However, one reason for that ambivalence is that many Russians don’t really see Isil as an imminent threat to national security. If Isil’s claims of responsibility turn out to be genuine, it may actually boost public support for Mr Putin’s war in Syria – at least in the short term.
Photo: AP Either way, he and his government will come under massive pressure to respond, forcefully and visibly, against the perpetrators.
Mr Putin first cemented his popularity by ruthlessly crushing Chechen separatism following a series of horrific terrorist attacks in the early 2000s.
Photo: Corbis His crude approach to the issue, summed up in his infamous comment that “we’ll kill them even in the outhouse”, has produced a myriad of documented human rights abuses – but it met with widespread approval from a Russian public exhausted by atrocities like apartment block bombings, exploding airliners, and the Beslan school and Dubrovka theatre sieges.
In short, Mr Putin cannot afford not to live up to that reputation now. But retaliation carries its own risks.
When the Kremlin launched military intervention in Syria just over a month ago, officials were at pains to stress that there would be no mission creep: it would be Russians in the air, but strictly Syrians, Iranians, and Hizbollah on the ground.
They probably meant it. Russia’s leaders remain conscious of the Soviet Union’s disastrous entanglement in Afghanistan 30 years ago, and of the British and American misadventures there and in Iraq more recently.
No one, however, starts a mission intending it to creep, and many of Russia’s most respected political experts warned that just such a dramatic act of terror could drag Russia deeper into the war in Syria than Mr Putin at first intended.
Photo: AP “God forbid a Russian pilot is captured by Isil and burnt alive as the Jordanian one was,” one highly respected Russian foreign policy expert said at the time. “Russia is not a country that can afford not to respond to something like that.”
If the Metrojet disaster really was the work of terrorists, just such a moment may have arrived.