ARGUMENT: RUSSIAN DISINFORMATIONDon’t Buy Moscow’s Shameless Campaign Tying Biden to Its Terrorist Attack

Published 26 April 2024

Russia has offered many different explanations to the ISIS-K’s 22 March 2024 terrorist attack at the Crocus City Hall in Moscow, but the most recent explanation offered by Russia is the most audacious yet: Russia now charges that the Ukrainian energy company Burisma financed the attack. Burisma is at the center of an effort by a congressional committee to impeach President Biden, but the case has all but collapsed. Hunter Stoll writes that Russia’s disinformation and propaganda apparatus appears to be searching for ways to keep Burisma in the news ahead of the U.S. presidential election.

As is often the case, Russia has offered many different explanations to the ISIS-K’s 22 March 2024 terrorist attack at the Crocus City Hall in Moscow, which killed more than 140 and left dozens more seriously injured. Some Russian officials have stated that the United States did not provide specific enough intelligence concerning the anticipated attack, while others have said the intelligence was never transmitted in the first place.

Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, have even suggested that the United States and the broader West are actually responsible for facilitating the attack. Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s Security Counsel, said that the terrorist attack can be traced to the “Ukrainian special services.”

But now there is yet another twist: in early April, Russia’s top investigative body accused Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings of financing the March terrorist attack. Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma for several years, and his relationship to the company has been central to a push by a Republican-controlled Congressional committee to try and impeach President Biden.

RFE/RL reports“That effort all but collapsed in February when a key witness who claimed Joe and Hunter Biden had each accepted bribes of $5 million from Burisma was charged with making up the claims and lying to the FBI.”

It now appears that what were supposed to be the key pieces of information purportedly supporting the case for impeachment were fabricated by the Russian intelligence services and fed to the committee through cutouts.

The Russian accusations against Burisma as having financed the March terrorist attacks appear to be an effort to keep Bursima in the news ahead of the U.S. November presidential election.

“By shifting blame [for the terrorist attack] to Burisma, Moscow appears to be drumming up disinformation aimed at the United States as election season gets into full swing,” Hunter Stoll, a defense analyst at RAND and a captain in the Army Reserve, writes in The Hill.

Stoll lists the different, and ever-changing, Russian explanations as to the source of the March terrorist attack, and the reason why, six months before the election, Russia’s disinformation and propaganda apparatus is, again, trying to push Burisma into the public debate ahead of the election. He writes:

Why does the narrative change so frequently? Why are multiple Russian officials saying so many conflicting things regarding the terrorist attack?

This is a signature example from the Russian disinformation playbook: Flood the information space with many competing theories behind an event to drown out the truth. This tactic can be described as a “firehose of falsehood,” in which Russian disinformation is disseminated through a great number of channels, with a willingness to share only partial truths or outright lies. And this firehose becomes a dangerous weapon, especially when unleashed ahead of major geopolitical events, like the upcoming U.S. elections.

After the terrorist attack, Moscow and its associated propagandists levied accusations against multiple entities: Western spy agencies, the Ukrainian government, and now Burisma. Accusing the West allows Putin to continue stoking the flames of an “us vs. them” mentality, preying on the fears of Russian citizens and keeping his domestic support strong. Accusing Ukraine gives Putin further justification to continue his invasion of the sovereign country.

Why is Burisma the latest in this string of incredibly unlikely masterminds and financiers of the terrorist attacks? One possibility is that it is part of Russia’s campaign to interfere in U.S. elections. With elections a little over six months away, America’s competitors and adversaries will likely begin ramping up efforts to influence the results. What better way to play to the American voters’ passions than evoking controversial stories involving the president, his family, Burisma, and Ukraine—stories that have been in U.S. news cycles for years?

With elections a lit

Burisma remains a part of political debate as a key part of House Republicans’ Biden impeachment inquiry. There is a chance that this latest thread of Russian disinformation could help keep it there.

With the U.S. elections drawing nearer, careful attention should be paid to attempts by foreign actors to influence American voters. By accusing Burisma of sponsoring terrorist attacks in Russia and making loose insinuations that President Biden, the United States, and Western intelligence agencies are somehow connected as well, Russian disinformation campaigns are actively working to undermine and influence the 2024 U.S. presidential election.