.

Many Russians, though, have expressed unequivocal revulsion at the events in Paris.

Staff at the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy wore T-shirts emblazoned with the popular "Je suis Charlie" meme. Activists laid flowers outside the French Embassy in Moscow and held a small vigil in honor of those who were killed.

But while conspiracy theories have just begun to spread, others have found their own ways to blame the West for the massacre.

Dmitry Steshin, a well-known war reporter who has covered the conflict in Ukraine from the side of pro-Russian separatists, compared Charlie Hebdo's content to "public masturbation" by apes and appeared to blame the attack on Western decadence.

"I know one thing now," he wrote in the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. "We -- Christians, Muslims, Jews, and even Buddhists -- stand on one side of evolution, and liberal Europeans stand on the other. And all are moving in inexorably opposing directions."

The leader of a fringe Russian Orthodox group, meanwhile, led a sparsely attended picket outside the French Embassy in which he blamed the French government for the attack for not "defending the feelings of believers."

Russia's Council of Muftis "angrily condemned" the attack but appeared to place some of the blame for it in the hands of the magazine's staff.

"Perhaps the sin of provocation in our world is no less dangerous for peace than the sin of those who gave in to this provocation," the organization said. "Insulting the feelings of believers is unacceptable and as unacceptable as any manifestation of extremism."

A journalist at, a pro-Kremlin news site, appeared to blame multiculturalism.

In a story titled "Here's Their Tolerance For You," Ilya Kramnik wrote that "an effective measure" would be a "change in approach to tolerance, at minimum with the goal of only giving it to those who are ready to tolerate those around them. However, the current European political system is likely to rule out such reform."

Others took the attack as an opportunity to try to mend fractured ties with the West.

"The tragedy in Paris shows that it is not Russia that threatens Europe and her security," wrote Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee. "That's a bluff. The genuine threat comes from the agents of terror. That's a fact."

Margarita Simonyan, the chief editor of RT, Russia's state-run, English-language broadcaster, used a similar tone, writing that World War III is coming soon and "Russia and the West will be on one side of the barricade."

And although her channel has itself given frequent airtime to a range of outlandish conspiracy theories, on Paris rumors, Simonyan wasn't buying it. Those who believe Washington was behind the attacks, she wrote, may have "buckwheat" in their heads.

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    Glenn Kates

    Glenn Kates is the former managing editor for digital at Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. He now reports for RFE/RL as a freelancer. 

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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