Putin’s Russia. What is Kremlin actually capable of?

But is Kremlin actually capable of reaching these goals? It might seem unrealistic given Russia’s weak economic, political and military situation compared to EU and NATO. But we must remember that today’s Russia is the mutation – maybe even more dangerous – of the USSR which was called “the evil empire” by Ronald Reagan in 1983. And the former representatives of KGB and other secret services are now a spine of Putin’s regime.

Military threat is not the only one

Soviet Union never jangled the nuclear weapons, at least not as openly. And it never threatened to use it first – even during the conventional war – as does Putin’s Russia. But military tools are actually not the most important ones when speaking about the threat to the EU and NATO.

The current Russia might actually use a chance to destroy NATO with military tools, if such possibility occurs. This is the very reason why I think there is a real threat not only to Ukraine where Russia’s aggression still hasn’t stopped. Baltic States, I believe, may become Russia’s target of conventional war.

Although this topic has been a taboo for a long time, US military officers warn that Putin’s final goal is to destroy NATO. These issues were also addressed by Martin Dempsey (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and Ben Hodges (Commanding General of the U.S. Army Europe).

‘Russia poses a major threat to our national security’, – stated Joseph Dunford (who was running for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time) during the hearings in US Senate.

The famous Zbigniew Brzezinski warned that Greece’s government (that is very friendly towards Russia) could paralyse NATO in case of the attacks against Baltic States in order to slow down the response from the North Atlantic Alliance. But all of this is basically the evaluation of military threats. And the aim of this analysis is not to repeat the arguments for Russian military threat that is very real to Europe and US.

Time to count Trojan horses?

The existence of the EU and NATO is also threatened by the so-called ‘active measures’ that KGB used to exploit for the same goal during the whole USSR era – to diminish Western influence and eventually defeating it, hence establishing the global domination of communism. Although Kremlin is not creating communism anymore, the goal to destroy the West remains the same. And it is entrenched very deeply into the minds of former KGB officers.

After the Greek parliamentary elections in January this year and the formation of the new government it has been loudly speculated that this country could become Russia’s Trojan horse in the EU. And there have been various publications on how Russia is using Greek crisis to pursue its objectives. Henry Nau, a former member of the US National Security Council during President Reagan’s administration, publicly critised Obama for not paying enough attention to Russia’s actions during Greek crisis, and the threat these actions are posing to US’s national interests.

However, Western analysts are not talking much about Russia’s and Putin’s goal and measures to destroy EU and NATO. There even is an active Russian campaign that supports all anti-European forces in any EU country, regardless of their political wing.

Possible danger to NATO is not being clearly stated. Analysts draw closer attention to the potential challenges for EU and NATO regarding Greece’s pro-Russian foreign policy and threats to NATO’s highly classified information.

Openly declared desires in Russia

What is not discussed too much in the West is openly debated in Russia – and for quite some time. Here Kremlin’s longstanding desire to destroy the EU and NATO is not even disguised, at least by a wide variety of commentators and analysts.

Such people as Leonid Ivashov (an old comrade of Alexander Dugin who personally challenged NATO in Kosovo in 1999. He is a former colonel-general of Russian army and is now serving as vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Affairs and is a member of Izborsk club which was formed based on Dugin’s ideas) talked about it already in 2010. However, in recent years, similar discussions were gaining momentum and involved not only some unknown commentators. Even Alekxei Pushkov, head of the foreign-affairs committee in the State Duma, publicly suggested disbanding NATO in 2014.

By the way, back in the summer of 2001, in his first year of presidency, Putin publicly declared that NATO should either accept Russia or be released. The former KGB lieutenant-colonel then said that he does not see NATO as an enemy.

But when NATO-Russia Council was formed back in 2002 to involve Russia in the European security architecture, Putin didn’t even hide the unwillingness to integrate his country into NATO in the future. And some of the Eastern European countries openly warned that the only thing Moscow really wants is the ability to influence and split NATO from within. At the time no one listened to these warnings.

In 2010 even Russian military doctrine had a line saying that the biggest threat to Russia is NATO. And since it had already been clear that Russia has no desire to join NATO, the world should have paid more attention to Putin’s praises to Zhirinovsky who insisted on disbanding NATO in 2012.

Especially bearing in mind that it’s not a new whim but a well though-out and developed strategy since Soviet era. It is merely continued by Putin’s regime which is based on KGB and USSR power structures. It is important to note that both the goal and the measures to reach it remained the same since KGB times. Therefore, it is important to remember how KGB and Russian secret services used to reach these targets and to study KGB history and publicly available sources – particularly the testimonies and other related documents of KGB agents who deserted to the West.

The goals of ‘active measures’

Oleg Kalugin, a former general of KGB foreign intelligence, once called these ‘active measures’ ‘the heart and soul of Soviet intelligence’ (there even was a special service in KGB First Chief Directorate called ‘A’ which controlled the implementation of these measures). According to Kalugin, Soviet foreign intelligence was based ‘not on collecting intelligence, but on the subversion: active steps to weaken the West, drive wedges throughout the Western community alliances (particularly NATO), sow discord between allies, weaken US in the eyes of Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and thus prepare in case the war actually commences’.

These words must be taken into account when speaking about the goals of not only the former USSR, but current Russia as well. Western expert community is starting more discussions on the very same ‘active measures’ and how they are used (although still not enough) by Putin’s regime to weaken the West.

February issue of The Economist (a very influential weekly journal) had Putin on its cover along with a very eloquent heading – ‘Putin’s War on the West’.

This war is described in details in the article itself. Anne Applebaum, a winner of Pulitzer prize, whose opinions are respected in the West, elaborated this warning in her article in The Spectator called ‘How Vladimir Putin is Waging War on the West – and Winning’. However, such definition of threats are not being completely understood by public.

After all, it’s not some new tactics that Putin has just now taken on. The strategy of those ‘active measures’ that has been used by Russian secret services for decades is somewhat similar to what the Western world later called the hybrid war, but much more brutal and covering everything – from the special disinformation campaigns, headhunting Western politics, subversive activities (including terrorism) and, finally, military equipment. This Kremlin’s war against the West has never stopped (even after the end of Cold War), and has now reached an especially active phase. And it is often said in Russia that the World War 3 or 4 is already happening, and it’s Russia against the West (especially the United States).

John Schindler, who is an influential US expert, a former professor at US Naval War College and an analyst for the US intelligence services, talks about the ‘special war’ and predicts that it will become even more tense in 2015.

‘Moscow is far from ready to start a long-term conventional war against NATO. Also because crude oil prices and the decrease in ruble exchange rate will delay the long-awaited military modernization program. But Moscow is ready (more than ever) to boil a mash of rigorous espionage, subversive activities and terrorism – all the ingredients needed for the ‘special war’.

This is why the West should be especially vigilant because Kremlin’s ‘special war’ can cause serious harm. But at the same time there are things that NATO is poorly prepared to recognize, and even less prepared to overcome or deter such activities’, – Schindler warned in 2014 when he vividly described many of the emerging threats.

Russian agents are already in our backyard

Apart from the military threat, the mostly discussed threat in the West is the aforementioned Kremlin’s campaign to support all anti-European forces in any EU state, regardless of their political views. This threat has been discussed so many times before that it’s not worth repeating it all over again.

However, funding extremist parties is not the only way for Putin’s Russia to destroy EU and the West from the inside.

To reach the same goal Russia has established or funded a variety of non-governmental organisations in the EU and US. Moreover, it is being revealed only now that Russian has had serious influence on some of the Western think tanks. And so far, only the Carnegie branch in Moscow is being mentioned.

In the meantime, my own analysis suggests that Russia has been creating similar influence structures in the West for quite a while now. And knowing the phenomenon of ‘active measures’ there is no doubt that all of these structures along with other Russian influence is used for the same goals – weakening the West, and eventually destroying their structures. And it would be a mistake to see it as a ‘soft power’ that is usually not causing major concern to the West. The spread of Russian influence in the West must be examined in the context of ‘active measures’.

In this context it is crucial to evaluate the so-called ‘information wars’ carried out by Russia. Although the attention is usually drawn to the influence of Russian television and the classic measures of information war, Lithuania can be a perfect example how even being rather resistant to the effect of Russian information attacks, it’s still not capable to ward off the influence of ‘active measures’.

Old habits die hard

By the way, all of this is also not some new Russia’s strategy. One slight difference is that Soviet KGB used to fund and support only left-wing political forces in the West while the current Russia supports any political views if only they share the same goals. But such practice developed a very long time ago.

Various peace movements and other Western derivatives that are useful for Kremlin have been supported by KGB, Soviet communist party and the Soviet allies from the Warsaw pact countries for many years. The goal, again, was the same – to weaken and, if possible, to destroy Western structures.

The only thing that Kremlin could not exploit as effectively during Soviet era was media. But that does not mean that KGB refrained from using informational and even cultural measures to achieve the very same goals.

Ion Mihai Pacepa, a former head of Romanian foreign intelligence once wrote a very detailed description on how KGB managed to turn Pope Pius XII (who saved lives of many Jews) into a Nazi supporter in the eyes of the world. The central axis of this classic KGB operation turned out to be the communist German playwright Rolf Hochhut, who wrote a play called ‘The Deputy’ in 1963.

It gave rise to the whole disinformation campaign which eventually reached the point where even some of the supporters of Pope Pius XII did not believe Pacepa’s information about such KGB information until it was proven by historical documents.

Western hero to destroy the West?

The story of the former US NSA (National Security Agency) whistleblower Edward Snowden can be considered the modern operation of ‘active measures’ that is equal to distribution of ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ or discrediting Pope Pius XII.

Although there are many people in Western countries who praise Snowden and call him a hero, the former KGB agents who emigrated to the West have no doubts that he works for Russian security services. Schindler, a former NSA analyst who presented various arguments to prove these allegations, calls Snowden’s story the ‘greatest active measure in Chekism history’ (representatives of USSR and Russian secret services are often called chekists – it derives from the name of Dzerzhinsky’s ‘Special Commission’ – ‘Chrezvuchainaja Komisija’).

Schindler claims that ‘the goal of Snowden’s operation was to cause maximum damage to the powerful Western intelligence alliance, led by NSA, which protected the Western freedom since the World War II’. Even if we try to evaluate it in this context, it is an attempt to destroy Western alliance and structures. And Snowden’s constantly published information serves this exact purpose.

Schindler says more: ‘As a former NSA counterintelligence officer, I can share some depressing facts – during the Cold War NSA electronic intelligence SIGINT was teeming with infiltrated Soviet spies. And we’re merely talking about the ones we know. […] Putin’s espionage against the West, especially the US, became even more aggressive, although it continues the well-tested Chekist tactics and techniques’.

And now let’s remember Kalugin’s testimony where he said that ‘the basis of Soviet foreign intelligence was not collecting intelligence data, but doing subversive activities in order to weaken the West’. And let’s try to evaluate Schindler’s words in this context.

However, Schindler is not focusing on what, I believe, is also a very important goal of this operation: to drive a wedge between US and its allies in Europe – primarily Germany. For perhaps the loudest part of this scandal was the alleged NSA’s phone tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This scandal became the reason for the latest US-Germany relation crisis, which is always a threat to the future of NATO.

However, it turned out in December 2014 that German prosecutors did not receive evidence that the documents (that caused this scandal) were authentic NSA documents. In June this year the investigation in Germany was cancelled due to the lack of credible evidence, although it was first said that these evidence existed and were undeniable.

It is worth noting that Russian-controlled Snowden’s story became not an interception of useful intelligence, but merely an operation to destroy trust and relationship between ES and NATO partners. This, I believe, is a perfect indicator of Kremlin’s major goal – to destroy NATO and the EU – no matter what it takes.


Marius Laurinavičius is a senior analyst at the Vilnius-based Eastern Europe Studies Centre

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