Czechs say number of Russian spies in Prague “extremely high”

PragueBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The number of active Russian intelligence operatives in the Czech Republic increased notably in the past year, according to an official report by the country’s counterintelligence service. In its annual report released on Monday, the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) said the number of Russian intelligence personnel stationed in the central European country had risen dramatically since the start of the crisis in Ukraine. The crisis, which brought Russian troops in Ukraine and resulted in the annexation of Crimea by Russia, has prompted the most serious crisis in the West’s relations with Russia since the end of the Cold War. The BIS report did not reveal the precise number of alleged Russian intelligence personnel on Czech soil, but it noted that the majority of them posed as diplomats in Russia’s embassy in Czech capital Prague. It stated that “when it comes to Russia’s diplomatic mission, in 2013 the number of intelligence officers working undercover as diplomats was extremely high”. It added that significant numbers of Russian intelligence operatives were in the Czech Republic in a non-official-cover (NOC) capacity, meaning there were not officially connected with the Russian embassy there and had no diplomatic immunity. These officers “travel to the Czech Republic as individuals, posing as tourists, experts, academics and entrepreneurs”, said the report, “or settled down in the country through purchasing property”. Nearly 50,000 Russian citizens live in the Czech Republic as long-term legal residents. Relations between Moscow and Prague have been frosty in the post-communist era, and have deteriorated significantly following the Czech Republic’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In the summer of 2010, three Czech generals, including the head of the president’s military office and the country’s representative to NATO, resigned following revelations that one of their senior staffers had a romantic relationship with a Russian spy. Read more of this post

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More information emerges on Poles who ‘spied for Russia’

Zbigniew J.By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
More information has emerged on two Polish citizens who were arrested earlier this month in Warsaw on charges of spying for a foreign intelligence agency. Polish media reported last week that a colonel in the Polish Army had been arrested by security personnel for operating as an unregistered agent of a foreign country. Subsequent media reports said a second man, a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship, had also been arrested. According to Polish media reports, the two men had been recruited by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. The organization is believed to have over a dozen officers stationed at the Russian embassy in the Polish capital, posing as diplomats, as well as an unknown number of non-official-cover operatives, who are not officially connected to the Russian diplomatic mission. One of the two arrestees has been identified simply as Zbigniew J., and is said to be a lieutenant colonel serving in Poland’s Ministry of National Defense. Polish newsmagazine Wprost said last weekend that Z.J. worked in the Ministry’s “enlightenment and morale” department, a post that required him to visit military units around the country as part of a team of experts. He would then impart the information gained from his travels to his GRU handler, an officer serving under diplomatic cover in Russia’s Warsaw embassy, during biweekly meetings. Wprost said Z.J. would receive small amounts for cash in exchange for his services, which are believed to have amounted to approximately $30,000 over the course of several years. The newsmagazine suggested that Z.J.’s motivations were primarily financial and were related to unspecified “personal troubles”. The second alleged spy arrested last week has been named as Stanisław Szypowski. He is a lawyer-turned-political-lobbyist who worked for Stopczyk & Mikulski, a prestigious law firm involved in a government-funded project to build facilities able to import liquefied natural gas into Poland. Read more of this post

Sweden closes Stockholm airspace in search for mystery submarine

Swedish search operationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Swedish authorities shut down airspace above Stockholm on Monday, as they continued searching for a mystery foreign vessel that was sighted repeatedly off the coast of the Swedish capital last week. Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported on Saturday that the search began last Thursday, after Swedish intelligence detected a number of Russian-language emergency radio signals, which were sent from the vicinity of the port of Stockholm to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave located on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania. On Sunday, the Swedish Ministry of Defense confirmed the search for the vessel, though it refused to speculate on the national origin of its crew and refrained from calling it a submarine. But a grainy surveillance photograph issued by the Ministry appears to show a submarine of considerable size —said to be Russian— peeking out of the waters of the Baltic Sea, at a location believed to be 30 nautical miles from Stockholm. One English-language Swedish newspaper quoted Johan Wiktorin, a fellow at the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences, who suggested three possible reasons for foreign submarine activity in Sweden’s territorial waters near Stockholm. Wiktorin speculated that the vessel could be “mapping the waters” around the Swedish capital, or it could be installing underwater surveillance equipment aimed at collecting a variety of maritime intelligence in the area. Alternatively, the mystery vessel could be testing Sweden’s maritime defense systems, said Wiktorin. On Monday, however, intense speculation appeared in local media about a fourth potential reason for the mystery submarine activity in Swedish territorial waters. A photograph emerged showing a man dressed in black frogman gear on the Swedish island of Korso. The image was purportedly taken by a local man at around the time when the submarine was sighted in the area. Read more of this post

