Losing a case in court, falling stock prices, failing an undercover agent do not always and not necessarily mean a total defeat. Sometimes it is possible to completely minimize all risks and negative consequences. Moreover, you can lose in one, while achieve your goals in another!
This seems to be the case with the numerous failures of Russian spies in Western countries, which Moscow does not seem to be concerned about. There is an opinion that Russia is skillfully using the disclosures of its scouts, sleeper agents and agents of influence in the West for certain specific purposes.
So, over the past few years, there has been a sharp increase in the activity of the Russian special services – the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (military intelligence), the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation and the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. Approximately since the poisoning in London (March 2018) by the Russian special services of S.Skripal (a former Russian intelligence officer who worked for the UK) and his daughter, scandals have constantly erupted in the countries of the North Atlantic Alliance, the traces of which lead to the Russian special services. But, although the resurgence of the confrontational activities of the Russian Federation concerns the entire NATO bloc, espionage stories most often occur in the former satellite countries of the USSR.
For example, only at the end of 2020 in Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, spy scandals arose. The result: a certain number of Russian diplomats were expelled from these countries. At the end of March 2021, again in Bulgaria, as well as in Italy, there were high-profile arrests among the military and officials accused of working for the Russian Federation, as well as another expulsion of Russian diplomats.
An entire spy cell was uncovered in Sofia. It collected information for Moscow about NATO, the US CIA, the number of US troops in the EU in general and in Bulgaria in particular, on developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, as well as the situation in the Middle East. The six-member cell included active members of the Bulgarian military intelligence and defense ministry, as well as an official working in the parliamentary secret information department. All of them had access to NATO classified information.
In turn, an officer of the General Staff of the Italian Armed Forces was detained in Rome. The latter intended to transfer secret information regarding NATO activities to an employee of the Russian military attaché in Rome. Moreover, Rome said that a third of Russian diplomats accredited in Italy (at least 80 employees of embassies and consulates) collect classified information for the special services of the Russian Federation.
It’s interesting that the operations in Bulgaria and Italy took place synchronously, which can be explained by different versions:
– forced reaction to the increased activity of the Russian special services by the EU and NATO;
– simultaneous transfer of incriminating materials to Sofia and Rome from some powerful partner special services (British, German, American?);
– the result of some external pressure (Brussels, Washington?) on Sofia and Rome in order to strengthen the opposition to the influence of Russia;
– the episodes in Bulgaria and Italy are small private consequences of the new strategy of the US Administration, which has started a tough confrontation with the V. Putin’s regime that lost its adequacy;
– Moscow deliberately surrenders (of course, indirectly) some part of its agents – not particularly valuable or compromised, or “waste material” in order to bring confusion into the ranks of the North Atlantic Alliance.
The latter hypothesis was highlighted by the Bulgarian journalist Christo Grozev, a member of the Bellingcat investigation team, and it seems especially interesting.
Of course, the frequent arrests taking place in Western countries and the high-profile solving of cases related to the Russian special services greatly undermine both the professional image of these special services and the reputation of the Russian Federation at the international level. But, on the other hand, inside NATO, internal information constantly circulates, and the members of the Alliance share intelligence with each other. If, with a few months intervals, spies acting in the interests of the Russian special services are exposed in different NATO countries, then within the Alliance mutual suspicions and claims inevitably grow, and the level of internal distrust increases sharply.
As a result (at least hypothetically), NATO countries reduce the level of internal cooperation, the quality of their interaction deteriorates, and they stop sharing intelligence and other information. All this leads to the big dream of Colonel Putin – the split and weakening of the Alliance.
Christo Grozev drew attention to the fact that detention of a Russian military intelligence spy in Austria at the end of 2018 “contributed” to the situation that the intelligence services of other countries stopped sharing some information with Austria. It is possible that in a number of cases it is more important for the Russian leadership not to receive some portion of secret information, but to discredit NATO and create a situation in which the Alliance countries cease to trust each other.
In this context, it can be assumed that in some cases Moscow uses its ramified networks of agents in a very unexpected way, namely, it deliberately creates situations for disclosure (secondary or “one-time”) of Russian spies in order to give the impression of the absolute omnipresence of the Russian monster and its endless tentacles. And if the Kremlin really manages to create an impression of the inevitability of the Russian factor among an ordinary EU citizen, then you may be close to the feeling of … the omnipotence of Russia!
The only weak point of this incredible tactic of Moscow is that it throws up its “insidious gifts” in most cases in a well-defined region – in the countries of the former communist camp (Central-Eastern Europe and the Balkans), as well as in those several states of Western Europe, where some of the politicians have expressed Russophile sentiments.
Of course, analysts in NATO structures understand how true or implausible the hypothesis of Christo Grozev is, but they will not share their conclusions with us. In any case, even if the presented version is indeed justified, there is in no way a disaster. It’s just that the residents of the EU and the military of the Alliance countries must convince themselves personally and the whole world that the incessant news about the disclosure of the activities of Russian spies does not mean the strength and power of the Russian Federation, but, on the contrary, testifies to its powerlessness and a glaring lag behind the Western countries, which is only growing exponentially.