A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
MOSCOW -- The death toll was still mounting in the Brussels bombings when prominent Russian officials, lawmakers, and pro-Kremlin pundits began using the attack to criticize Europe.
Russians brought flowers to the Belgian Embassy in Moscow, and officials from President Vladimir Putin on down offered condolences over the attack. At the same time, senior officials and lawmakers undermined those signals of solidarity with a far less sympathetic message to the West: It's your own fault.
Prominent Putin allies in government, parliament, and punditry cast the attack as the result of what they claimed are the "double standards" in the Western governments' approach to Islamist militants. They accused the West of playing up a threat from Russia while ignoring what Putin says is the need to cooperate more closely with Moscow in combtting terrorism.
"While [NATO Secretary General Jens] Stoltenberg...fights the imaginary 'Russian threat' and sends troops to Latvia, people are being blown up in Brussels right under his nose," Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of the international affairs committee in the State Duma, Russia's lower parliament house, wrote on Twitter.
In a separate tweet, Pushkov also offered condolences – but he added that "It's time for Europe to realize where the real threat comes from and join forces with Russia."
Several prominent figures suggested Western countries were getting what they deserved for – in Russia's narrative – supporting "terrorists" when it suits their geopolitical interests.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova offered condolences as well, while in the same breath suggesting Europe has nobody to blame but itself.
"You can't support terrorists in one place and think that they won't come to you," Zakharova was quoted by Komsomolskaya Pravda as saying."You must not divide terrorists into good and bad, you must not support them in the Middle East and the North Caucasus and then think that they won't come to another part of the planet."
Putin has frequently accused the United States and other Western countries of lending support in the past to militants in Russia's North Caucasus, though Washington and other governments deny these claims. More recently, Western countries have supported some Syrian opposition groups that Moscow and its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, call terrorists.
Igor Korotchenko, a pro-Kremlin military journalist who appears regularly on state television, was quoted by a Kremlin pool journalist as saying: "Europe is paying for the double standards of its politicians. They didn't draw conclusions from the terrorist attacks in Paris."
Politicians who are cast as the "opposition" but often toe the Kremlin line also got into the act.
The head of Russia's Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, said Europe is now paying "bloody tribute" after declining Putin's proposal to establish a "powerful international coalition in the struggle with terrorism."
Zyuganov said Europe is acting in contravention of its own interests because of "its need to be subordinate to Uncle Sam," state-run news agency RIA reported.
'Deport All Migrants'
Flamboyant ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), said Europe should let Russia send riot police to deal with its migrant and refugee crisis.
"After the terrorist attack, Europeans need to shut their borders, isolate all migrants and gradually deport them from the Schengen zone," he wrote on Twitter.
"If the Europeans can't manage themselves – let them invite Russia's spetsnaz, our spets guys," he wrote, referring to elite Russian security forces. "We know how to fight this infection."
In Ukraine, the head of the state Security Service (SBU) suggested that blame for the Brussels attacks might lie not with Europe at all but with Russia -- a remark swiftly denounced in Moscow as outrageous.
"I wouldn't be surprised if this is an element of Russia's hybrid war," SBU head Vasyl Hrytsak was quoted as saying while speaking at a university.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called Hrytsak a "moron" in a Facebook post, while Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zakharova called him a "non-human."
Russia's seizure of Crimea and support for separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 9,100 people in eastern Ukraine are seen by many analysts as part of a "hybrid war" against the West.
Not all Russians, meanwhile, were on board with the rhetoric coming from on high.
"Are you not ashamed to write this?" Twitter user Boris Livshits wrote in response to Pushkov's comment. "Could you just send people your condolences, eh?"
Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics.
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL