An assessment of Russia’s espionage network in Switzerland

Russian embassy SwitzerlandSINCE LATE FEBRUARY, WHEN Russian troops invaded Ukraine, over 500 Russian diplomats have been expelled from Western countries. Even former Russian allies have contributed to the growing list of expulsions —most recently Bulgaria, which ousted a near-unprecedented 70 Russian diplomats last week, citing espionage concerns. Amidst that sea of expulsions, Switzerland remains an island. It is among the few European countries that have yet to officially expel Russian diplomats. Abiding by its centuries-old policy of neutrality, it has resisted calls to take sides in the intelligence war between the West and Russia.

“No-Questions-Asked” Approach to Espionage

Russia has been able to take advantage of Switzerland’s neutrality policy since February. Instead of returning to Moscow, at least some of the expelled Russian diplomats have been reposted to Switzerland. They continue to operate there under a “no-questions-asked” policy, which has prevailed since the days of the Cold War. For this and other reasons (i.e. proximity to prime intelligence targets, safety, advanced telecommunications systems), Switzerland has been a major intelligence hub for decades. According to the Nachrichtendienst des Bundes (NDB), Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service, the past few years have witnessed higher levels of activity by foreign intelligence services than any other period since the Cold War.

Russia’s Intelligence Presence in Switzerland

During that time, Russia has been able to build a pan-European espionage hub in the small alpine state. That is the conclusion of a report by Jonas Roth, which was published last week in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), Switzerland’s newspaper of record. The report, entitled “So Spioniert Russland in der Schweiz” (“How Russian spies operate in Switzerland”), features commentary by several experts and government officials. One source tells Roth that, despite the intense diplomatic pressure Russia has faced globally since February, its espionage structures in Swiss cities like Geneva and Bern “are still intact”.

How many Russian intelligence officers are currently operating in Switzerland? According to the report, at least a third of Russia’s 220-strong diplomatic presence in the country consists of intelligence officers. These 70 or so intelligence officers represent all three of Russia’s primary intelligence agencies, namely the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Main Directorate of the Armed Forces’ General Staff (GRU), and the Federal Security Service (FSB). Officers from these agencies handle an unknown number of informants and agents; these are Swiss or third-country nationals, who provide the Russians with intelligence on a regular basis. Special activities are carried out by Russian intelligence personnel who travel to Switzerland on an ad hoc basis. Read more of this post

Despite expectations, a cyber-blitz has not occurred in Ukraine. Experts explain why

Russian invasion of Ukraine IN THE OPENING STAGES of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there was a widespread expectation among security experts that the world would witness a new chapter in the history of cyber-warfare: something akin to carpet-bombing in cyberspace. These fears, however, have not materialized. Although cyber-attacks have occurred on both sides, their scale has remained markedly modest. Consequently, their effect has been limited and has had no traceable strategic impact on the conflict.

Why is that? According to two experts, Nadiya Kostyuk, assistant professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Cybersecurity and Privacy, and Aaron Brantly, assistant professor and director of Virginia Tech’s Tech4Humanity Lab, the reasons partly relate to how nation-states form cyber-alliances, as well as to Russia’s overall approach to this war. The two experts attempt to forensically analyze this topic in their article entitled “War in the Borderland Through Cyberspace: Limits of Defending Ukraine Through Interstate Cooperation”, which was published on June 29 in Contemporary Security Policy.

Does the Improved Cyber-Defense Argument Stand to Reason?

In their article, Kostyuk and Brantly systematically scrutinize a number of reasons that other experts have proposed to explain the absence of a major cyber-war campaign by Russia. Among them is the view that Ukraine significantly improved its cyber-defenses after 2015, when it began collaborating closely with Western countries —notably the United States and the United Kingdom. Specially designated “cyber-warfare teams” from these countries have been helping Ukraine in tasks ranging from “the synchronization of [its] cyber-related legislation” with Western standards, as well as aligning them with NATO standards, so that Ukrainian cyber-warfare units can make use of advanced technologies and systems. Could it be, therefore, that Ukraine has improved its cyber-security posture enough to be able to defend itself against relentless Russian cyber-attacks?