Poles who ‘spied for Russia’ worked on strategic natural gas project

Polish Ministry of National DefenseBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
At least one of the two men arrested in Poland last week for spying for a “foreign entity” was working on a project of strategic significance, aimed at reducing Poland’s dependency on Russian natural gas. Polish media reported last Wednesday that a colonel in the Polish Army had been arrested by security personnel for acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign country. Subsequent media reports said a second man, a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship, had also been arrested. Later in the day, an official statement from the office of the Senior Military Prosecutor said simply that Poland’s Ministry of National Defense had “detained a Polish Army officer on suspicion of being a member of a foreign intelligence service”. But there was no mention of the country for which the detained men allegedly spied for. This past Saturday, Reuters revealed that the two men were suspected of spying for Russia. The news agency cited Marek Biernacki, a Polish parliamentarian, who is also a member of the Polish Parliament’s Committee on Intelligence and had allegedly been briefed by Polish intelligence officials about last week’s arrests. Biernacki told journalists that the actions relating to the two detainees had been “taken in respect of two agents of the Russian state”. In accordance with Polish law, the public prosecutor named the civilian detainee as Stanislaw Sz., using only his first name and the first two letters of his last name. Reuters said the man had been employed at the well-connected law firm of Stopczyk & Mikulski, whose website listed him until recently as an employee. Stanislaw Sz. was allegedly involved in a project to construct a coastal terminal in Swinoujscie, located on Poland’s Baltic Sea coast, for importing liquefied natural gas. The import terminal, which is scheduled to become operational in 2015, will allow Poland to import gas from the Persian Gulf. That will in turn reduce the country’s heavy dependence on imported Russian natural gas at a time when Warsaw’s relations with Moscow continue to deteriorate. Reuters said that the precise nature and timing of Stanislaw Sz.’s involvement with the Swinoujscie terminal is unclear, but it characterized the project as being of strategic importance for both Poland and Russia. Read more of this post

Senior Polish defense official detained for ‘spying for Russia’

Polish Ministry of National DefenseBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A high-ranking official in Poland’s Ministry of National Defense has reportedly been arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia. Poland’s Dziennik Gazeta Prawna said early on Wednesday that a man had been detained by Polish security personnel because it was thought he had been acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign country. Another source, Poland’s commercial news Radio Zet, reported that two men had been arrested, a colonel in the Polish Army and a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship. Later in the day, an official statement from the office of the Senior Military Prosecutor said simply that Poland’s “Ministry of National Defense detained a Polish Army officer on suspicion of being a member of a foreign intelligence service”. But it made no mention of the country for which the detained officer allegedly spied for. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Lieut. Col. Janusz Wojcik, said he could not disclose any details at the moment, adding only that the arrests were based on evidence complied by the counterintelligence service of the Polish Army. Another Polish official, Lieut. Col. Paul Durka, said the arrests had been coordinated by Poland’s Military Police and the Polish Army’s Internal Security Agency (ABW). But Polish media alleged that the defense official was apprehended for spying for Russia and suggested that his arrest was carried out in dramatic fashion by ABW forces inside the headquarters of the Ministry of National Defense, centrally located on Polish capital Warsaw’s Independence Avenue. This claim, which was later confirmed by ABW spokesman Lieut. Col. Maciej Karczyński, likely signifies that the spy suspect was captured in the act of espionage, following an extensive surveillance operation. Relations between Poland and Russia have been tense since the end of the Cold War, with several intelligence-related incidents making news headlines. In early 2010, the Polish government announced the arrest of a Russian resident of Warsaw, who was accused of working as a non-official-cover operative for Russia’s Main Intelligence Directory (GRU). Later that year, Polish media claimed that Stefan Zielonka, a senior SIGINT officer with Poland’s Military Intelligence Services (SWW), who disappeared without trace in early May of 2009, had defected to Russia. Read more of this post

Secret Russian spy base in Syria seized by Western-backed rebels

Screenshot from FSA videoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Rebel forces aligned to Syria’s Western-backed opposition have announced the seizure of a joint Syrian-Russian spy base, which observers say reveals the extent of Russia’s intelligence cooperation with Syria. The base is located at the base of the Tel Al-Hara Mountain, in southern Syria’s Golan Heights region, just south of the border crossing with Israel in the now largely destroyed Syrian city of Quneitra. The Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it took over the spy base on Sunday, following several weeks of fighting against rival groups, including Syrian government soldiers and members of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. The FSA said the base, referred to as “Center C” by Russian intelligence, had been under Russian command until it was abandoned at a time and for reasons that remain unknown. In a three-minute video released by the Western-backed rebel group on YouTube, an FSA officer appears to be guiding the cameraman around part of the seized base. He points to several diagrams and captions on the walls, which are both in Arabic and in Russian. At some point in the video, the seal of Syrian intelligence is clearly visible, placed next to the seal of the GRU’s 6th Directorate, the branch of Russian military intelligence that is tasked with collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT). At another point in the video, a series of photographs can be seen that depict Syrian and Russian intelligence officers working together in gathering and analyzing intelligence. Interestingly, one of the walls in the base features a map of northern Israel, an area that is adjacent to the Golan Heights, and appears to show the location of Israeli SIGINT stations and military encampments. It is unclear when exactly the spy base was abandoned by the Russian and Syrian intelligence officers that staffed it, Read more of this post

Estonian intelligence officer ‘abducted’ by Russian spies

EstoniaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn to complain about the alleged abduction of an Estonian intelligence officer by Russian forces, which it says occurred on Estonian soil. A statement from the Ministry said the Estonian intelligence officer, named Eston Kohver, has worked since 1991 for the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo. Speaking to reporters on Friday, KaPo Director Arnold Sinisalu said Kohver had been kidnapped by a team of “unidentified individuals from Russia”. The Estonian side claims that the abduction occurred in the vicinity of Luhamaa, a border-crossing facility in southeastern Estonia, which connects the small Baltic country with its Russian neighbor. Sinisalu said KaPo investigators had detected “signs of a scuffle” at the scene of the abduction, as well as vehicle tracks “leading from Russian to Estonian soil”. Subsequent reports in Estonian media alleged that the Russian abductors had managed to jam radio communications in the area prior to snatching Kohver. They also employed smoke grenades during the operation, which would explain a number of “explosions” heard in the vicinity, according to Estonian police spokesman Harrys Puusepp. But Russian sources dismissed the Estonian government’s claims, saying that Kohver had been detained while on Russian soil. Russian media reported that the Estonian counterintelligence officer had been captured by Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as FSB, while undertaking an “espionage operation” inside Russia. Reports in the Russian press said Kohver was caught in Russia’s Pskov region, carrying a loaded firearm, €5,000 ($6,500) in cash, “covert video recording equipment”, an “eavesdropping device”, as well as “other items relating to the gathering of intelligence”. A statement from the FSB said the Estonian operative had been captured while taking part in “an undercover operation” on behalf of KaPo. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #883

Oleg KaluginBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Indonesia, Australia renew intelligence ties. Australia and Indonesia have signed a pledge not to use intelligence to harm each other, signaling a resumption in cooperation, which had been suspended after last year’s spy scandal. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, signed the “joint understanding of a code of conduct” in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Thursday.
►►Ex-KGB general says Russia has already won in Ukraine. Russia has already won “the real victory”​ in Ukraine, according to former KGB general Oleg Kalugin, who is now living in the United States. The “southeast of Ukraine, that’s part of the general battle between the Russians and Ukrainians, but it’s not as crucial as the real victory and pride of Russia —the Crimea, I mean”, he said on Thursday. Kalugin reiterated that he does not believe Russian president Vladimir Putin wants annex another region of the country. “It’s not in the interest of Putin”, Kalugin said. “His position as of today is fairly strong in the country, in his own country, so why put it at risk by moving further?”
►►China says Canadian couple were spies disguised as ordinary citizens. Kevin and Julia Garratt have been accused of stealing Chinese military and national defense research secrets. They were detained on August 4, 2014, but not formally arrested, and China has offered little information on what they are accused of doing. The couple ran a coffee shop near the border with North Korea, worked with Christian groups to bring humanitarian aid into North Korea, and worked to train North Korean Christians inside China. Their detention by China’s State Security Bureau has been seen by Canadian authorities as reprisal for the arrest of Su Bin, a Chinese immigrant to Canada suspected of masterminding the electronic theft of US fighter jet secrets.

Malware targeting ex-Soviet states has Russian hallmarks

Turla trojan operational diagramBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A malicious software that has infiltrated the computer systems of dozens of embassies belonging to former Eastern Bloc nations “has all the hallmarks of a nation-state” cyberespionage operation, according to researchers. Security firm Symantec said last week that the malware appears to be specifically targeting embassies of former communist nations located in China, Jordan, as well as in locations across Western Europe. In a report published on its website, Symantec said “only a nation state” was likely to have the funds and technical resources to create a malware of such complexity. Additionally, the malware seems to be designed “to go after explicit government networks that are not easy to find”, according to Symantec senior security researcher Vikram Thakur. The infiltration appears to occur in two stages. In the first stage, a computer is infected with a reconnaissance program, known as Wipbot. The initial infection usually occurs through a directed phishing attack or via a compromised website. The Wipbot then conducts an initial exploration of the infected system, collecting vital information about its identity, structure and contents. It then proceeds to compromise it only if it matches a specific Internet address that it is looking for. If a match is confirmed, the Wipbot then invites a second program into the compromised system, whose task is to expropriate data and exfiltrate it in batches that are camouflaged as Internet browser requests. Symantec researchers say that the technical similarities between the two programs are sufficient to justify the view that they were designed and developed by programmers working for the same government agency. Thakur said the structure of the malware is particularly creative; it uses Wipbot as an initial reconnaissance tool before delivering the exfiltration program if it judges that the compromised system is of high enough interest. The Symantec report adds that the malware in question is part of a four-year-long series of cyberespionage attacks that have systematically targeted government facilities belonging to former Communist Bloc states. In May of 2012, a similar malware was found to have infiltrated over 60 different computer systems belonging to a former Soviet Republic, including the office of the Prime Minister. A closely linked attack targeted another former communist state’s embassy in Paris, France, as well as its foreign and internal affairs ministries. The Symantec research points out that many of the malicious program’s core components were compiled in the UTC+4 time zone, which includes Russian cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Russian jet ‘chased US spy plane into Swedish airspace’

RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraftBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An American spy plane was forced to enter Swedish airspace without permission in order to avoid a potentially serious encounter with a Russian military jet, which tried to intercept it in international airspace. Swedish news agency Svenska Dagbladet said on Monday that the incident happened on July 18, one day after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine. According to Swedish sources, the US plane was an RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft, which had been flying in international airspace on an eavesdropping mission, collecting signals intelligence on Russian military positions. All of a sudden, however, the American pilot noticed that Russian land-based military radars had begun to track the plane. Eventually, the Russians “locked” their radar on the US plane, which is usually interpreted as a step before firing at the aircraft. Such a move is not illegal, but is described by experts as “highly unusual”, especially when involving unarmed aircraft flying in international airspace. Shortly afterwards, the Russian Air Force sent “at least one” fighter jet toward the US aircraft in an apparent effort to intercept it. Swedish officials were later told by their US counterparts that the American pilot became seriously concerned that his aircraft might get fired upon, so he decided to abort his mission as soon as he could. He therefore ended up flying the plane over Sweden’s airspace without approval from Swedish air controllers. It is believed that the US plane may have crossed into other nations’ airspace, also without permission. Stephan Persson Tyrling, director of air operations at Sweden’s National Defense College, told Svenska Dagbladet that “Russia may have felt provoked” and embarked on an interception operation in order to “tell the US that they flew too close to their airspace or interfered with their [military] exercises”. Read more of this post

US spies say incriminating flight MA17 recordings are genuine

Malaysia Airlines crash site near DonetskBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
American intelligence officials said on Tuesday that the intercepted conversations between pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, in which they admit shooting down a plane at approximately the same time Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 crashed in eastern Ukraine, are “authentic”. The officials were speaking on condition of anonymity at a press briefing in Washington, organized by the United States government to provide its own take on the tragic incident, which killed almost 300 people last week. On Monday, Russian military officials said Moscow had evidence that a Ukrainian fighter jet was trailing the civilian airliner shortly before it crashed. But American officials told reporters on Tuesday that satellite images, voice traffic, as well as information gathered from social media used by pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, “point overwhelmingly” to direct rebel responsibility for the attack. The officials said that the possibility that Ukrainian military forces might have shot down the plane was “not a plausible scenario”, because Kiev had “no antiaircraft missile system within range of the Malaysian flight at the time it was struck”. They added that photos from the crash site showed damage consistent with that caused by a Russian-made SA-11 missile, though they stressed that the data backing this assertion is still preliminary. They also pointed out, however, that US intelligence experts had verified the authenticity of the intercepted telephone conversations released shortly after the plane disaster by the Security Service of Ukraine. The voices in the recordings are allegedly those of senior pro-Russian rebel commanders, as well as of officials in Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU. In one conversation, recorded 20 minutes after the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down, Igor Bezler, a leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, tells GRU Colonel Vasily Geranin: “We have just shot down a plane [...]. It fell down beyond Yenakievo”. Read more of this post

Russia says it traced Ukraine fighter jet near downed Malaysia plane

General Kartopolov (left) speaking in MoscowBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Russian government officials have made a presentation in Moscow showing alleged evidence of a Ukrainian fighter jet, which they claim was trailing a civilian airliner that crashed on Thursday in eastern Ukraine. All 295 people onboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, which came down in a field east of the city of Donetsk, were killed. Last week, Ukrainian intelligence sources released telephone intercepts said to contain direct admissions by pro-Russian rebels that they shot down the civilian airliner. But Russian defense officials fought back on Monday with a hi-tech news conference in Moscow, which included several slides, charts and images relating to the airline disaster over Donetsk. The media briefing, which was specifically called to showcase Moscow’s take on the incident, featured two senior-ranking officials from the Russian general staff. One of the presenters, Lieutenant-General Andrei Kartopolov, told the gathered reporters that the government of Ukraine was most likely behind the plane’s downing. He said Russian radars showed the Malaysian Airlines plane had been forced to “deviate from its route to the north” for up to “14 kilometers” (10 miles). He added that the plane was all the while being trailed by an SU-25 fighter jet belonging to the Ukrainian government, which Russian radars indicated was flying at a distance of “three to five kilometers” (3 miles) from the civilian airplane. Kartopolov stressed that the SU-25 fighter jets are typically armed with air-to-air missiles. Pointing to a series of graphs showing radar activity around Donetsk, the Russian general stated that Ukrainian radar stations had also displayed “unusual activity” in the hours preceding the attack on the civilian airliner. He told reporters that the Russian Ministry of Defense had evidence that “the intensity of the operation of Ukrainian radar stations increased to the maximum” during the time period surrounding the fateful attack on the plane. Read more of this post

Ukraine rebels ‘admit downing Malaysia plane’ in phone intercepts

Malaysia Airlines crash site near DonetskBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Ukrainian intelligence has released telephone intercepts said to contain direct admissions by pro- Russian rebels that they shot down a civilian airliner that crashed on Thursday in eastern Ukraine. All 295 people onboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, which came down in a field east of the city of Donetsk, are presumed dead. An American intelligence official told the Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, that Washington is certain the airliner was brought down by a surface-to-air missile. Late on Thursday, Valentyn Nalivaichenko, director of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU), said in a press conference that his agency had conclusive evidence showing that pro-Russian rebels had shot down the plane. Nalivaichenko said the evidence included recordings of telephone conversations between rebel commanders and Russian intelligence officers, which were intercepted just minutes after the plane was brought down. During Nalivaichenko’s press conference, the SSU published the intercepted conversations on YouTube with subtitles in English, French, German and Polish. The videos identify some of the participants in the conversations, including Igor Bezler, a leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, and Vasily Geranin, who is said to be a Colonel in Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU. In one phone call, allegedly made at 4:40 Kiev time, 20 minutes after the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down, Bezler appears to tell Geranin: “We have just shot down a plane [...]. It fell down beyond Yenakievo”. In a subsequent intercept, another rebel commander calls a Russian intelligence officer from the site of the crash to report that the downed plane appeared to be civilian, not military, as originally thought, and that the crash site was filled with casualties. “It’s 100 percent a passenger aircraft”, he reports, adding that there are no weapons visible on site: “absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper”, he says. Read more of this post

Russia to reopen electronic listening command post in Cuba

Raúl Castro and Vladimir PutinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of the Russian Federation has reached an agreement with the authorities in Cuba to reopen an electronic communications listening base that was built by the Soviets during the Cold War. Russian newspaper Kommersant said on Wednesday that the agreement between the two nations was struck late last week during a visit to the communist-run island by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The agreement centers on the Lourdes signals intelligence (SIGINT) facility, located just outside Cuban capital Havana. Situated approximately 100 miles from the United States mainland, the facility was used throughout the last two decades of the Cold War to provide intelligence for Soviet military and civilian spy agencies, while also operating as an overseas communications hub for the Soviet Navy. It was regarded at the time as the most formidable Soviet electronic listening post located anywhere outside Soviet territory. Cuban authorities once bragged that Lourdes provided Moscow with 75 percent of its actionable intelligence on its American adversary —though some experts consider the statement an exaggeration. At its peak, in the late 1970s, Lourdes hosted approximately 3,000 technical specialists and support personnel, over half of whom were Soviet. Initially, the Cuban government permitted Moscow to make use of Lourdes free of charge. However, in 1992 Havana introduced an annual rental fee, which by 2001 had risen to $200 million. Under the bilateral agreement, Russia was paying the rental fee in kind, by supplying the Cuban government with food products and fuel, as well as military equipment. But in 2001, the administration of President Putin withdrew from the agreement, citing the high cost of maintaining the base. Moscow said at the time that it was financially impossible to keep up a SIGINT complex located 6 thousand miles away from Moscow. Read more of this post

Analysis: Crimea crisis brings Russian military spies back in the game

Russian troops in UkraineBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The recent crisis in Ukraine, which resulted in Russia assuming control of Crimean Peninsula, marks the post-Soviet resurgence of Russia’s military intelligence apparatus and points to “a new playbook” in Moscow’s foreign policy strategy, according to a seasoned Russia analyst. In an article published on Monday in Foreign Policy, Mark Galeotti, Professor of Global Affairs at New York University, who specializes in Russian security affairs, said Russia’s military intelligence agency is now “back in the global spook game”. He was referring to Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU, which he said the Kremlin will be employing increasingly in the years to come as a major foreign-policy tool. It is no secret that, despite its significant role in Cold War intelligence operations, the GRU has been in decline in the post-Soviet era. Its substandard performance in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin that the agency was “unfit” for operations in what Russians call the “near-abroad” —the regions of the former Soviet Republics. In 2003, in addition to facing what Galeotti calls “a savage round of [budget] cuts”, the GRU saw its near-abroad functions taken over by the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service. The FSB descends from the domestic component of the Soviet-era KGB, the agency that employed Vladimir Putin before he entered politics (as an aside, the SVR, which is the post-Soviet reincarnation of the KGB’s external intelligence directorates, is legally prevented from operating within the Commonwealth of Independent States). As late as last year there was even a discussion about whether the GRU should be demoted from a main directorate under the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff to a simple directorate, a move that would have fatally diminished its institutional stature. But in the recent Crimea crisis, says Galeotti, the GRU was able to turn the tables on Kiev by deploying its battle-ready Vostok Battalion, whose members cut their teeth in Chechnya. Read more of this post

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