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Russian Media Condemn Paris Attacks — But Question Who Was Behind Them


The string of attacks in France has gotten a lot of attention in Russia. Those killings prompted official condolences from President Vladimir Putin and assurances that Russia is ready to cooperate with the West on counterterrorism issues. But the Paris attacks got very different responses from some Russian religious figures and the news media. NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us from Moscow to talk about the reaction there. And, Corey, let's begin with the reaction from some religious leaders in Russia. That's important, I think, because Russia has a strong Orthodox Christian tradition but also a big Muslim community.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: That's right, Renee. And leaders of both those groups condemned the killings in Paris. But many of them also condemned the staff of that satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo because some Russian Orthodox activists here rallied to say that the cartoonists brought the attack on themselves. They were insulting the feelings of religious believers. The officially sanctioned Muslim leadership - it's called the Russian Council of Muftis - condemned the murders. But they said the magazine had committed the sin of provocation.

MONTAGNE: And of course there's also a fear of Islamist terrorism there in Russia. Is that also at play here?

FLINTOFF: Yes it is. Russia's experienced horrific attacks by Islamist separatists. And some of those attacks were just over a year ago. So the concern is very real. I think there's a fear that if you stir up religious hatreds, it could provoke a lot more violence like that.

MONTAGNE: And we've talked before about how state-run media in Russia have been taking a very aggressive anti-Western, anti-American line. So how have the media been treating these attacks?

FLINTOFF: You know, various anti-Western conspiracy theories are pretty much a staple of the Russian mass media. There's a popular TV channel called Life News that gave a lot of play to an analyst who claims that the attacks were an American plot. He basically said this was a scheme by American intelligence agencies to frighten France and frighten Europeans about terrorism. The idea being that they would seek the protection of American counterterrorism measures. There's a popular tabloid that ran a front-page headline with the question did Americans plan the Paris terrorist attacks? That theme there was that the attacks were a warning to French President Hollande because he had recently suggested that the sanctions against Russia should be lifted.

MONTAGNE: And, Corey, in Europe, there appears to be quite a concern about the way these broadcasts can influence public opinion - not just in Russia but in the West because Russia is building up its broadcasts in European languages.

FLINTOFF: That's true. In fact, the European Union is considering starting a Russian-language TV channel that counters some of that influence. It would be a bit like the Soviet-era broadcasts from Radio Free Europe. And that's provoked a backlash from Russian officials. They're portraying it as a kind of a reverse propaganda channel. A Russian deputy foreign minister came out yesterday, claiming that the program like that would be a so-called - and I'm quoting - "an attack on free speech."

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow.

FLINTOFF: My pleasure, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.