Tag Archives: Hybrid agression

The Free Russia Foundation has assembled a team of experienced writers, researchers, and journalists affiliated with different organizations, to document some of the most compelling cases of Russian meddling. However, these events are only a sample; the Putin regime is busy throughout the world, undermining the integrity of Western judicial and policymaking institutions.

This report, a tour d’horizon of Russian active measures and subversion campaigns throughout North America and Europe, demonstrates that Vladimir Putin’s attempts to infiltrate Western institutions are relentless and that there is one constant to his two decade-long engagement: he triumphs where we invite him to, and most of all where we happily act as his complacent enablers.

This is a story of how the West consistently fails to get its own house in order. The very institutions created after World War II to keep transparent markets and liberal democracies from corrosion and collapse are now playgrounds for Kremlin agents seeking to enrich themselves and further that corrosion and collapse along. More than anything, the pathologies of our own societies are on ample display in these pages as the principal reason why so many oligarchs, intelligence operatives and bribe-offering banks and energy companies have been able to thrive outside of Russia.

The Putin regime’s persistence has paid off quite well in its geo-political battle of wills with the West, whereby Russia’s military actions since 2014 have been met with lukewarm international sanctions that have failed to shift their course.

What we hope this report demonstrates is the need for Western governments to take a stronger stand and vigorously defend their values and institutions. While this may not have the same impact as ending a bloody war, refusal to give in to the Kremlin’s advances for new laws to protect its business and financial interests; putting up barriers in response to Russia’s abuse of international law enforcement entities or enforcing existing laws so that oligarchs can’t hide behind newly-created NGOs can begin to push back against Russia’s current lawless actions.

If an individual nation defends its criminal and civil court system or combats corrupt practices within its own government, this will provide much-needed resistance against the Kremlin’s aims and objectives.If, collectively, several nations decide to join forces in this effort, ample pressure will be placed on Russia’s leadership to make it play by the rules more often and respect our institutions rather than try to manipulate them.

In the pages of this report, you’ll read about these, and many more:

– a U.S. federal money-laundering case was sabotaged by a Moscow attorney turned Congressional lobbyist, who obstructed justice, set up a dubious charity in Delaware to dismantle a landmark American human rights act— all before trying to influence a U.S. presidential race;

– Russian mobsters in Spain, despite a mountain of incriminating evidence compiled over the course of a decade, all went free by, among other things, enlisting Spanish jurists to spread a malevolent defamation campaign against one of his country’s most committed counterterrorism and organized crime magistrates;

– the Kremlin directed effort to pass laws in the Belgian and French parliaments that would effectively nullify the Yukos shareholder court decisions and render them unenforceable against the Russian Federation;

– the eccentric president of a NATO and EU member-state sided against his own government in favor of a hostile foreign one, to which he’s been financially and politically connected for years.

 

The chart below visually summarizes some of the cases, countries, branches of power, institutions and entities in the West impacted by Russian interference:

The report’s contributing authors:

Nataliya Arno

Ms. Arno is the founder and president of Free Russia Foundation, a non-partisan non-profit think tank headquartered in Washington, DC with affiliate offices in Kyiv Ukraine and Tbilisi Georgia. Prior to creating Free Russia Foundation, Ms. Arno worked for the Moscow office of the International Republican Institute where she was the Russia country director from 2008 until 2014.

Neil Barnett

Mr. Barnett is founder and CEO of Istok Associates, a London-based intelligence and investigation consultancy focused on Central & Eastern Europe and the Middle East & North Africa. Previously, he was a journalist in the same regions for 13 years and wrote for the Telegraph, the Spectator and Janes publications. He covered the war in Iraq, the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, the eastern expansion of NATO and the EU in the 2000s and Balkan organized crime.

Rumena Filipova

Ms. Filipova’s primary research at the Center for the Study of Democracy is related to Russian domestic and foreign policy as well the Kremlin’s media, political and economic influence in Central and Eastern Europe. She holds an MPhil and DPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford. She has been a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, the Polish Institute of International Affairs, and Chatham House, among others.

Vasily Gatov

Mr. Gatov is a media researcher, journalist, analyst and media investment expert.He is the former head of RIA Novosti MediaLab (2011 – 2013).

 Jacub Janda

Mr. Janda is the Executive Director and member of the executive board of the European Values Think Tank headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic.

John Lough

Mr. Lough is Managing Director of JBKL Advisory Ltd, a strategy consulting company, and an Associate Fellow with the Russia & Eurasia Programme at Chatham House. In a private capacity, he has been providing pro bono advice to the Bitkov family as part of the campaign for their freedom since 2015. He is the co-author of the Chatham House research paper ‘Are Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Reforms Working?’ (November 2018) https://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/are-ukraines-anti-corruption-reforms-working

Anton Shekhovtsov 

Mr. Shekhovtsov is an external Lecturer at the University of Vienna, Associate Research Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, an expert at the European Platform for Democratic Elections, and General Editor of the “Explorations of the Far Right” book series at ibidem-Verlag. His main area of expertise is the European far right, relations between Russia and radical right-wing parties in the West, and illiberal tendencies in Central and Eastern Europe.

Maria Snegovaya

Ms. Snegovaya is a PhD candidate at Columbia University. Expert on the sources of support for the populist parties in the Eastern Europe. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The New Republic, and columnist at Russia’s “Vedomosti” business daily.

Dr. Denis Sokolov

Dr. Sokolov is a research expert on the North Caucasus for Free Russia Foundation focusing on the informal economy of the region, land disputes, and institutional foundations of military conflicts. He is a senior research fellow at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) and research director at the Center for Social and Economic Research of Regions (RAMCOM).

Martin Vladimirov

Mr. Vladimirov is an energy security expert specializing in natural gas and renewables markets at the European policy think tank, Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD). His work at CSD focuses on analysis of the energy security and governance risks in Europe, political risk and international security. Before joining CSD, Mr. Vladimirov worked as an oil and gas consultant at the The Oil and Gas Year, where he worked in Turkey, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia. He holds a Master’s degree from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. He has written several academic publications, multiple policy reports and is the co-author of four recent books on Russian influence including the Kremlin Playbook: Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe, Kremlin Playbook 2: The Enablers,The Russian Economic Grip on Central and Eastern Europe and A Closer Look at Russia and its Influence on the World. 

Michael Weiss

Mr. Weiss is an American journalist and author of the New York TimesBestseller Isis: Inside the Army of Terror. He is a senior editor for The Daily Beast, a consulting executive editor at Coda Story, a columnist for Foreign Policyand a frequent national security analyst and contributor for CNN.

Ilya Zaslavskiy

Mr. Zaslavskiyis Head of Research for the Free Russia Foundation (FRF) and Head of Underminers.info, a research project exposing kleptocrats from Eurasia in the West. Until December 2018 he was a member of the Advisory Council at the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative for which he wrote a report on “How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West”. Prior to joining FRF, he was Senior Visiting Fellow, Legatum Institute, and Bosch Fellow, Chatham House. He has written reports on Eurasian energy and kleptocracy for the Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, Martens Centre and other think tanks.

 

For Press enquiries, please contact: Natalia.Arno@4freerussia.org

The case of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev is a story of impunity both in Russia and in the West. This oligarch, who was connected with the Kremlin and Russian security services, got away with inflicting a major environmental catastrophe, and instead of facing any consequences, received billions of dollars from another well-connected oligarch as well as the opportunity to live on a supposedly clean slate in the West. He evidently took his corrosive business practices to his new places of residence, including Monaco, which, according to multiple reports, led to the undermining of local police and the resignation of a justice minister. The oligarch continues to enjoy connections with the Kremlin and, when necessary, safety in Moscow. Through these connections, he has effectively avoided facing any consequences for his actions vis-à-vis local law enforcement. This ongoing case is a testimony to the erosion of legal institutions in a key European location.

