Lukashenko contradicts Putin’s claims about Moscow attackers fleeing to Ukraine

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said Tuesday that the alleged perpetrators in the Moscow concert hall attack were initially fleeing toward Belarus, not Ukraine, in the aftermath of the massacre on Friday.

Lukashenko’s remarks contradict assertions made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has tried to suggest Ukraine was involved in the attack, in part, by claiming that the gunmen were fleeing in the direction of Ukraine following the attack.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, which has been further confirmed by the United States. Ukrainian officials have also denied accusations of it playing any role in the atrocity, in which nearly 140 people were killed and dozens more were injured.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Lukashenko touted the security measures that Belarus took following the attack, including some measures undertaken in coordination with Russia. He said when the attackers saw the security measures, they realized they would not be able to escape into Belarus.

“That’s why they couldn’t enter Belarus. They saw it. So they turned away and went to the section of the Ukrainian-Russian border,” Lukashenko said about the perpetrators, according to the Belarusian state media outlet BELTA.

Putin and other Kremlin officials have aggressively pushed the narrative that Ukraine was involved in the attack.

On Tuesday, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Alexander Bortnikov, doubled down on Putin’s unsubstantiated claim that the attack could not have been carried out by the Islamic State alone and that the Ukrainians somehow assisted, according to the Russian state media outlet TASS.

“The primary data we received from the detainees confirms this,” he said, repeating Putin’s claim that “the bandits themselves intended to go abroad, specifically to the territory of Ukraine.”

The attack came just days after Putin secured another term in office, in an election widely repudiated as undemocratic and orchestrated by Putin and his allies.

Shortly after the attack, reports circulated that Putin had brushed off U.S. warnings of extremist attacks in Moscow days ahead of the incident.

The U.S. Embassy in Russia issued a security alert warning on March 7 that “extremists” were planning an attack in Moscow and advised individuals to avoid large gatherings over the following two days.

Three days before the attack, Putin called the embassy’s alerts “provocative” and “outright blackmail” intended to damage Russian society.

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