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Wednesday 12 August 2015

The left's Russia naivete

Image from a 'rap-trash group from Sankt-Pitersberg' according to ИванИваныч

Since I patted Harold Wilson on the back in a Miners' Welfare hall in the Midlands in the 70s I have been boy and man Labour. Even when I was yelling at them over the treatment of lesbian and gay asylum seekers I still supported them because I knew Labour could do better.

Ukraine is something else. If Jeremy Corbyn is elected leader he gets to select a shadow Foreign Secretary and he gets to set the direction of travel of Labour Party foreign policy.

As I explained in my now viral post on Corbyn and Ukraine it is clear as day that he supports Russian imperialism. But as I also explained I am pessimistic that the party will take Ukraine and Russia seriously because foreign policy was not being raised at the hustings. It still isn't. Only now - only now - is a key left website like Left Foot Forward publishing 'Why is no one challenging Jeremy Corbyn on foreign policy?'

So why should I trust that the party will reign Corbyn in on foreign policy? Which seems to be the argument from Corbyn supporters who share some, if not all, of my concerns. This puts all the weight onto one person, MP John McDonnell, Corbyn's agent in the leadership race, who does support Ukraine.

I wrote that post because, 1/ no one else was going to and, 2/ because I felt I owed it to the people of Ukraine. Unlike gay asylum seekers, people like the Ukrainian socialist I quoted have, for two years, struggled to get any hearing on the British left. There is no evidence suggesting that will change and that someone like McDonnell will be able, termite like, to eat away at the leader's Putin backing.

There is a perceptible naivete about Russia on the British left and I think it is utterly naive not to think that much of that may be down to Russia itself and not simply the absence of a strong Ukraine lobby or an Iraq hangover (as Gary Kent suggests in his excellent piece on Corbyn and foreign policy).

This is not just about the influence Russia Today and trolls from St Petersberg have on sentiment (which I agree with Jim Kovpak is probably counter productive) but something far subtler and more pernicious and far, far less discussed.

Russia has to an extent shown its hand regarding Corbyn. Russia Today broadcasts his rallies and a key Kremlin foreign policy adviser has said that Corbyn's election would be in Russia's interest.

They have other ways of influencing.

As Anne Applebaum points out when she wrote about Western 'useful idiots':
In some cases it even suits their own financial interests. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, has been lent millions of euros by a Russian bank. With so much money at stake, it’s not surprising she isn’t bothered by the deaths of more than 6,000 people in a totally unnecessary war. National Front leaders regularly visit Moscow. One of Le Pen’s advisers went to Crimea during the “referendum” there last year, to serve as one of the election observers who came to rubber-stamp the process.
Before anyone yells about conspiracies read this by John Schindler (reblogged with permission) which turns the Corbynite argument on its head.

Schindler is an ex counterintelligence officer and someone who I started to read around the time that I wrote about how the Snowden so-called revelations and their use by Glenn Greenwald was a libertarian ploy. I argued that socialists needed to wake up about the real political implications of a movement undermining faith in government as a good.

Schindler I tease as a 'secret socialist' - because he did indeed once write that he is. The idea that someone who used to work for the NSA could be, gasp, socialist probably makes a lot of people I know heads explode. Which I admit I do like the idea of.

From Atlas of Prejudice

Putin Turns Up His Special War Against Europe

By John Schindler

Over the last year, since the Russian theft of Crimea, I’ve unambiguously warned that Vladimir Putin means what he says and he will not shy away from confrontation with the West, even at the risk of major war. Opportunities to deter this resurgent Russia, which I counseled many months ago, were punted on by the U.S. and NATO, so we now face a serious risk of war with Putin over his mounting hegemony in Eastern Europe. Ukraine is just the beginning.

As I’ve long made clear, Russia does not play by Western rules, and Putin and his Kremlin, being Chekists to their core, place great value on what I term Special War, meaning a shadowy amalgam of espionage, propaganda, and terrorism that Western states are poorly positioned to counter. At the end of the last year I predicted that the Kremlin’s Special War against the West was sure to rise, and so it has in the first quarter of this new year.

Last week I explained how Russian espionage against the Czech Republic — no congenital hater of the Russians like, say, Poland or the Baltics — had become so serious that Prague had expelled three Russian spies in recent months, amid warnings from Czech counterintelligence that at least a quarter of the outsized number of Russian diplomats in the country were actually spies posing as diplomats.

Over the last year I’ve explained in detail how Russian intelligence abroad, encompassing the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), have increased the scope and intensity of their operations against many NATO countries, including France, Germany, Hungary, and Poland. Most of these operations are undertaken by SVR or GRU officers serving under what the Russians term Legal cover, meaning they are pretending to be diplomats, trade representatives, and whatnot.

But in recent years there has also been an uptick in operations by spies whom the Russians term Illegals, meaning intelligence officers who serve abroad without any official protection, often posing as third-country nationals. The massive 2010 round up of a whole network of SVR Illegals in the United States proved a serious blow to the Kremlin, and their espionage still exhibits weaknesses, as evidenced by the recent arrest of an SVR Illegal operating in New York, a second-rater who did not belong to the elite of Russian spies.

Such Kremlin activities extend beyond NATO as well, and now it’s Sweden’s turn. A neutral that’s prone to downplaying threats on political grounds, and is always careful not to needlessly aggravate the Russian bear looming across the Baltic Sea, Stockholm has nevertheless had enough of clandestine Russian shenanigans in their country. This week they have gone public with the extent of the Kremlin’s Special War being waged against Sweden.

According to the Swedish Security Service (Säpo), at least one-third of the Russian diplomats in the country are actually spies. Recent months have seen repeated incidents of Russian intelligence provocations — submarines off the coast, SVR and GRU ramping up clandestine in-country operations — and Stockholm is worried, particularly because Kremlin efforts to recruit spies inside Swedish military and political circles are increasingly obvious.

Gone are the bumbling, vodka-swilling Russian spies of the 1990’s, when the Soviet collapse curtailed much espionage abroad. Since 2006, SVR and GRU operations against the West have risen steadily, to the point that current activities are as intense in number and audacity as they were at the height of the Cold War. Sweden is no exception, and Säpo’s chief analyst noted that Russian spies today are “highly educated and often younger than during the Soviet era. They are driven, goal-oriented and socially competent.” Not to mention that this is only talking about Russian Legals, not Illegals, who can be assumed to add to the ranks of Kremlin spies in Sweden, perhaps considerably.

As always, these spies are recruiting sources, disseminating disinformation, and fomenting dissent in the host country, per longstanding Russian espionage practice. This has become so serious that Stockholm now considers Russia to be the top threat to Swedish national security. The Säpo analyst bluntly explained, “There are hundreds of Russian intelligence officers around Europe and the West. They violate our territory every day … We see Russian intelligence operations in Sweden—we can’t interpret this in any other way—as preparation for military operations against Sweden.”

There’s the rub. Every week of late, Putin turns up the heat on NATO and the West: diplomatic threats, aggressive maneuvers with combat aircraft, the movement of late–model missiles to Kaliningrad, putting Stockholm, Warsaw, and Berlin within easy range of Russian tactical nuclear weapons. Now, Putin either wants open war against the West — not just the clandestine games of Special War — or we wants us to think he does: in either case, this is a terrifying situation.

Many believe that Putin thinks he can use the threat of nuclear blackmail to gain a free hand for Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, and they may be right. Certainly there is little in NATO reactions to Russian aggression to date that suggests a backbone is forming in Berlin, Paris, or Washington, DC. Whether or not the Kremlin wants major war is known only to Putin and the tiny circle of advisors, all hard-edged Chekists like himself, whom the Russian leader listens to.

For now, Special War will continue to achieve Kremlin aims, possibly without major war, while laying the intelligence groundwork for that bigger conflict, should that happen. Today’s news brings word that Polish counterintelligence has detected an air force officer spying for Moscow. He is reported to have passed classified information about Poland’s wing of F-16 fighters, the backbone of Polish defense against the Russians, in what may constitute a serious blow to NATO readiness on the Alliance’s exposed eastern frontier.

Another day, another Russian spy in the West detected. You can expect more of this. If we’re lucky, our conflict with Putin, which is being orchestrated by the Kremlin, will remain confined to SpyWar. Yet how robustly the West confronts Russian Special War — which is ultimately a question of politics, not counterespionage — is a good benchmark for how effectively we can deter a major, and possibly nuclear, war. Without political will, all the West’s acumen in military and intelligence affairs will matter little compared to the robust will shown by Vladimir Putin, who is playing for keeps, and intends to win.

  • Putin’s early years
    As a young spy in Dresden, Vladimir Putin sets the stage for his unprecedented career

Edited to add: Andrew Coates published on a worrying development on the French left, namely signally increased opposition to the EU and even a suggestion to work with the National Front (Marine LePen). Here is my comment to his post:

The Russians have every interest in aiding these forces. Destroying the EU is a clear aim and they will aid anyone, right or left, that will push towards that end.

This month there was the sight of MPs from Sarkozy’s party signing up for a Crimean day trip and Sarkozy himself has changed his rhetoric completely on Russia. They also have two former German Chancellors in their pocket.

John Schindler has written a couple of times on what the Russians are doing in France. This needs to be factored into any consideration of what is going on.

Here on what lay behind Russian TV carrying rants about Charlie Hebdo being a US operation:

“Yet the most interesting part of Martynov’s rant about the Paris atrocity isn’t actually his fact-free pinning it on American intelligence. He revealed what the Kremlin’s real agenda now is. He hailed Europe’s “voice of common sense, calling for the restoration of cooperation with Russia” in the face of terrorism — this being exactly what pro-Putin politicians in France like Marine Le Pen have called for — while asserting that nefarious U.S.-backed terrorism will have the opposite effect of pushing “Russia and Europe closer together in the face of common threats — terrorism and the hegemony of the United States.”

That is a perfect explanation of Moscow’s strategic aim in Europe today, as has been evident for some time to anyone with open eyes, and now Kremlin mouthpieces are saying it openly. As someone who has repeatedly warned Europeans that their rising right-wing is being co-opted by Moscow against NATO and the West, it’s an unpleasant surprise when the Russians are this unsubtle about it. Clearly Putin is feeling confident despite Russia’s dire economic predicament. Watch Paris and Madame Le Pen for the next move.”
(Note that nearly half of polled Russians blamed either the French government for allowing Charlie to exist or blamed Charlie itself

Here is Schindler from last year on the Kremlin being “hyperactive” in France:

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