Dmitry Rybolovlev, former owner of the Russian potash empire Uralkali, was implicated in a major environmental catastrophe in the Perm region. Author Oliver Bullough visited the site of one of the catastrophes at Rybolovlev’s potash plants in Berezniki and noted in his latest book Money Land that the oligarch’s negligence of proper safety procedures at his salt mines led to large swaths of the city literally falling into huge sinkholes that formed above the mines (Oliver Bullough, Money Land: Why Thieves & Crooks Now Rule the World & How to Take It Back (Profile Books, 2018), pp. 219-220.)  Igor Sechin, then deputy head of presidential administration, reviewed the complicated case and, despite condemning evidence, absolved Rybolovlev of responsibility for any of the damages and allowed him to safely leave the country.

Rybolovlev’s companies did not fully provide even the modest compensation he initially agreed to in 2007-2009, but he did sell his stake in Uralkali to Suleyman Kerimov, another Kremlin-connected oligarch (see a separate case about him below), at a high price and depart safely for full time residence in Switzerland and Monaco (The main source in the West on all this has been this NYT article; key Russia source). With money taken out of Russia, Rybolovlev bought mind-bogglingly high-end properties in New York and around the world, expensive art, and football club in Monaco.

Since then, Rybolovlev has been trying to present himself as an independent businessman who cut his ties with Russia and the Kremlin, however, this effort has been a failure on multiple levels. First, the story of close connections between Rybolovlev and Sechin came up at a Congressional hearing last year. Secondly, Der Spiegel wrote in November 2018 that “rumors still circulate in Western intelligence circles today that Rybolovlev bought his way out from under the multibillion-dollar cloud hanging over him”. Thirdly, while Rybolovlev mostly lived in the West, a quick Google search shows that in 2016 he negotiated with Gennadiy Timchenko’s company Stroytransgaz regarding the lease for his property in central Moscow. This proves that Rybolovlev continues to have business relations with Kremlin insiders despite his claims that he permanently moved to the West for a new life.

For considerable time this claim has been taken at a face value by Rybolovlev’s interlocutors and counterparts in the West (especially those who engaged in various lucrative relations with him). In 2017, however, Prince Albert II of Monaco and a number of other high-ranking officials broke all contact with the billionaire. According to Journal du Dimanche, Rybolovlev, who invested 300 million euros in the development of his Monaco Football club, was declared persona non grata by the authorities. In September 2017, the Monaco Prosecutor’s Office initiated a lawsuit against Rybolovlev regarding the bribery of officials and high-ranking police officers. Rybolovlev and his immediate circle have allegedly put a lot of pressure on the investigative authorities and the police of Monaco. They attempted to send the detectives off course while they were investigating the case against the Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, who had sold about 40 paintings by famous artists to the billionaire at unreasonably inflated prices”.

At the heart of the complicated Monaco case lie claims and counterclaims about Rybolovlev’s art collection and whether or not his former art dealer, Yves Bouvier, swindled the Russian oligarch. The focus of the scandal then turned towards Rybolovlev himself, who Bouvier claimed used his political clout to coordinate attacks against the art dealer by law enforcement officials.

Monaco’s Justice Minister, Philippe Narmino, had to step down from his position because of this case, facing questions from prosecutors after it was alleged in the press that he might have received gifts from Rybolovlev while the Russian launched fraud claims against Bouvier. Bouvier and his associates presented evidence that they were illegally recorded as part of Rybolovlev’s campaign to prove that he had been defrauded by Bouvier. The dealer himself was arrested by police officers of the Monegasque security “just as he was setting foot in Monaco … This led to accusations against the Russian billionaire of having taken advantage of his relations with senior Monegasque officials, including the Minister of Justice Philippe Narmino, to arrest and charge Bouvier.”

The art dealer was arrested in February 2015 on his way to Rybolovlev’s villa. His lawyer contended that Rybolovlev and his lawyer took part in arranging the arrest. Media outlets published some of the hundreds of SMS messages leaked from the phone of Rybolovlev’s lawyer, Tetiana Bersheda, which were turned over to the investigative judge in charge of the case”. In these messages, Bersheda warns the Monegasque police of the arrival of Yves Bouvier to the Principality.

The Minister of State, head of Monaco’s government, was very reluctant and evasive with regard to the investigations into this matter and even suggested abridging them.  Nevertheless, the authorities of Monaco and other countries have attempted hold the culprits accountable and some disciplinary measures were taken against the police officers involved in helping Rybolovlev. This help was allegedly provided in exchange for high-end tickets to Monaco FC and other lavish perks emanating from Rybolovlev’s circle.

On January 8th, 2019, the Monaco revision court rejected Rybolovlev’s appeal against the use of his lawyer’s mobile phone by the Monegasque justice, who continues to suspect the oligarch and his lawyer of trading in influence and corruption. Following this decision, Rybolovlev’s lawyers suggested that they might appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming breach of privacy and other misconduct on the part of the the investigators. This investigation is far from over and while it continues, the oligarch and his circle still enjoy a wide sphere of influence in the principality. On January 16th, Rybolovlev returned to Monaco with a plan to invest 55 million euros in sport infrastructure in the country, a feat that the Russian press took as “comeback” for the billionaire.

Whatever the outcome of this complicated investigation is, one thing is already clear. The Kremlin-backed conduct of the oligarch, who brought his business and legal practices from Russia to Monaco, led to the demise of a justice minister, but so far has had no real consequences either for him or his political and business interests in the West.

Photo by Pasquale Iovino

The case of the Kremlin-connected oligarch Suleyman Kerimov is a testimony to the power of the Russian state when it is used to the benefit of its allies in western courts. In 2017-18 Kerimov faced serious allegations of money laundering and other wrongdoing in the French courts. After the introduction of political pressure from Moscow, however, the French legal system started to produce strange results that eventually led to the dismissal of all charges levied against the oligarch. Recently, however, a French judge placed Kerimov back under formal investigation on suspicion of compliance in aggravated tax fraud. The outcome of this new case will indicate the ability of the French legal system to act independently despite pressure from the Russian government.

Suleyman Kerimov, nicknamed the “Russian Gatsby”, is the 21st richest person in Russia with an estimated net worth of 5.4 billion euros, the majority owner in Russia’s biggest gold mining company, Polyus PJSC, and a senator in the Russian Federation Council for the region of Dagestan. Upon landing in Nice for a vacation trip in November 2017, he was arrested by the French police and questioned for two days over alleged tax evasion and money laundering in connection with the purchase of real estate on the French Riviera.

The court in Nice charged him with tax fraud, set bail at 5 million euros, and forced Kerimov to give his passport away and to not leave France. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation sent a note to the French authorities, stating that Kerimov should have immunity from prosecution, by virtue of his diplomatic passport (link). According to the French, however, Kerimov did not use it when he flew to Nice. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that Kerimov’s immunity does not apply to actions not connected to his functions (link).

Two weeks later, prosecutors asked for Kerimov to be placed in custody or for his bail to be increased to 50 million euros. The court in Aix-en-Provence then set the bail to 40 million euros, put restrictions on those, with whom he may communicate, but still allowed him to stay out of custody (link).

In 2018, under provisions of a law passed by congress in 2017, the US treasury department announced sanctions against Russian oligarchs (including Kerimov), companies, and senior government members in retaliation against Moscow’s meddling in 2016 US presidential elections (link). Two months later, Kerimov won in a ruling at a court in the Aix-en-Provence that removed the charges set against him and allowed him the right to leave France. According to Kerimov’s defense team, they persuaded the court that the allegations did not qualify as money laundering, only as tax fraud (link). The prosecutor stated, however, that he is surprised by the ruling and indicated that he will consider an appeal to the highest French court (link).