That is unlikely, say the authors, given that “Ukraine’s cyber capabilities are still organizationally and operationally under- developed” in comparison to Russia’s. That is exacerbated by the endemic corruption and clientelism (the creation of patronage networks) in Ukraine, as well as by the bitter in-fighting between government agencies —notably the Ministry of Defense and the Security Service of Ukraine. It should not go without notice, Kostyuk and Brantly note, that the Ukrainian government sought frantically to develop a “volunteer cyber-army” on an ad hoc basis to defend the nation in the first days of the Russian invasion. That did not exactly instill trust in the country’s level of preparation to withstand a cyber-campaign by Moscow. Read more of this post

Can one ever truly leave the Russian intelligence services? It depends, says expert

Kremlin, RussiaRUSSIANS ARE AWARE OF the phrase “there is no such thing as a former chekist”. The term “chekist” dates from the Bolshevik-era All-Russian Extraordinary Commission (VChK, pronounced “cheka”), which was formed in 1917 as the first Soviet-era state security agency. By the 1940s, intelligence posts had come to be seen as life-long relationships between chekists and the Soviet government, which continued even after one’s retirement. In the words of Joseph Stalin, “[a] chekist has only two paths: toward promotion or to prison”. Is that still the case? It depends on who you ask, says Dr. Kevin Riehle, a 30-year counterintelligence veteran with the United States government, who now teaches at the University of Mississippi’s Center for Intelligence and Security Studies.

Riehle, author of Soviet Defectors: Revelations of Renegade Intelligence Officers, 1924-1954 (Edinburgh University Press, 2022), discusses this topic in an article published earlier this month in The International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence. The article, entitled “Post-KGB Lives: Is There Such a Thing as a Former Chekist?”, examines this concept with reference to three Russian intelligence agencies, all of which trace their origins to the Soviet-era Cheka —namely the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Federal Protective Service (FSO).

The author explains that the history of chekist organizations is replete with examples of officers, especially those with military backgrounds, who “received post-separation jobs with no apparent obligation to continue cooperation with the [intelligence] service[s]”. However, since the rise of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency, the Kremlin has imposed tight restrictions on the post-retirement activities of former intelligence personnel. As of 2019, such former personnel are not permitted to leave Russia for any reason for five years following their retirement. There is another category of Putin-era intelligence retirees, who enter careers in business or politics. Many of them maintain their intelligence contacts and “continue to fulfil service requirements” while displaying a sense of pride for their government service. This often results in business or political advantages, notes Riehle. Read more of this post

Mystery blasts, fires, prompt rumors of sabotage campaign inside Russia (updated)

Kremlin, RussiaA SERIES OF LARGE-scale incidents of destruction, which have been occurring across Russia in recent days, are prompting speculation that the county may be experiencing a wave of attacks against its strategic infrastructure. The incidents include enormous fires at power plants, munition depots and state-owned storage facilities. The collapse of at least one railway bridge has also been reported. There are additional reports of massive wildfires raging across Siberia, which are imposing heavy demands on Russia’s emergency response infrastructure.

On April 21, a massive blaze engulfed the Central Research Institute for Air and Space Defense of the Russian Defense Ministry in Tver, a city located around 120 miles northwest of Moscow. According to Associated Press, which reported the news about the fire, the institute “was involved in the development of some of the state-of-the-art Russian weapons systems, reportedly including the Iskander missile”. By next morning, at least 17 people were believed to have died as a result of the fire.

Late last week, the Sakhalinskaya GRES-2 power station, a vast 120-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Russia’s far-eastern Sakhalin province, went up in flames, giving rise to persistent rumors of sabotage. On May 1, Russian state-owned news agencies reported that a railway bridge in the western province of Kursk, 70 miles from the Ukrainian border, had been destroyed. Analysts at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank claimed that the bridge had been used extensively by the Russian military to transport equipment to eastern Ukraine. Later on the same day, a cluster of fuel-oil tanks in Mytishchi, a mid-size city located northeast of Moscow, were completely destroyed by a fast-spreading fire.

On May 2, a munitions factory in Perm, a major urban center in western Siberia, was hit by a “powerful” explosion. Ukrainian government officials hinted at sabotage in social media posts, though no proof has been provided, and the Kremlin has not commented on the matter. On the following day, the Prosveshchenie publishing house warehouse in Bogorodskoye, northeast of Moscow, was destroyed by a massive fire. The warehouse belongs to Russia’s state-owned publisher of school textbooks. The fire occurred almost simultaneously as another fire engulfed a polyethylene waste storage facility in the central Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.

Meanwhile, the sprawling forests that surround Krasnoyarsk and other Siberian urban centers are experiencing seasonal wildfires of near-unprecedented scale. Some early reports claimed that the Russian government was finding it difficult to contain these fires, because the country’s emergency response personnel has been sent to the frontlines of the war in Ukraine. But these reports were denied by Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations, which claimed earlier this week that the fires were mostly under control.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Updated: 09 May 2022 | Research credit: M.R. | Permalink

Russia targeted by unprecedented wave of cyber-attacks, experts say

Computer hackers AnonymousRUSSIAN STATE COMPANIES, BUSINESSES and individuals are being targeted in an unprecedented wave of attacks by digital assailants, according to observers, who say they are surprised by its ferocity. Since February of this year, hackers have accessed the personal financial data of pro-Kremlin oligarchs, stolen millions of internal emails stored on Russian government severs, and defaced high-profile websites across the nation. The Washington Post, which summarized the wave of attacks last Sunday, said they are being waged by hacker collectives, as well as common criminals. The paper claimed that the assailants are not connected to foreign governments.

According to observers, Russia currently tops the global list of targeted attacks by hackers for the first time since records began. Major targets include Russia’s media regulator, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, which anti-government activists blame for implementing Soviet-style censorship. Hackers have also attacked Russia’s state-owned broadcaster, known as VGTRK, as well the Russian intelligence and defense establishments. Tens of thousands of emails exchanged by senior VGTRK officials since 2013 were recently stolen and leaked in a massive data dump. Additionally, lengthy lists containing the names of alleged Russian intelligence officers, as well as of soldiers, have been leaked online by unknown hackers.

The attacks are led by political hacker collectives, including Network Battalion 65 (NB65), which announced its existence on Twitter just hours after Russian troops began to march toward Kyiv. The group is believed to have links to the international hacktivist collective Anonymous, and claims to have no ties to governments. Another hacker collective that is behind the attacks on Russia is a group calling itself AgainstTheWest. Despite its name, it is led by a group of pro-Western, “English-speaking hackers […] with intelligence backgrounds”, according to The Post. Attacks are also being perpetrated by smaller groups of hackers, some of them based in Ukraine, and by criminal groups, whose members are motivated by profit and are attacking Russian state targets at a time when the Kremlin appears vulnerable.

According to the paper, the Ukrainian government is not directly involved in these cyber-attacks. However, it has repeatedly endorsed attacks by hackers aimed at weakening the Russian state. Back in February, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister and Digital Transformation Minister issued an open call for the formation of a “volunteer cyber army” to fight for Ukraine. As intelNews reported at the time, the Ukrainian government claimed that nearly 200,000 people had shown interest in joining the initiative. However, little has been mentioned since. The government of Ukraine maintains an “IT Army” channel on Telegram, where it frequently suggests Russian targets that pro-Ukrainian hackers should attack. However, any evidence of links between it and the wave of cyber-attacks that Russia has been experiencing remains speculative.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 03 May 2022 | Permalink

Russia orders 175,000 diplomatic passports, prompting speculation about their use

Russian foreign affairs ministryTHE RUSSIAN FEDERATION HAS reportedly ordered 175,000 new diplomatic passports to be printed, prompting speculation about their possible use at a time when Western sanctions are affecting Russia’s governing elite. Diplomatic passports are travel documents that are issued to accredited diplomats and government officials, such as foreign ministry envoys and others. Pursuant to the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations, holders of diplomatic passports enjoy diplomatic immunity and are typically subjected to very limited inspections by security personnel when crossing international borders.

On Wednesday, SOTA Vision, a Russian alternative news website and social media network, claimed in a report that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation had ordered nearly 175,000 diplomatic passports to be printed, at the cost of over 300 million rubles ($4 million). The report, which was translated into English by the British newspaper The Daily Mail, questioned the need for so many diplomatic passports to be printed. It noted that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs employs no more than 15,000 people, of whom only about a third spend any time abroad, and thus require diplomatic passports.

So what is the reason for the use of so many diplomatic passports? According to SOTA Vision, these may be used by members of the Russian governing and economic elite, as well as their families, to evade Western sanctions on international travel and to avoid arrest when traveling abroad. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of this year, Russia has been subjected to the harshest sanctions by Western countries since the end of the Cold War. Additionally, employees of Russian intelligence agencies may use several thousands of these diplomatic passports for their employees to operate abroad under what is known as “official cover”. Such agencies include the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Federal Protective Service (FSO), SOTA Vision noted.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 April 2022 | Permalink

Russian sleeper agent Mikhail Vasenkov reportedly dead at 79

Mikhail VasenkovRUSSIAN DEEP-COVER SPY Mikhail Vasenkov, who was caught by authorities in the United States in 2010, and was later part of a multi-person spy-swap between Washington and Moscow, has reportedly died. Vasenkov was an officer for the Soviet-era Committee for State Security (KGB), under which he constructed his non-official cover identity. In 1976, he reportedly arrived in Lima, Peru, from Madrid, Spain. He traveled on a Uruguayan passport bearing the name “Juan Jose Lazaro Fuentes”. The forged identity had been constructed by the Soviet KGB. The spy agency had used the birth certificate of a Uruguayan child, who had died of respiratory failure in 1947.

In 1979, Lazaro applied for, and was granted, Peruvian citizenship. A few years later, he met and married Peruvian journalist Vicky Pelaez, with whom he had a son. In 1985, the Lazaros moved to New York, along with their child and a son Pelaez had from a previous relationship. The couple were arrested by the FBI in 2010, and later admitted being in the service of Russian intelligence. They were among 10 Russian non-official-cover intelligence officers, who were swapped for a number of Western-handled intelligence agents held in Russian prisons.

In January of 2020, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), which is one of the KGB’s successor agencies, admitted for the first time that Vasenkov had been an intelligence officer. This unusual announcement directly contradicted Vasenkov’s own claims 10 years earlier: the spy had allegedly said that he was not Russian, did not understand or speak Russian, and wanted to move to Peru.

On April 6 of this this month, the SVR announced Vasenkov’s death, saying he was 79 years old. The announcement gave no cause of death. It added that Vasenkov had served in the so-called “special reserve staff” of the organization, which refers to spies who do not operate under diplomatic cover abroad. The obituary noted that Vasenkov had “created and headed an illegal residency”, which “obtained valuable political information, that was highly appreciated” by Russian decision-makers. It also said that Vasenkov had acquired the rank of colonel in 2005.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 April 2022 | Permalink

Dozens purged as Kremlin blames Russian spy services for botched Ukraine invasion

FSB - IAMore than 150 officers have been purged form the ranks of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), as President Vladimir Putin is placing blame on his intelligence agencies for the setbacks experienced during the invasion of Ukraine. This assessment was communicated to the London-based Times newspaper by British intelligence sources, who added that many of those purged have been dismissed from the service, while others remain under house arrest. A few —among them senior FSB officials— are in prison. The FSB is tasked with domestic security and counterintelligence operations, which were carried out by the KGB during the Cold War.

According to The Times, the purge has mostly targeted officers in the FSB’s Service for Operational Information and International Communications, which is informally known as the Fifth Service of the FSB. As intelNews has previously explained, the FSB’s Fifth Service was established in 1992 in order to fill the vacuum created by a host of no-spy agreements between Moscow and the governments of former Soviet Republics. These agreements prevent Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) from spying inside the territories of former Soviet states.

By 1995, the Fifth Service had become known as the “foreign spy wing” of the FSB. It grew in size drastically after 1999, and some claim it “graduated into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s imperial gendarme”. Today, the Fifth Service is reportedly in charge of Kremlin’s “kill list” of Ukrainian senior officials and other dissidents who live in Ukraine. Until recently, the Fifth Service was led by Sergei Beseda and Anatoly Bolyukh (or Bolukh).

However, The Times claims that both officials have been dismissed from their posts in recent weeks. Initially, the Russian government claimed that Beseda had embezzled funds, and placed him under house arrest. He has since been transferred to a prison, according to the paper, and has now been formally charged with misinforming the Kremlin about the conditions on the ground in Ukraine. Bolyukh has been dismissed from his post but is reportedly not in prison. His current whereabouts remain unclear.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 April 2022 | Permalink

Russian diplomats expelled from Ireland ‘met with members of paramilitary groups’

Russian embassy IrelandFOUR RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS, WHO Ireland claims are undercover intelligence officers, met with Irish paramilitaries as part of a wider plan to “stoke political unrest” in Britain and Ireland, according to a new report. In a press conference held in Dublin last week, Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin announced that his government would expel four employees of the Russian Embassy there.

Martin did not provide details about the Russian diplomats, nor did he give their names. He said, however, that his administration had been provided with detailed information about the activities of the Russians by members of the National Crime and Security Intelligence Service of the An Garda Síochána (police service of the Republic of Ireland) and the Defence Intelligence Section of the Irish Armed Forces.

On Monday, an article by the London-based Times newspaper alleged that a major reason why Dublin decided to expel the Russian diplomats was their “efforts to cultivate contacts with dissident republicans and loyalist paramilitaries” in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland, which is British soil. The Russian diplomats began meeting dissident republicans under the pretext of attending lectures and presentations on Irish history in Dublin and elsewhere, The Times said.

According to the paper, the activities of the Russian diplomats were part of a wider campaign by Russian intelligence to “undermine confidence” in European institutions, by exploiting nationalist tensions stirred by Britain’s recent exit from the European Union. The effort is being led by the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, which is widely known by its Cold War-era initials, GRU. The spy agency is in charge of a campaign to amplify the voices of republican and loyalist paramilitary groups on social media and other platforms, in order to undermine regional security, The Times said.

The paper added that at least one of the four expelled Russian diplomats is believed to be an intelligence officer for the GRU. IntelNews has discussed previously a number of concerns among Irish officials regarding the size of the Russian embassy in Dublin. Many believe that Moscow intends to turn its embassy in the Irish capital into a major espionage hub in Europe. In 2018, the Irish government denied a request by Moscow to expand its embassy complex by 86,000 sq ft.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 April 2022 | Permalink

Several EU member states expel dozens of Russian diplomats for suspected espionage

Russian Embassy PragueA WEEK AFTER POLAND announced the expulsion of 45 Russian diplomats, the foreign ministries of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ireland and the Netherlands announced on March 29, 2022 that they would expel Russian diplomats. A day later, Slovakia followed up by announcing it will expel 35 Russian diplomats. On Monday, April 4, France, Germany and Lithuania followed suit with dozens of expulsions.

The German federal government announced it will expel 40 Russian diplomats who, according to minister of foreign affairs Annalena Baerbock, “worked every day against our freedom and against the cohesion of our society”, and are “a threat to those who seek our protection”. The persons involved have five days to leave Germany. Later that day, France announced it will expel “many” Russian diplomats “whose activities are contrary to our security interests”, adding that “this action is part of a European approach”. No further details are known at this time.
Furthermore, Lithuania ordered the Russian ambassador to Vilnius to leave the country, and announced their ambassador to Ukraine will return to Kyiv. In an official statement, foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Lithuania was “lowering the level of diplomatic representation with Russia, this way expressing its full solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, who are suffering from Russia’s unprecedented aggression”. Meanwhile, Latvian minister of foreign affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs announced in a tweet that Latvia will “limit diplomatic relations” with the Russian Federation “taking into account the crimes committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine”, and that “specific decisions will be announced once internal procedures have been complete”.

The Czech Republic, which in 2021 called on the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to expel Russian diplomats in solidarity against Moscow, announced the expulsion of one diplomat from the Russian embassy in Prague, on a 72-hour notice. In a tweet, the Czech ministry of foreign affairs stated that “Together with our Allies, we are reducing the Russian intelligence presence in the EU”.

Belgium has order the expulsion of 21 diplomats from the Russian embassy in Brussels and consulate in Antwerp. Minister Sophie Wilmès said the measure was taken to protect national security and was unrelated to the war in Ukraine. “Diplomatic channels with Russia remain open, the Russian embassy can continue to operate and we continue to advocate dialogue”, Wilmès said.

The Netherlands will be expelling 17 diplomats from the Russian embassy in The Hague. According to minister Wopke Hoekstra, the diplomats were secretly active as intelligence officers. Hoekstra based this on information from the Dutch secret services AIVD and MIVD. The Russian embassy in The Hague has 75 registered diplomats, of which 58 will remain. Hoekstra says the decision was taken with “a number of like-minded countries”, based on grounds of national security. Like his Belgian colleague, Woekstra adds he wants diplomatic channels with Russia to remain open.

Ireland will be expelling four “senior officials” from the Russian embassy in Dublin, for engaging in activities “not […] in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour”. They were suspected of being undercover military officers of the GRU and were already on the radar of Garda Síochána, the Irish national police and security service, for some time.

Read more of this post

Ukrainian agency publishes personal data of 600 alleged Russian intelligence officers

Kyrylo BudanovUKRAINE’S MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY has published a list that contains the names, addresses and passport numbers of 600 Russians, who it alleges are employees of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The FSB is Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency, but its personnel also operate in former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. It has been claimed that the FSB is the main source of intelligence that the Kremlin has used to plan and execute the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The list of alleged FSB personnel was published on Monday on the website of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which is Ukraine’s primary military intelligence agency. The list is titled, “Russian FSB officers involved in criminal activities by the aggressor state in Europe”. Most entries include the names, birth dates and passport numbers of the alleged FSB officers. Their residential addresses are also listed. Some entries include subscriber identity module (SIM) card numbers, as well as vehicle registration numbers. Some observers noted on Monday that at least some of the names on the list appear to come from prior leaks of alleged FSB officers, which have been leaked online over the years. Other listings, however, appear to contain names that were not previously associated with the FSB.

In a separate but potentially related development, Kyrylo Budanov (pictured), the director of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, said on Monday that his agency had a number of assets inside the Kremlin. In an interview to an American newsmagazine, Budanov claimed that Ukrainian intelligence had “managed to infiltrate many sectors of Russia’s leading military, political and financial institutions”. He added that the Ukrainian military’s recent combat successes in eastern Ukraine had been achieved due to intelligence supplied by assets inside the Russian government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 2022 | Permalink

More Russian spies in Mexico than anywhere else in the world, US official claims

Glen VanHerckTHE PRESIDENT OF MEXICO has stated that his country is “sovereign” in response to comments, made by a senior United States military official, that Mexico hosts more Russian intelligence personnel than any other country in the world. These claims were made on Thursday by US Air Force General Glen VanHerck (pictured), during his appearance before the Senate Committee on Armed Services. General VanHerck is commander of the US Northern Command, which is one of the US Department of Defense’s eleven unified combatant commands.

While speaking at the open-door hearing on Thursday, General VanHerck said the Russian embassy in Mexico City was among the largest in all of Latin America. He added that the embassy hosts an unusually high number of officers of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces. Known by its Russian initials, GRU, the Directorate is Moscow’s primary military intelligence agency. According to General VanHerck, the GRU uses Russian diplomatic facilities in Mexico as a base from which to access the United States.

The general added that Russian and Chinese intelligence operatives were “very aggressive and active” in the entire area that falls under the regional mission of the US Northern Command, including in Caribbean islands, such as the Bahamas. As the intelligence competition between the US and Russia heats up over Ukraine, Latin America and the Caribbean have the potential to attract intelligence personnel from both the United States and Russia.

Speaking on Friday at a scheduled press conference in Mexico City, Mexico’s President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, appeared to evade a question by a journalist about General VanHerck’s allegations. When asked to respond to the allegations, President Obrador said he and his team “don’t have information on this”. He went on to state that Mexico is a “free, independent, sovereign country”, adding that the country’s territory was not a base from which “Moscow […] Beijing or Washington” could “spy on anybody”. The Russian embassy in Mexico City has not yet commented on General VanHerck’s claims.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 March 2022 | Permalink

Russian defense minister not seen in public since March 11, prompting speculation

Sergei ShoiguRUSSIA’S MINISTER OF DEFENSE, Sergei Shoigu, who has been one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest confidantes for nearly two decades, has not been seen in public for nearly two weeks, prompting speculation that he may be under arrest. Shoigu, 66, was appointed Minister of Defense in 2012. Since then, he has been arguably the most media-friendly member of the Putin administration, and has formed a close alliance between the Russian military and pro-government media outlets.

Once Russian troops invaded Ukraine, on February 24, Shoigu became an almost permanent fixture on pro-Kremlin television channels and radio stations. He gave several interviews each day, and provided incessant public commentary about what the Kremlin termed a “special military operation”. All that ended after March 11, when Shoigu made his last known public appearance. On that day, the RIA Novosti news agency showed him participating in a ceremony to honor Russian soldiers who fought in the invasion of Ukraine.

