Listen to this article
The mound of flowers outside the French embassy in Moscow kept on growing with every fresh tribute from Russians to those killed in the terror attacks in Paris.
But with sympathy Russia is expressing feelings of vindication, even schadenfreude, at the events in Paris, in a stark reminder of the schism in political views and basic values that is opening ever wider between the country and its European neighbours.
Russians from all sections of society have cast the Paris attacks as a political and moral lesson that proved their country right and the west wrong.
Dmitry Afanasiev, chairman of Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners, Russia’s largest law firm, said: “Someone should finally mount a legal challenge in the United States on behalf of the victims of terrorism against US governmental and corporate entities and individuals who have pursued irresponsible geopolitical ambitions by supporting Islamic extremists in the Middle East.”
The US, he said, had exploited the instability caused by groups such as Isis as an excuse to overthrow governments, including that of Syria, echoing concerns that Vladimir Putin, Russian president, has expressed for years.
Mr Afanasiev continued: “These double-standard policies — where ‘good’ or ‘moderate’ terrorists are supported against ‘bad’ governments — have backfired in the streets of Paris.
“There is strong belief in Russia that without the direct and indirect support from the US and its Persian Gulf allies the various extremist groups would not have been able to develop so strongly. Whether this support was intentional or a result of a serial negligence, either way it needs to stop.”
Russian politicians were also quick to use the Paris attacks to discredit the west’s approach to the Syria crisis. Alexei Pushkov, head of the Duma’s foreign relations committee, said: “The west must move from a fictitious war against Isis to real military action in Iraq and Syria. Military and political co-ordination with Russia is needed.”
Many Russian commentators seized on the attacks as a significant moment far beyond politics. A column on Saturday in Izvestia, a pro-Kremlin newspaper, blamed the Paris attacks on an “orgy of tolerance” in Europe.
Vsevolod Chaplin, a senior official at the Russian Orthodox church, said: “What happened is not just an occasion for mourning, it is also cause to ask ourselves: can Europe go on living like this? The century of tolerance, pluralism, indifferent world views and renunciation of truth is over, and it is time to return to old morals.”
Years of increasingly aggressive propaganda in state media, US and EU sanctions against Moscow and western suspicion of Russia over everything from its military intervention in Syria to corruption in sport have left much of the population convinced that Russia is defending itself against a hostile and morally degenerate west.
Yegor Kholmogorov, a nationalist commentator, blasted President François Hollande of France for upholding support for freedom of speech in the wake of January’s fatal gun attack by Islamist gunmen at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
“Hollande was interested only to prevent Marine Le Pen from gaining political points and started the campaign of hysterical tolerance [under the slogan] ‘Je suis Charlie’,” Mr Kholmogorov wrote in a column on Saturday.
Other commentators used the attacks to endorse Ms Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, who wants to end immigration and believes France is under Islamist assault.
“If the French have any pride left, Marine Le Pen will be the next president of France!” tweeted Vladimir Smirnov, a journalist at a mass-circulation Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
Ms Le Pen has ties with Russian conservatives and is an occasional visitor to Moscow, most recently in March when she met Sergei Naryshkin, Duma speaker. Last year a Russian bank granted Ms Le Pen’s party a €9m loan.
While many mainstream politicians in Russia hold views on migration close to those of Ms Le Pen, Russian society is sensitive to mocking of religious feelings.
Although most Russians traditionally see themselves as culturally European and many echoed the “Je suis Charlie” slogan, many believe that satirists’ right to free expression should be limited by religious sensitivities.
The issue of Charlie Hebdo that linked the loss of a Russian airliner in Egypt to Isis led to an outpouring of angry comments in the Russian blogosphere. Russian internet users rejected this as mocking of the 224 people who died aboard the Metrojet airliner that exploded above the Sinai peninsula.
Letters in response to this report:
Get alerts on Terrorism when a new story is published