Due mostly to a lack of understanding about why Kerimov was cleared of charges and based on the statements by the prosecutor’ office, it would appear that the judicial process may have been influenced by diplomatic relations between France and the Russian Federation. About a month before the final ruling, French President Emmanuel Macron visited the Russian President in Moscow (link). There is no substantial evidence for these claims and so far there has been no new information about the potential decision of the prosecutor’s office to appeal. After the acquittal, the Russian Federation Council met Kerimov with an enthusiastic ovation (link).

In March 2019, however, the French judge placed Kerimov back under formal investigation on suspicion of compliance in aggravated tax fraud, evidently after the prosecutor in the southern city of Nice took some additional steps in the court (link). The judge’s move to place Kerimov under formal investigation means that he becomes a formal suspect, but such investigations can be dropped without going to trial (link). Kerimov’s defense team already said that the oligarch considers the new investigation harassment. It can thus be reasonably expected that the story of dropped charges may repeat itself the second time around.

It should also be noted that Kerimov already had had highly controversial involvement in incidences of corruption. In 2012, a report by London’s The Henry Jackson Society, titled “The Shuvalov Affair,” described two major 2004 investments by Russia’s then Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov that yielded unusually high returns (link). One was a $49.5 million loan made to Alisher Usmanov to help buy a stake in Anglo-Dutch steel company Corus, the other a $17.7 million bet on Gazprom stock via Suleiman Kerimov’s Nafta Moskva.

Many experts continue to see this as a clear-cut form of bribing and money laundering between the oligarch and Putin’s top official. Shuvalov has repeatedly denied that there was anything improper or illegal about his business activities and his relationships with billionaires like Kerimov and Usmanov (link). Despite harsh libel laws, however, neither of the figures involved sued the authors of the report, preferring instead to let the news cycle die and its revelations simply be forgotten.

In April 2016, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) wrote about the Panama Papers and how they revealed Sergei Roldugin, the Russian cellist and businessman, as the secret caretaker of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s enormous wealth. OCCRP reported that Roldugin had received large sums of money from Suleiman Kerimov, using opaque financial mechanisms including offshore accounts. In two complex deals with Kerimov companies, Roldugin effectively received the rights to receive 4 billion rubles (US$ 59 million) and US$ 200 million respectively for a payment of just US$ 2 (link).

On November 25, the Ukrainian ships “Berdyansk,” “Nikopol” and “Yany Kapu,” en route from Odessa to Mariupol through the Kerch Strait, were detained by officers of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. During the detention, Russian border guards used life-threatening violence. As a result, the coast guard boat of the Russian Federation rammed a Ukrainian tug. According to the Ukrainian Navy, six Ukrainian seamen were wounded, all three Ukrainian vessels were seized together with a crew of 23 people and taken to the port of Kerch, located on the territory of the occupied Crimea on the Crimean Peninsula. Later, a Spokesman for the President of the Russian Federation announced the opening of criminal proceedings against detained sailors on charges of illegally crossing the border.

This incident became a turning point in the Azov conflict, which has been mounting over the past few months between the two countries. After the opening of the Kerch bridge, which established the road transport connection between Russia and the occupied Crimea, the Russian side strengthened its military presence in the waters of the Sea of Azov and complicated the passage of Ukrainian ships, despite the existing international treaties ensuring unhindered access of the two countries to their ports. Arbitrary detentions of Ukrainian ships, as well as the emergence of new military equipment, were regarded by many Ukrainian and international experts as a deliberate escalation of the conflict, culminating in the events of November 25.

It is important to note that the collision in the waters of the Azov Sea was the first case of open aggression of Russia against Ukraine. Despite the fact that the armed conflict between the parties began in 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea, and then developed in the form of military actions in the territory of Donbass, earlier Russia did not commit acts of military aggression against Ukraine under its own flag.

Andreas Umland, a German political analyst, an expert of the Euro-Atlantic Cooperation Institute specializing in Russian ultra-nationalism and authoritarianism identifies three possible reasons why such an escalation could occur right now. The first and most common version is a decrease in Putin’s rating and the need to divert attention from socio-economic problems with yet another demonstration of power. The second possible reason is the probability of the existence of the project on turning the Sea of Azov into the inner Russian sea and the desire to negatively affect the Ukrainian economy by the blockade of ports in Berdyansk and Mariupol. And the third possible reason concerns the news that the construction of the brand-new Kerch Bridge is allegedly shifted. Accordingly, a new attack could have been undertaken in order to divert attention from the news damaging the reputation of the Russian authorities.

Mikhail Gonchar, director of the Centre for Global Studies “Strategy XXI”, adds that the situation should be looked at much wider than just the conflict between the two neighboring countries. Russia claims the leading world position and in every way demonstrates to the west its strength, checking the limits of what is permitted. In addition to the Ukraine and Syria cases, as well as the case of Skripals, Mikhail also cites a recent example of failures in the GPS navigation system in Norway and Finland, which resulted in that the Norwegian frigate rammed the Finnish tanker during NATO exercises in Norway. According to the Presidents of both countries, the reason was the deliberate creation of GPS-interference from the Russian side. Mikhail Gonchar claims that Ukraine in this chain of events is just an element of a more global policy of Russia’s aggression against the West.

Further Russia goes, the more cynically and shamelessly it lies. Despite the open attack on the sea vessels of Ukraine, the ram of one of them, the opening of fire against members of the Ukrainian vessels crews, and the detention of these crews, Russia accused Ukraine of provocation and violation of the state borders of the Russian Federation and initiated an emergency session of the UN Security Council, which indeed took place on November 26. However, the members of the UN Security Council rejected the wording proposed by Russia and the session was held in accordance with the agenda proposed by the Ambassador of Ukraine to the UN.

The member states of the UN Security Council expressed their deepest concern about the events and called on Russia to immediately release the detained Ukrainian sailors and return the vessels to Ukraine. The NATO Secretary General, as well as the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, expressed their full support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. The International Monetary Fund, in turn, said that it would not stop cooperating with Ukraine even if martial law was introduced.

There is no doubt that the actions of Russia fall under the definition of aggression, stipulated in Art. 3 of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX) adopted on December 14, 1974 (paragraphs “a” “c” and “d”).

By its actions, the Russian side violated the basic principles of the United Nations concerning the non-use of force or the threat of force in international relations. The provisions of Section 2 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, as well as Art. 2 of the Treaty between Russia and Ukraine on cooperation in the use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait in 2003 were also violated.

However, since the Russian Federation is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and has the right to veto its decisions, bringing Russia to justice becomes a rather difficult task. Nonetheless, other UN member states have the legal tools for a peaceful resolution of the current situation in the framework of existing international law. However, this would require extraordinary efforts and the development of new approaches that have not yet been applied in international practice. It is entirely possible, under rule 9, to convene an emergency session of the UN General Assembly. In that case, if the GA recognizes the fact of a material violation of the basic UN principles and the fact that Russia is a party to the conflict, then guided by paragraph 3 of Art. 27 of the UN Charter and the principle “in propria causa nemo judex” the Russian side would be obliged to abstain from voting in the Security Council on the issue of resolving this dispute.

It is worth noting that according to the definition of the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 23 detained Ukrainian sailors fall under the status of prisoners of war and should be subject to the rule that “no physical or moral torture or any other coercive measures” can be applied to them. At the same time, at the moment the detainees are in the status of suspects who have allegedly committed a criminal offense and, most likely, are subjected to cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment.

Even though there are still unused international legal means in the arsenal of Ukraine, many experts question their effectiveness in comparison with economic tools. Mikhail Gonchar believes that the so-called collective West has to take decisive consolidated actions necessary in order to break the chain of illegal actions of Russia both in regard to Ukraine and in relation to the entire Western world. Both Gonchar and Umland see the most realistic response to the current situation in the suspension of the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline being built from Russia to Germany, as well as the second thread of the Turkish Stream.