On March 18, a statement on the website of the Kremlin claimed that Shoigu had taken part in a meeting about Ukraine with senior cabinet officials, which was chaired by with President Putin himself. But no photographs or video footage of the meeting were published. Archive footage of Shoigu was used instead.

As Newsweek reports, a number of Russian investigative reporters are now claiming that Shoigu may have been arrested. The reporters, from banned news outlets like Agentstvo and Mediazona, point out that the absence of Russia’s most senior military official from the public media sphere for nearly two weeks is unusual. It is even more unusual, given that it is happening during a full-scale strategic offensive by the Russian military in Ukraine. Other rumors suggest that Shoigu may be facing health problems, which may include having suffered a hear attack in recent days. He could, therefore, be hospitalized, or even dead.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 March 2022 | Permalink

Ukrainian spy agency sees plot to oust Putin, but West is skeptical of claim

Alexander BortnikovUKRAINE’S MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY said on Sunday that a plot was underway by senior Russian government officials, with the goal of ousting President Vladimir Putin and entering into a negotiated settlement with the West. However, Western intelligence sources told the United States government-owned Voice of America that claims of a possible coup plot in Moscow were likely part of a Ukrainian information operation aimed at “sow[ing] doubts about loyalty within the top echelons of Putin’s Kremlin”

The initial claim of a coup was made by the Chief Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which is Kyiv’s military intelligence agency. In a statement, the spy agency alleged that the coup against President Putin was being planned by “a group of influential figures […] among the Russian business and political elite”. The leaders of the group were “siloviki”—members of the Soviet intelligence and military nomenclature, who rose to power in the 1990s alongside Putin, according to the agency.

These siloviki were oligarchs, business magnates and politicians from the era of Boris Yeltsin, Putin’s predecessor in the Russian presidency. They were allegedly planning to depose Putin “as soon as possible” in a “palace coup” and replace him with his most senior intelligence advisor, Alexander Bortnikov (pictured). Bortnikov is a Soviet-era intelligence operative who today heads the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency.

There are reports that Putin blames the FSB’s substandard intelligence for the botched military campaign in Ukraine, and that he and Bortnikov have fallen out as a result. Meanwhile, several Yeltsin-era oligarchs have begun to voice criticism of the war in Ukraine—among them the banking magnate Mikhail Fridman, the metals mogul Oleg Deripaska, and Oleg Tinkov, who owns a network of banking and investment firms in Russia.

However, in a report published on Tuesday, the Voice of America, which is funded by the United States Department of State, said Western intelligence officials remained unconvinced of Ukraine’s claims about a possible coup in Moscow. The news service cited anonymous “Western intelligence sources” as saying they could not see men in Putin’s inner circle having the will or ability to turn against the Russian strongman. Moreover, Kremlin grandees like Bortnikov are not qualitatively different from Putin in how they think about Russian domestic and international strategy, the sources said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 March 2022 | Permalink

Analysis: What We Are Likely to See in the Coming Weeks in Ukraine

Ukraine Russia war“THERE ARE DECADES WHERE nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”. These words by the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin offer a fitting description of the cataclysmic events witnessed since February 24. In the early hours of that day, the largest country in the world launched a strategic ground offensive against the largest country in Europe. What began as a “special military operation” has now escalated into the most extensive military conflict in Europe since World War II. It is clear that Russia’s original plan for this war collapsed within hours of the initial attack. But the correlation of forces continues to overwhelmingly favor the Russian side. Moreover, the bulk of the Russian forces are heading for Kyiv. This could result in the largest and most deadly urban battle since World War II.

Russia’s Original Strategy

The Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine was premised on a rapid military campaign, which was designed to trigger the collapse of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration within about a week. The original plan appears to have rested on quickly introducing non-conscript military units inside Kyiv, in order to force the government toQ Quote 1 flee to Lviv. At the same time, elite formations from the Main Directorate of the Armed Forces’ General Staff (GRU) and Spetsnaz (special operations forces) were sent to the Ukrainian capital to assassinate leading government figures.

Based on that assumption, Russia’s original strategy was to avoid engaging in clashes in major urban centers, barring those that are located along key transportation routes. That is because urban terrain heavily favors the defender and tends to result in mass invader casualties. The Russians can’t afford too many of those, given that the Russian expeditionary force of about 150,000 non-conscript troops is grossly insufficient to conquer—let alone occupy—a country the size of Ukraine, with a largely young population of well over 40 million. Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: