My last blog, triggered by an article in the Huffington Post of October 6, entitled "Nuclear Smugglers Shopped Radioactive Materials To ISIS And Other Terrorists", posited that Russia is actually waging what one might call a "lukewarm" war against the West in a number of theaters. In this blog, I would like to focus on the means -- short of outright war, which could be very costly financially, as well as in terms of human life and international prestige -- that Putin is employing to further his strategic international goals of expanding Russian power and hegemony and weakening NATO and the European Union.
The main Russian "weapons" in this war are:
a. Overt, Covert or Passive military activity Russia is bombing and sending missiles into Syria in support of the Assad regime and in defiance of the West. Its military jets time and again enter international and NATO airspace to test the readiness of the alliance. It has militarily intervened in the Ukraine, sending soldiers not wearing identifiable uniforms to grab positions in the eastern Ukraine and Crimea. As discussed in the last blog, it is in the process of building military might and presence in the Arctic, and as well, is beefing up bases in Sevastopol (Crimea) and Tartus (Syria).
b. Cyberwar. Russia has employed cyberwar against Estonia in 2007, Georgia in 2008 and more recently, the Ukraine, causing problems for these governments. In October 2014, Russian hackers exploited a bug in several software systems (including Windows) to spy on NATO and European Union computers. Last year and this year, its hackers penetrated the servers used for emails by the Joint Chief of Staffs in the Pentagon, as well as those of the White House and the State Department. These activities are generally believed to be coordinated by units of the FSB or a special IW (Information War) unit in the military or a department of the Ministry of Interior.
c. Support for Extremist Groups. The most blatant version of such support was a recent USD 11.7 million 'loan' to the French right wing party, Front National, from the First Czech-Russian Bank in Moscow which has ties to the Kremlin. Marine LePen, the party's leader, has denied reports that the money was just the first installment of an eventual loan of $50 million to help her party win a presidential election in 2017. The Political Capital Institute, a research organization in Budapest, lists 15 far-right European parties as 'committed' to Russia and its interests. The report goes on to suggest that the support given to such extremist groups is not always financial, but may involve professional and organizational help or diplomatic support.. For example, in May of this year, the ultra-conservative Rodina Party (which was founded by Putin's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin) invited leaders of the extremist parties of Europe to a conference in St. Petersburg aimed at strengthening ties between Russia and the far right groups in Europe.
d. Diplomatic efforts. Russia's support for the Assad regime is wide ranging and besides the military, economic and financial components, includes such visible diplomatic gestures as the recent meeting between Putin and Assad in Moscow and systematic and unblinking support in United Nations and other international forums, all in defiance of western interests. The submission to the UN Commission on the Law of the Sea of its claim to 1.2 million square kilometers of Arctic seabed can be seen as essentially diplomatic reinforcement for what is already largely a militarily secured fait accompli (see my previous discussion and my e-thriller, ARCTIC MELTDOWN).
e. Use of, or cooperation with, criminal groups / merchants of evil. This is the least talked about, but possibly the most dangerous element of Putin's 'lukewarm' war. A 2010 report in Der Spiegel clearly connected the GRU, Russia's military intelligence service, to arms merchants. An interview with an insider detailed how this works: clandestine arms sales are made through companies founded by retired GRU officers, while active GRU agents supervise deals and the profits are divided up, with Russian intelligence pocketing about 30 percent. It is, however, the Huffington Post article I cited right at the beginning that points out how dangerous this can be for the West: it talks of an officer with the FSB (successor to KGB), who through a middleman arranged the sale of bomb-grade U235 as well as blueprints for a dirty bomb to a man from Sudan. Again what this does is, at the minimum, tie up Western resources, and in a worst case scenario, create real destruction that nevertheless Russia could (with at least a veneer of plausibility) deny in the international arena. Often, these criminal groups―for example, Solntsevskaya Bratva, which, with its close ties to the FSB, has turnover of over USD 8.5 billion―are engaged in not just arms trading, but also drugs, prostitution, human trafficking, cybercrime, kidnapping and other nefarious activities, which the Kremlin condones and encourages since a portion of the revenues ends up in key officials' pockets and the activities help to undermine the capitalist West. (I explore this in my thriller, TWISTED REASONS).
Taking all the above together, the conclusion that Vladimir Putin's Russia is using a number of different 'tools' to wage what can be dubbed a 'lukewarm' war on the West, is difficult to deny. This is clearly an undeclared war at that―and one that would be denied by the Russian government. However, in this regard one must always remember that when one analyzes Russia, it is essential to separate words from action, propaganda from reality―this has always been true going back in history, certainly to the Soviet era and perhaps even earlier. Despite the rhetoric though, it is clear that Putin is waging such a war in many different theaters and using many different means at his disposal. The West better be wary!