Friday, April 23, 2021

Espionage: If “you use Novichok, it is because you want it to be made public”

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The activity of Russian intelligence services, which enjoyed a solid reputation, has resurfaced in Europe in recent years, but disputes between Moscow and Western countries have come to the fore more and more.

Last week, Italy announced the expulsion of two Russian officials after the arrest of an Italian naval officer while handing over confidential documents to a Russian military officer.

In addition, many Russian diplomats accused of spying have been expelled in recent months from countries such as Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Austria, France and the Czech Republic.

Moscow reacted and denounced baseless accusations and “russophobes”.

“Russian intelligence has adopted a war mentality. He thinks it is an existential battle for Russia’s place in the world, ”estimates Mark Galeotti, a writer specializing in Russian security affairs.

For Galeotti, 2014 was a crucial year. “The revolution in Ukraine, for [o presidente russo] Vladimir Putin, it was a British operation by the CIA and the British MI6, ”he said.

According to Andrei Soldatov, editor-in-chief of the Russian website Agentura.ru, specialized in Intelligence matters, “they think that the least Western action, such as criticizing the human rights violations, or the work of foreign journalists, can provoke a revolution ”.

And, in fact, the Russian secret services go further, from the bribery of spies to the corruption of foreign officials, practiced by all the great powers.

Baby 2018, o former double agent Sergei Skripal was the target of an assassination attempt by poisoning in the United Kingdom. A year later, a man suspected of acting under orders from Moscow killed a former Czech rebel fighter in Berlin.

Now, the West accuses Russia of poisoning Alexei Navalny, Putin’s main opponent, with a Novichok-type nerve agent. Navalny managed to recover after spending five months in treatment in Germany, but was arrested when he returned to Russia.

The investigative journalism platform Bellingcat it also identified a dozen agents, through recurring practices in the creation of false identities by military intelligence (GRU) and security services (FSB).

Mikhail Liubimov, a retired colonel from the Soviet KGB services, regrets the agents’ “ideological degradation” and highlights a unfavorable geopolitical context.

Moscow “sends a clear message to those who dare to challenge Putin“, Says Soufan Center. Russia feels “confident enough to kill opposition figures”.

When using a nervous agent like Novichok to murder someone, it’s because you want it to go public, ”commented Damien Van Puyvelde, an intelligence specialist at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

After the Skripal case, that of the Malaysia Airlines plane that was shot down in eastern Ukraine and the scandals of Russian interference in the western elections, “there is, perhaps, a kind of collective exhaustion and a need for Europeans to make political communication,” he says. Van Puyvelde. “There are still red lines ”, he stated.

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