As for the actions of Ukraine itself, in addition to international legal instruments, it has taken unprecedented measures to ensure internal security. On November 25, 2018, the President of Ukraine convened the National Security and Defense Council, which took the initiative of imposing martial law throughout Ukraine. On November 26, a presidential decree on imposing martial law was approved by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

On November 25, 2018, the President of Ukraine convened the National Security and Defense Council, which took the initiative of imposing martial law throughout Ukraine. For the presidential decree on the introduction of martial law to enter into force, its approval by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is necessary.

The legal framework of the martial law is settled by International Humanitarian Law and the Law of Ukraine On the Legal Regime of Martial Law.

Martial law implies a significant expansion of the powers of state bodies, simultaneously with a significant restriction of civil rights. The restriction of the rights of persons present on the territory of Ukraine may concern almost all spheres of public life (property rights, freedom of movement, political rights, etc.). However, the text of the presidential decree introduces only a small part of the measures on martial law, whether this list will expand we will see in the future. The validity of such emergency measures throughout the territory raises serious doubts.

Special attention should be paid to the clause on a direct prohibition of elections for the period of martial law, which, given the first version of the presidential decree, meant that presidential elections already scheduled for March 31, 2019 could be delayed by at least one month. However, after a decisive protest of the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, Petro Poroshenko changed his decision and shortened the period of martial law to one month, as well as narrowed the geography of its application to several regions.

Thus, the decree approved by the Verkhovna Rada introduces martial law in 10 regions of Ukraine from 9:00 on November 28, 2018 for 30 days to 9:00 on December 27, 2018 (the final version of the document as of November 27, 2018 has not yet been published). The President also instructed the Administration of the State Border Service of Ukraine to strengthen the protection of the state border with the Russian Federation and the administrative border with the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and the Security Service of Ukraine to take measures to strengthen the counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism and counter-sabotage regime. The essence and limits of these measures are not yet clear; it is the responsibility of the authorities to determine this. Apart from that, the Decree contains a secret part (paragraph 12) closed for the public.

As of November 27, 2108, there were no additional restrictions imposed on persons present on the territory of Ukraine regarding their movement and stay inside the country, as well as the border crossing regime. The administration of the Boryspil airport has officially stated that the adoption of martial law will not affect the mobility of the population, and the airport will operate in a normal regime.

How Democratic Societies Can Fight and Win Against Authoritarian Hybrid Onslaught.

Putin’s Russia is waging populace-centric hybrid warfare against democratic societies. As such, effective counter-measures to this type of warfare must prominently involve civilian population highly versed in civil resistance strategies and tactics. Key attributes of successful civil resistance that, in the past, made societies resilient and mobilized against authoritarian regimes are now indispensable for design and effective deployment of defensive and offensive strategies against the Kremlin’s efforts to bring down democracies.

Informed by the dynamics of civil resistance and practice of nonviolent movements and campaigns national non-military strategies to counter the Russian hybrid onslaught must comprise of both defensive and offensive strategies, including:

  • societal mobilization against disinformation to counter lies and identify truth;
  • unified and mobilized grassroots groups;
  • building infrastructure for civil engagement;
  • educating population on civil resistance actions;
  • reaching out and extending solidarity to the society of the aggressor state;
  • utilizing domestic and international state and intergovernmental structures to establish and enhance readiness in civil resistance policy, planning and deployment;
  • bringing many more nonviolent actors and actions to bear on the attacking regime.

Developing and deploying these strategies are seen as an important step 
in countering both domestic and externally-driven authoritarian onslaughts
 on democratic societies. The study concludes with general and specific recommendations to different international, state, media and civic actors on the actions to integrate and augment civil resistance capabilities and practices. It finally lists a number of benchmarks that can be used to measure the level of national preparedness, readiness and capacity development to effectively deploy civil resistance defensive and offensive strategies against hybrid threats and attacks.

The times are changing and so is Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Back in 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Putin was inebriated with the unexpected astounding success of his Crimean operation and gutless response of the West. He had never expected that his action in Ukraine, which was intended to keep this country in the Moscow’s orbit of corrupt regimes, would trigger such a great wave of nationalistic exaltation in Russia which would turn him into a semi-mythical figure, a hero who came to restore Russian national might and glory.  Even the liberal opposition and imprisoned leftist leaders unanimously joined the ecstatic crowd praising the Putin’s action.  Never in the long history of his reign, Putin could feel so close to claiming the title of Russian Messiah.

However, with the Ukrainian gamble, the Russian President has opened a can of worms.  The nationalistic paranoia lifted the lid and any hint of stepping back in front of a foreign enemy would provoke a charge of high treason and accusations of being a fake Messiah.

Meanwhile, after such a promising beginning dubbed the “Russian Spring,” a chain of misfortunes and failures followed.  The majority of ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine remained loyal to their country and rejected Putin’s siren songs of the “Russian World.”  As a result, the ambitious project of “Novorossiya,” which implied the territorial grab of a half of Ukraine all the way from Kharkiv to Odessa, shrunk to a puny sliver of land in the east of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists. No less misfortunate was Putin’s venture in Syria, which was supposed to distract national attention from the failure in Ukraine.  After declaring three times victory and withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, Mr. Putin had to face the music of the Deir ez-Zor debacle, were more than three hundred of Russian fighters were killed in February by the U.S. artillery and aircraft (by the way, if confirmed this number exceeds all the Soviet losses in clashes with Americans during the entire Cold war.)  Finally, the hated Anglo-Saxons began to threaten Kremlin with a seizure of multiple assets in the West, which belong to Putin’s close friends and relatives:  only in the U.S., these assets’ combined value exceeds $1 trillion. Closeness to Putin becomes toxic for Russian elites.  Their bitter disappointment with Putin echoes with the deep discontent of Russian nationalists, who volunteered in great numbers to fight in Ukraine and now feel betrayed.  Their spokesman, Russian fascist philosopher Alexander Dugin ceased praising Putin and reversed his position on the President.

Russia-watchers have noticed, that whenever Putin feels he is in trouble, he tends to disappear for a long time.  This happened when Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed, and the pattern was repeated after the Deir ez-Zor disaster when Putin “got cold” and was absent for two weeks (officially, he got sick for the first time in 18 years of his presidency.)

He came back with a new agenda for the rest of his presidency for life.  Until recently, the Putin we knew was trying hard to reach a deal with the West, a sort of a new version of Yalta.  After being kicked out from G-8, Putin’s active meddling in Syria, North Korea and elsewhere had only one message to the Western leaders: you need Russia (and me personally) to tackle  these problems, bring me back to the club of world leaders as an equal partner and recognize my absolute dominance over the zone of my exclusive interests ( at least in Ukraine and the rest of the post-Soviet space)  It seems that now he has abandoned this futile hope and moved to the “Russia as a sieged fortress” scenario.

Now he wants a confrontation with the West, from this day on he is willing to crank up the level of risk and is much more dangerous than he used to be.  This agenda will help him to unite the «elites» around himself and keep the power for life.

But what resources besides unique Russian spirituality can he use to confront the NATO alliance, which is many times stronger than Russia economically, militarily, and technologically?

Actually, Putin has a Wunderwaffe, and he has displayed it in a number of interviews earlier this month.  Of course, we are not talking about ridiculous videos he showed in his address to the Federal Assembly.  Putin’s wonder weapon is his nuclear blackmail, his willingness and readiness to strike first, his complete disregard of the value of human lives, both Western and Russian ones, which he has repeatedly shown before.

Lately, he has incessantly and with gusto repeated with graphic detail depiction of him personally launching a nuclear attack against the West.

His blatantly defiant poisoning of a fugitive Russian spy with a chemical weapon was the first step in his special operation to prolong his presidential term through the rest of his life.  He has deliberately left plenty of evidence to state urbi et orbi: I, Vladimir the Terrible, did it!

By doing this Putin killed two birds with one stone: the level of confrontation with the West went sky-high, while the world starts to believe that he really is a monster ready to use the weapons of mass destruction.

