Monday 5 December 2016

Kremlin accused of bizarre terror threat cover-up

Alison Quinn Moscow

Published 29/12/2015 | 02:30

A woman walks past a New Year’s decoration in central Moscow yesterday. Photo: Maxim Zmeyev
A woman walks past a New Year’s decoration in central Moscow yesterday. Photo: Maxim Zmeyev

Russia was accused of a bizarre attempt to cover up terrorism threats yesterday after claiming that a decision to close off Moscow's Red Square on New Year's Eve was because a film crew would be working there.

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The city's security chiefs shocked Muscovites last week by declaring that the traditional spot for seeing in the New Year would be off limits because of filming commitments.

But the announcement, as European capitals received warnings of a Paris-style attack over the New Year, drew a baffled response from the film company concerned, which said it had no plans to be there.

Suspicions are growing that the Kremlin wanted to downplay the danger from Isil, which has threatened vengeance for Russia's military campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

The terror group has claimed responsibility for October's downing of a Russian airliner flying from the Egyptian resort of Sharm-el Sheikh, in which 224 people died.

The decision to shut Red Square was made on Christmas Eve, shortly before it was revealed that London and other European cities had been told to be on heightened alert over the festive period.

The warnings came from an unnamed intelligence agency.

While it was not clear whether Moscow was among the capitals named, Valery Ryzansky, the head of a Russian parliamentary tourism committee, warned the public that they would be better off celebrating at home.

Officials said Red Square, which is also close to the Kremlin, would be closed for filming 'Blue Light', a popular programme that screens the countdown to New Year's Eve on state television. The event includes performances by celebrities and is held in a different location each year.

The decision baffled Russian commentators.

"Closing Red Square for everyone in Moscow on New Year's Eve is like closing Times Square in New York," wrote Alexander Klyukin in the 'Kommersant' newspaper, suggesting there was more to the story. Suspicions grew yesterday when the television company involved, VGTRK, said no work was planned for Red Square on New Year's Eve. "We've already filmed the programme. 'Blue Light' is shot in advance," a source told local media.

Nikolai Valuyev, a State Duma deputy for the ruling United Russia party, said the ban was most likely the result of security concerns.

"If they're closing it, they probably have their reasons, considering recent events and the increased risk of terrorism," Mr Valuyev told the 'Komsomolskaya Pravda' newspaper.

Irina Khakamada, another Russian politician, accused city officials of handing Isil a propaganda victory.

Irish Independent

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