To whom and why did Russian President Vladimir Putin address in his impressively aggressive Federal Assembly speech delivered on March 1st? As usual, the pundits disagree. Domestic policy experts say it was clearly a pre-electoral address, designed to communicate to voters the image of Russia as a strong superpower ahead of the March 18th presidential election. Foreign policy experts argue that Putin’s address was to get the attention of the United States and, more broadly, the West, as relations between Moscow and Washington deteriorate.

It is possible, however, that Putin had both in mind. First, his message clearly targets a domestic audience. Putin built his entire presidential campaign in this electoral round — if one can speak of it at all — around the slogan “Strong president, strong Russia.” Moreover, Putin’s emphasis on defense and a military buildup as evident from his pre-electoral trips, such as his visit to the Ufa Engine Industrial Association, which assembles long-range bombers as well as motors for military helicopters. These appearances underscore Putin’s effort to restore Russia’s superpower status and shape foreign policy during his upcoming fourth term as president. So, it only makes sense that the Federal Address — intentionally postponed from December to March, closer to the election itself — contained elements of aggressive anti-Western rhetoric and muscle-flexing. The election’s symbolic meaning is further driven home by holding it on March 18th, the fourth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, rather than on March 11th, as required by law.

It is not surprising that Putin’s domestic agenda fuels his aggressive foreign policy. Political analysts have long stated that in 2014, the Kremlin had to mobilize unprecedented resources to generate public support for the Ukraine conflict to levels seen during the 2008 Georgia war. In 2014, most state TV channels switched to almost nonstop 24-hour coverage designed to make Russians believe they were under siege.  Having to resort to extreme propaganda to get Russians to rally around their flag suggests that support for the regime’s policies is running out. That means the Kremlin will have to spend more and more resources to maintain the same levels of approval — and Putin’s Federal Assembly address is proof of that.

Second, constant references to Western betrayal and video footage of Russia’s updated weaponry is a response to Russia’s recent foreign policy failures and scandals. These include the U.S. attack on Russian mercenaries in Syria, the embarrassing doping scandal that nullified Russia’s achievements in 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and continued throughout this year’s winter games in PyeongChang. Moreover, Moscow has failed to stop the West from renewing existing anti-Kremlin sanctions or passing new ones, further driving the discontent of Russian elites. The Kremlin sees all this as a demonstration of anti-Russia plots by the West. Note that some pro-Kremlin commentators have even tried to portray the recent Argentine cocaine scandal as a U.S. conspiracy against Russia. In many ways, Putin’s aggressive anti-Western rhetoric looked like a delayed response to those foreign policy failures, rather like fist-waving after losing a fight. This is not the first time the Kremlin resorts to aggressive, threatening rhetoric in retaliation for what it sees as a Western plot against Russia; in 2014, Moscow portrayed its war with Ukraine as revenge for the U.S. attempts to implement a color revolution in that country. Similarly, the recent Gazprom decision to terminate gas contracts with Ukraine also came as retaliation to its loss of an arbitrage dispute to Naftogaz.

An important but often forgotten foreign constituency of interest to the Kremlin is a set of nations — including China, Iran, India, and Vietnam — that Russia sees as allies in building up a coalition to challenge “U.S. global hegemony.” Those countries also typically buy Russian arms — and could have been potential targets of the weapons Putin advertised in his speech.

Lastly, by portraying Russia as a rogue state the Kremlin aims to split the international system into two camps of soft- and hardliners, by fostering a divide in Western unity. The idea is that the soft-liners, scared by the threats and the aggressive rhetoric, are more likely to negotiate with Russia and lift the sanctions.

In short, Putin’s address appears to have targeted several groups, yet the Kremlin’s overall goal remains the same: to retain power for as long as possible and, apparently, at almost any price.

This article first appeared at the CEPA site.

The deeper Russia plunges into its current morass of economic, social, and political problems, the more sophisticated is its art of manipulating Western minds with esoteric ploys. It conveys the message that “without us, you cannot address the challenges you face” while at the same time creating or enhancing these very same challenges itself for its own corrupt interests.

It was back in 2013 that the Kremlin’s propaganda and its agents of influence first used the mantra “you’d better be good and cooperate with us, or else terrorists will continue to attack you” when the Tsarnaev brothers fashioned crude explosive devices out of pressure cookers to bomb the Boston marathon.  American prosecutors, journalists, and politicians haven’t bothered to probe for the truth about the Tsarnaevs.  In fact, “The Boston bomber was armed a long time ago.” Before he committed his act of terrorism, the elder Tsarnaev in 2012 spent eight months in Russia, all the while closely monitored by the FSB.  Although the Russian security agency in its correspondence with their U.S. counterparts assessed this young Chechen as an Islamist, Tsarnaev traveled to Russia via Moscow’s main airport, Sheremetyevo, without being held up.  He would never have done so without being sure he could travel there safely. Most likely he was visiting his friends and handlers, who would eventually send him back to the U.S. for his meeting with destiny.

The Boston tragedy has opened a new chapter in the history of the Kremlin’s psychophysical impact on the Western establishment and society. Instead of sporadic ad hoc active measures, Kremlin operators have developed and activated an emotionally loaded concept of systemic zombification of the West.

Post-Boston, and following every major terrorist attack in the U.S., France, Germany, and Great Britain, Moscow has sent the message “You either cooperate with us, or terrorist bombings will continue on the streets of your cities.”

The notorious Russian propagandist Sergei Markov spelled out just what Moscow means by  “cooperation”: “The conflict between Russia and the West over Ukraine should be immediately halted. The gang that came to power in Kiev should be replaced with a technocratic government, the Ukrainian Constitution should be amended, and the neo-Nazis should be removed.  The dictatorship in Kiev is one of the main obstacles for the joint U.S.-EU-Russia’s fight against terrorism.”

After the terrorist massacre in Paris, Russian Ambassador to the E.U. Vladimir Chizhov complained that “unfortunately, one terrorist attack in Paris might not suffice to give European leaders the correct consciousness and strategic vision”, and even Russian Prime-Minister Medvedev clearly stated that the terrorist attacks in the EU and the rest of the world are occurring because the West is trying to isolate Russia.

What the Kremlin is offering the West is protection against future terrorist attacks – but with a caveat.  It is an open secret that Moscow has a network of agents among jihadis and has a certain influence on their leadership.  This network is made up by people recruited by the KGB back when the Soviet Union supported “national liberation movements,” as well as by former Iraqi military officers trained in the USSR (who became the backbone of ISIS), and by a new generation of warriors from the Northern Caucasus and other regions of Russia willing to die for Allah.  The FSB provided the latter group Russian passports and helped them reach the Middle East.

This caveated “cooperation” touted by the Kremlin, in essence, amounts to a new “Yalta” agreement:  recognition of delineated spheres of influence and of Moscow’s exclusive rights over former Soviet republics. The West is to be intimidated, cajoled, and corrupted to the point that it ceases support for breakaway republics (such as Georgia and Ukraine) and escorts them back into the zone of the Russian kleptocracy’s privileged interests.

These are the goals of the hybrid World War Four declared by President Putin against the West and his stated terms of surrender.  To come to power, Putin went to the extent of blowing up apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities in 1999.  To convey to Americans the urgency of this “cooperation” with the Kremlin, Putin and his FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov dispatched the elder Tsarnaev brother back to the U.S.

The Obama’s administration was aware of the Boston terrorist attack’s circumstances but refused to face the truth since it was too frightening and implied very serious consequences.

The next Kremlin’s operation pursued the goal of bringing to the White House the candidate willing to repeat incessantly: “We need Russians to fight Islamic terrorism together.” The resounding success of this operation turned into a disastrous failure for the Kremlin. Its masterminds failed to understand the U.S. political system and its multilayered system of checks and balances.  It was a Pyrrhic victory: any hint of pandering to Russia by the new administration met a fierce resistance of the American establishment.

Congress almost unanimously endorsed “An Act to Counter Aggression by the Governments of Iran, the Russian Federation, and North Korea,” and on August 2, President Trump reluctantly signed it.  Essentially, this legislation outlawed the entire Russian leadership as a criminal group and froze all its loot pillaged in Russia that had been stashed in the U.S.  FinCEN was tasked with identifying all assets of the Russian ruling elite in the U.S., starting with Putin. Once these results are presented to the public, the Anti-Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crimes Acts will be applied to these assets and their owners. If and when this occurs, it will radically transform U.S. relations with the Putin kleptocracy.

It seemed like a breakthrough in the World Hybrid War: no new “Yalta” is looming on the horizon, while the noose of sanctions, which implies among other things the forfeiture of “Putin’s Trillion,” is tightening on the neck of the Kremlin kleptocracy.  To change the dynamics of the game Putin, played his newest card: his Excellency, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States of America, Four Star General Anatoly IvanovichAntonov (who was included on the sanction lists of EU, Ukraine, and Canada for Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.)

Ambassador Antonov was sent to crank up the level of political blackmail.  His task is to coerce his new country of residence to “Yalta” and to dissuade it from touching Kremlin slush funds. Apparently, he will not fall back on the old tsarnaevesque boogeymen of terrorists with IEDs. His argument will be the threat of nuclear apocalypse in the U.S.

In his remarks to the World Affairs Council in San-Francisco on November 29, and at Stanford University December 1, the Russian Ambassador touted Moscow’s influence on the North Korean leadership, asserting repeatedly that without Russia’s assistance, the U.S. won’t be able to protect itself against the North Korean nuclear threat.

“Russia is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and the world’s second-largest nuclear power. We are ready to offer our assistance in negotiations with the DPRK, as we too are concerned about the growing nuclear potential of North Korea. Likewise, we can help the United States in its fight against ISIS, and in regulating Iran’s nuclear program.”

There is no question, but that Moscow has a great deal of influence on Pyongyang. President Putin tirelessly lobbied for the North Korean nuclear missile program on the world stage: “they would rather eat grass then give up their program.” With each new leap of the North Korean missile/nuclear progress, experts have ever diminishing doubts about Russia’s crucial role in this Pyongyang’s astonishing progress.

The new Kremlin operation is an improved rerun of the Cuban Missile Crisis scenario. Unlike 55 years ago, Russia is today in a much better situation, since it bears no responsibility for its latest ‘nuclear offshore,’ but it is offering the U.S. its magnanimous assistance – for a price, of course.  Back in 1962, JFK declared any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against… the United States [will require] a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

At that time, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev did not have the chutzpah to respond in the manner of, “We are ready to offer you our assistance in negotiations with Cuba, as we too are concerned about the growing Cuban nuclear potential.”

Last week Putin lavishly praised President Trump’s achievements in his first year in office. Trump immediately called him back to express his gratitude.  Putin aptly used the opportunity to repeat the offer of Russia’s potential contribution to solving the North Korean nuclear crisis, which his ambassador had already delivered in California.  As a former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper succinctly stated: “Putin is a great case officer, and he knows how to handle an asset and that’s what he’s doing with the President.”

The year of 2017, the third year of operation for the Free Russia Foundation, proved to be a very eventful year. Over the course of this year,  we worked hard and achieved quite a lot.  We continued to assist pro-democracy forces in Russia and to inform Western audiences on Russia-related matters.

We continued our think tank activities and published three more reports on Russia-related subjects, conducted a series of presentations of our papers in Europe and the U.S, Ukraine, and Russia and organized dozens of briefings for Western decision and policy makers.

In January, we translated the report by Ilya Yashin “Kremlin’s Hybrid Aggression” about the entire arsenal of military, disinformation and other methods Putin’s Russia uses in Ukraine. To attract more attention to the problem and convince the West to continue its assistance to Ukraine, FRF’s President Natalia Arno wrote an op-ed for the Hill saying that “If the world blinks Putin will seize the rest of Ukraine”. The report was presented by FRF at the U.S. Congress, European Parliament, British and German parliaments.

In May, together with the Atlantic Council, we published the report “Kremlin’s Gas Games in Europe” by our research expert Ilya Zaslavsky. We jointly launched this report at the U.S. Senate with Senator Jeanne Shaheen as a keynote speaker. Then we had a European tour with the report presenting at the European Parliament, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and leading European think tanks including London’s Chatham House and Berlin’s Council on Foreign Relations, DGAP. More on that could be found here.

After that European trip, it became clear to us that we need to follow up with a new report exposing Gazprom’s corruption and political implications of its Nord Stream 2 project to EU security and democracy. Our report “Corruption Pipeline” was published in and FRF made new European tours to Visegrad and Scandinavian countries. More on that could be found here.

Throughout the year we continued to serve as an informal “Embassy” for Russian pro-democracy activists, journalists, representatives of civil society organizations and expert community in the U.S., for whom we arranged meetings with various American or international organizations, think tanks, media outlets or put together panels on urgent topics.

Thus, in March we hosted a prominent environmentalist Evgenia Chirikova. Together with the Atlantic Council, we conducted a panel on recent emigration from Russia “Putin’s Exodus: the new Russian brain drain”. Other panelists included Sergey Erofeev, a sociologist, and Mikhail Kokorich, an entrepreneur. With Evgenia Chirikova we had many briefings on the rise of grassroots activity in Russia at the U.S. Congress, Department of State and other DC organizations.

In May we assisted Meduza, a leading Russian-speaking independent media outlet and Memorial Human Rights Center with panels, briefings, and meetings. Together with Meduza and Foreign Policy Initiative, we held the panel at the U.S. Congress “The Struggle for Free Speech in Russia” moderated by Jamie Kirchik, Brookings.

In July, we arranged a speech of Vladimir Ashurkov from Alexey Navalny’s team at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco.  In August, we hosted Konstantin Rubakhin, an anti-corruption activist and Maria Epifanova, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta-Baltics.

In September, we hosted Vadim Prokhorov, a lawyer for Boris Nemtsov Family.  In partnership with Institute of Modern Russia and National Endowment for Democracy, we held the panel at the U.S. Senate discussing prospects for Russian pro-democracy movement And with the Atlantic Council and IMR we conducted the panel on Boris Nemtsov’s case and its political and legal implications.  During a three-day visit of Vadim Prokhorov to DC, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Vice Chairman of Open Russia and Natalia Arno, FRF’s President, briefed a number of U.S. Senators and Congressmen on the situation in Russia, Nemtsov’s case and discussed the perspectives of Nemtsov Plaza in Washington, DC. The hearings on Nemtsov Plaza were held in December at DC city council and attended by Zhanna Nemtsova, President of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom among others. FRF submitted its written testimony in support of Nemtsov Plaza to DC Council as well.

This year we held a very big event – in April, we opened our Free Russia House in Kiev.  Since that time, our Kyiv office was busy with regular panels, conferences, trainings and screenings of documentaries with over 1,000 people attending our events. Throughout the year our Kyiv stage featured such speakers as the former Prime Minister of Lithuania, Andrius Kubilius, Ambassador John Herbst, prominent journalists David Satter, Matvey Ganapolsky, Evgeny Kiselev, an exiled Russian MP Ilya Ponomarev, political analysts Alexander Morozov, Taras Berezovets, the Director of the Kennan Institute Kyiv Office Ekaterina Smagliy, Ondřej Kundra, a leading Czech investigative journalist, Tamila Tasheva, the Chair of the Board of the Crimea SOS and many many others.

We continued our humanitarian and legal aid to Russian refugees and emigrants assisting more than 300 people only in Ukraine, where at the Free Russia House we have opened public legal and psychological assistance consulting offices.

We started another big program this year – assistance to human rights defenders who had to flee from Russia in recent years. Through long-term fellowships and internships, we keep them engaged into Russia-related issues and help them continue their investigations or research. It’s a new initiative and we will keep our partners and supporters informed of it.

We keep fighting for the release of Ukrainian hostages still kept in Russian prisons. We are proud to contribute to the release of two leaders of Crimean Tatars – Ilmi Umerov and Akhtem Chiigoz. We are concerned Roman Sushchenko, a Ukrainian journalist, and many other Ukrainians are still imprisoned and we will keep fighting for their freedom. In March and October, we hosted Mark Feygin and assisted with his advocacy efforts at the U.S. Congress and among human rights organizations. Their cases were discussed at the UN sessions, U.S. Helsinki Commission, Lantos Commission and other structures. We provided all the necessary information to the Ukraine Caucus of the U.S. Congress to issue its statement on Roman Sushchenko.

Together with Open Russia, we kept organizing Campaign Schools for activists from various Russian regions. In April, we studied French political and election system and observed the first round of the French presidential elections. In May-June, we analyzed the EU institutions in Brussels. And in September, we studied the German election system and observed its parliamentary elections.

There is much more we’ve done this year, but we realize there is even much more to do in the upcoming 2018 and years ahead until we have a truly free and democratic Russia. Russia we are proud of.  Russia for its people. Russia, a reliable partner on the international arena.

Let us thank all our partners, colleagues, and supporters for working together this year. Let us wish you success and happiness in 2018. We are looking forward to the new year – the year we will be a step closer to a free Russia!

General picture of the “North Korean crisis

In 2016 and, especially since the beginning of 2017, our world has become much more unstable. One of the most destabilizing factors has been a sharp increase in the nuclear-missile potential of North Korea (DPRK). More precisely, the following has happened:

  • The number of nuclear devices (warheads) at the disposal of the “Juche regime” increased from 6-8 units in January 2015 to 8-10 units in January 2016, and to 10-20 units in January 2017 (according to the very authoritative SIPRI – Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). Still, by August 2017, this estimate has grown “by a single leap forward” to 40-60 units (according to the Defense Intelligence Agency and other structures in the U.S. intelligence community). This fact was first reported on August 8 by The Washington Post, known by its reliable sources. In general, the power of these devices does not exceed 10-15 kilotons of TNT (roughly the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima).
  • At least one nuclear weapon at the disposal of North Korean leaders reached a power of about 150 kilotons and its parameters corresponds to that of a hydrogen bomb. The test of this bomb on September 3, 2017 had very broad resonance in the world and especially in the USA. It is highly possible that by the end of September 2017 the “Juche” regime had several more nuclear weapons of the similar power.
  • For several decades (at least since 1989), the DPRK has been developing an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) called Hwasong-10 with a radius of approximately 4,000 km, based largely on technology obtained from the USSR. A number of Hwasong-10 tests in April 2016 – February 2017 were mostly unsuccessful and demonstrated very limited technological capabilities of the DPRK in this area.
  • All of a sudden, the situation changed dramatically. In May 2017, DPRK successfully tested an IRBM Hwasong-12 with a radius of approximately 5,000 km, capable of reaching the island of Guam and Alaska. Two more successful tests of Hwasong-12 – namely unprecedented brazen “flights over Japan” – took place on August 29 and September 15, 2017. Moreover, quite tellingly, until April 2017 no one in the world, outside of the DPRK, had a slightest idea of Hwasong-12 existence.
  • Furthermore, in July of 2017 the DPRK successfully tested the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-14 with a radius of at least 10,000 km twice. This missile can cover almost the entire continental part of the United States. Again, until July 2017 no one outside the DPRK knew anything about the missile.

Using mathematical terminology,  the North Korean nuclear-missile sector experienced  an exponential growth in 2017. Using biblical terms, one can recall Beast-of-the-Sea from Apocalypse. This Beast-of-the-Sea would suddenly appear at the time of the universal catastrophe and take control over the dying world.

We can see four such Beasts-of-the-Sea almost instantly emerging out of nowhere: the triple increase in the number of nuclear devices in the DPRK’s storage facilities during eight months of this year; the arrival and successful testing of North Korean “hydrogen” bomb; three successful Hwasong-12 IRBM tests, and twice successfully tested Hwasong-14 ICBM. That’s some black magic!

I became seriously engaged in the study of this “magic” in mid-August 2017 – after reading an interview of a prominent German missile designer Robert Schmucker with online “Deutsche Welle” newspaper on August 9 2017 about the “fat Russian trail” in the North Korean nuclear-missile program. In particular, Professor Schmuker noted, that Pyongyang has used a fundamentally new technology in recent missile tests. He indicated that the DPRK would have to utilize giant resources for new missiles development from scratch.

As an engineer creating missiles through his entire career, Dr. Robert Schmucker noted that the designer needs a certain number of missile prototypes to be launched and their trajectories to be measured; conclusions to be made based on these launches, errors corrected, ballistic tables compiled, etc. Without numerous unsuccessful tests, a successful launch of a missile is impossible.   We have not seen anything of this, the prominent missile expert stressed. And he believes that it is impossible to conceal such works, since “North Korea is under constant surveillance”.

“The costs for these projects would have to be enormous, you would need seven project teams, several factories to produce the missiles of different diameters, they’d need various materials, fuel, etc. Developing these projects concurrently and, at the same time, making sure practically all the launches, including the first ones, are successful? This is impossible for anybody; the only plausible explanation: these missiles came from outside,” – the expert concluded.

Where did the engines come from? 

Since August 2017, Russian state media has been “helpfully” offering various versions that would explain “clear and simple” the North Korean nuclear-missile “miracles”:

  • DPRK received the production technologies for RD-250 missile engines and similar engines from Ukraine, from the Yuzhmash plant and Yuzhnoye design bureau, where the RD-250 engines have been produced for several decades, until 2001. “Just the modifications of the RD-250 have been used in the North Korean Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-14 missiles!”
  • The DPRK received a significant part of the new nuclear-missile technologies from China.
  • North Korea has independently mastered new nuclear missile technology. “They’ve tried for so many years, and finally they succeeded!”
  • Iran has rendered very substantial assistance to the DPRK in the development of nuclear- missile technology.

Elleman, the author of the IISS report cited in The New York Times story, later took to Twitter to walk back the quote attributed to him in The New York Times in which he said the engines more likely came from Ukraine than Russia. “Let me be clear about DPRK’s source of ICBM engine: Yuzhnoye is one of several possible sources, there are other potentials in Russia,” Elleman wrote on Twitter. “I don’t believe Ukr gov’t condoned or knew, if the engines were sourced in Ukr. To the contrary, Ukr arrested North Koreans in 2012!” Elleman wrote on Twitter.

Of course, all this does withstand any criticism, especially the fabrications about the possible complicity of Ukraine.  However, on August 14, 2017 The New York Times published an article by Michael Elman, an expert at the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS). The article claimed that most likely North Korean agents purchased several RD-250 missile engines, as well as technologies for manufacturing these and similar engines” on the black market” during the “troubled times” of 2014-2015 in Ukraine.  At the same time, Elman did not rule out that North Korea could buy RD-250 engines and corresponding technologies in Russia in Ukraine, also on the black market. Elman ruled out any direct participation of the government of Ukraine as well as the government of Russia.

The Russian media eagerly picked up the “Ukrainian component” of the article in The New York Times, while the “Russian component” has been completely ignored.

And in Ukraine? Representatives of the Yuzhmash plant stated: “Missiles and military-use missile systems have not been produced and are not being produced at Yuzhmash since Ukrainian independence”.  Top leaders of Ukraine and its military experts categorically rejected Michael Elman’s conclusions. Through Yelchenko, Ukrainian envoy to the UN, they suggested that United Nations and US top leadership should conduct a thorough investigation of the problem, namely, whether Ukraine has anything to do with the new North Korean missile technologies and whether there has been any missile technology leakage from Ukraine.

FOR THE REFERENCE: engines RD-250, the modifications of which are used in Hwasong-10, Hwasong-12, Hwasong-14 missiles, have been developed by Energomash Group in Khimki, near Moscow, but their manufacturing had been transferred to Yuzhmash plant in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine back during Soviet times. There they have been used for installation in Satan R-36 ICBMs until 1991. After that, until 2001, these engines have been manufactured in Ukraine for usage in Russian Cyclone space missile carriers.  At this time in Ukraine, all RD-250 engines have been accounted for.  And in Russia, according to Ukrainian experts, there are up to 20 Cyclone missile carriers and up to 80 RD-250 engines, as well as proper documentation and expertise. Obviously, in the case of an international investigation experts will have to investigate just these engines.

Already by the end of August, the United States representative in the UN Nikki Haley and senior US State Department officials stated firmly: “Ukraine has a very good track record in the prevention of leakage of missile technologies and other dangerous technologies”. They also said that NY Times article and similar allegations against Ukraine are baseless and will not affect the US decision to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons in any way. This was brief and clear.

So, perhaps, was it China helping the DPRK?  It is ridiculous. China is absolutely not interested in strengthening of its eastern neighbor and, at least since 1992, has not supplied the DPRK with any weapons.  By the way, as of September 2017, relations between the DPRK and China have fallen very low, while relations between the DPRK and Russia were growing rapidly.

What about independent research &development of DPRK itself? Or perhaps Iranian help? North Korea is too weak, economically and technologically, for the “Great Leap Forward” in several directions at once in the nuclear missile sphere described above. And even Iran could help the DPRK in a very insignificant way.

So, who is to blame? Here is a statement by Siemon Wezeman, an expert of authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), on August 18, 2017 at the UN, which can become the key: “In the supply of missile technology to the DPRK, are involved either Ukraine or Russia.” The former is unlikely, primarily, because Ukraine has no common border with North Korea. A rocket engine is not a needle in a haystack; even disassembled, it is difficult to move across a border unnoticed. With modern monitoring systems, it is hard to believe such transit could occur quietly. Even if it happened, Ukrainian leaders would not demand a public investigation of the case.

Based on the above, Ukraine, which is watched closely, should be taken off the “radar screen”. Then only Russia remains? We have to admit that this is the case.

The Soviet Union had always actively assisted North Korea in the upgrading of its military machine.  Russia “inherited” this support.  In 2014 (according to other sources, in 2012), Putin wrote off 90% of the North Korean debt to Russia, which was about $11 billion. Moreover, when in 2017 China stopped its energy exports – oil and petroleum products – to North Korea, Russia immediately replaced China.

Russia supported North Korea’s nuclear program technologically: since 2015, North Korean specialists have been working at Russian nuclear research facilities. Now in 2017, Russia is providing significantly more serious support to the missile program of North Korea.

In May of 2017, at the very moment when Pyongyang initiated series of successful missile tests (Hwasong-12, Hwasong-14) and was going to test its “hydrogen bomb”, and while the whole world was cutting off their last ties with DPRK, Russia opened a new sea lane between Russian port of Vladivostok and Korean port of Najin (Rajin).  Najin is located about 50 km (appr. 30 miles) southwest of Russian-North Korean border and 120 km (about 75 miles) southwest of Vladivostok. And Najin is quite close to Kusong, the main North Korean missile range. Mon Gyong Bong ship, owned by Russian company registered in North Korea, continuously makes voyages between Vladivostok and Kusun port and, apparently, services Pyongyang missile launches.

Why would Putin involve himself in this new gamble? This is a subject for a separate article.

2017 was quite a successful year for the European project. Far-right parties did not win in key countries such as France and Germany. Or, rather, the consolidation of the far-right did not take place in the countries where we thought or feared it would happen.

In the Netherlands, the last minute surge by the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy ensured that the far-right Freedom Party would not become the largest party in the Dutch House of Representatives. In France, Marine Le Pen was soundly defeated in the presidential elections and her National Front won only 8 seats in the National Assembly.

However, the far-right party Alternative for Germany received 12.6% of the vote in the September elections, enough for 96 seats in the Bundestag and third place overall. Their presence in the parliament may have brought Germany closer to her European counterparts where the far-right also have representations in their parliaments. If AFD propagates right-wing populism instead of neo-Nazism or fascism, that ideology has a right to be represented in the Bundestag as it is supported by a substantial part of a population as a form of opposition to the talking points of liberal democracy so widely-spread nowadays. It is good for liberal democracy as it returns the discussion on emigration, cultural and national identities into a more civilized framework.

Today Europe is in the situation of duality, where the dialogue between the two poles of power will determine the future of the European Union. The first pole is represented by France and Germany, especially after the victory of Emmanuel Macron and his recent speech where he outlined approximate plans for future much-needed reform of the EU.

The second pole is the Visegrád Group and in particular Poland and Hungary, with the Czech Republic and Slovakia catching up. This block is formed around non-liberal trends, which are predominant in these states. Even though today these movements are concentrated in Hungary and Poland, similar trends appear to be growing stronger in the Czech Republic.

In my opinion, the dialogue between these two poles will largely determine the future of the European Union. Europe’s near future will likely be centered around the debate of Macron’s plan. This plan will be strengthened by Germany’s position after the creation of the Jamaica Coalition (CDU, FDP, The Greens). Currently, Germany is still in a transitional state and is not taking part in the discussion so far, but will most likely join after the rebooting of Merkel’s government.

As for the influence of the Kremlin, the main allies of the Putin regime in Germany are the Social Democrats, who had and still have much more influence than the “Alternative for Germany”. The latter is by far the most pro-Russian party, but in terms of its importance, it is very much inferior to the Social Democrats, in particular, in the business sphere. Among the Social Democrats, there are lobbyists of big businesses and large industrial groups in Germany who, guided by postmodern Realpolitik sentiments, would like to return to the relations they used to have before with Russia and the Putin regime.

Despite a lot of doubt, there’s still an optimistic air to be found around the development of the European Union. There’s a good possibility that when put to the test, the far-right’s arguments and plans will crumble as they fail to deliver real results. Marine Le Pen should not be dismissed yet, but on the other hand, the National Front is at a chaotic crossroads following their dual defeat at the ballot box. Perhaps the National Front is doomed to split into a more moderate and a more radical wing. The Kremlin, of course, will continue to influence or will try to influence the processes that take place in the European Union, not only through the far-right but also through business structures through Putin’s and his closest associates’ personal connections with leading or significant politicians of the European Union. The paradigm of attempts to influence will persist.

Kremlin has acted and will act based on a variety of national contexts. If the Putin regime gets to cooperate with mainstream players or more influential players, then Russia will not resort to any particularly destructive actions. If these Putin’s friends disappear or lose their influence, it is likely that the regime will again turn to cooperation with the far-right. It will always depend on the specific national context.

For example, speaking of the parties Jobbik or Fidesz in Hungary (the latter is in power, the former is the in the opposition to the latter), Russia, as far as I know, does not support Jobbik, although it was quite pro-Russian and, probably, stays the most pro-Russian party. But Russia does not support Jobbik for the simple reason that there is Fidesz, with which Russia is pleased to work. And since Jobbik is in the opposition to Fidesz, then it would be somewhat inconvenient for Russia to support the opposition to its friends. Similar situations happened in many countries, including France in 2012, when Marine Le Pen was eager to cooperate with Russia, to meet and communicate with Putin. But Putin initially placed its stake on Nicolas Sarkozy or François Hollande. It did not work out when Hollande became President and the only thing left was to start cooperation with the National Front. In other words, specific context is important for Putin’s Russia: with whom to work, through whom to influence, and if not influence, then, perhaps, engage in some kind of subversive actions.

 

Free Russia Foundation is proud to present our new report “The Kremlin’s Hybrid Aggression” authored by Ilya Yashin.

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