Topics of the Week

In a public appeal published by the European Values Think-Tank, 50 security experts from 18 European countries outline the reasons why Nord Stream II is Germany’s biggest strategic mistake in a generation.

The recent cyber-attack on Germany’s energy networks shows signs of Russian methods, according to the Chief of the BfV.

According to a new investigation, 10 properties associated with the Trump Organization have been sold to buyers directly connected to Russia or former Soviet republics.

Letter from Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov: We should treat Russia with admiration and respect!

Good Old Soviet Joke

Q: What is very large, makes a lot of smoke and noise, takes 20 litres of gas per hour, and cuts an apple into three pieces?

A: The Soviet machine built to cut apples into four pieces.

Policy & Research News

Nord Stream II: Germany’s biggest strategic mistake in a generation

European Values Think-Tank has published a public appeal, signed by 50 security experts from 18 European countries, outlining the reasons why Nord Stream II will be Germany’s strategic mistake for decades to come:

  • Increase of German political dependence on Russian energy
  • Bypassing Germany’s Central and Eastern European allies
  • De facto financing Russia’s war machine
  • Exacerbating strategic corruption in Europe
  • Contradicting EU Energy Union principles
  • Substantial environmental damage

You can read the full appeal here:

Jakub Janda, Head of the European Values Think-Tank, also discussed these reasons with Judy Dempsey from Carnegie Europe. You can read the whole article here.

Brian Whitmore also takes a look at the Nord Stream II project in one of his recent Power Vertical Podcasts at CEPA. He says, “It is one of the greatest threats to European security and transatlantic solidarity. It flouts EU laws and regulations – and gets away with it. It is a guided weapon masquerading as a commercial project.” Listen to his whole discussion with CEPA head Peter Doran and the US State Department’s European Energy Security Advisor, Benjamin Schmitt.

Developments in the attribution of cyber-attacks on Germany

On June 13th, Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) announced that German energy networks had been hit by at least a year-long cyber-attack that also compromised computer networks of German electricity and natural gas providers. The BSI refused to disclose further details but assured the public that the situation was under control and that the attacks were mostly unsuccessful. Last Wednesday, however, the director of Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) said that the culprit is likely the Russian Federation. He based these claims on alleged “numerous clues pointing to Russia”, including the method of the attack.

How Central European governments (don’t) help fight disinformation

In a new article on Visegrad Info, representatives of Political Capital and EURACTIV summarize how the governments of the Visegrad countries (don’t) help fight disinformation and the Kremlin’s influence. Veronika Víchová, analyst and Coordinator of the Kremlin Watch Program, contributed to the article with new developments about disinformation websites in the Czech Republic.  She also comments on Czech governmental efforts to fight disinformation and on the inadequate funding of the EEAS East StratCom Task Force.

Rapid response teams to counter cyber-attacks in the EU

Nine EU Member States agreed to create a rapid response team of experts to counter cyber-attacks within the new EU defence pact. The project is led by Lithuania, which announced the news last Thursday. The agreement was signed by Croatia, Estonia, the Netherlands, and Romania. They are going to be followed by Finland, France, Poland, and Spain later this year.

How to select Russian oligarchs for sanctions?

Ilya Zaslavskiy and Scott Stedman have published a new report providing recommendations for the US government on how to extend criteria for choosing Russian oligarchs to be subjected to sanctions. They propose the following criteria:

  • Participation in Putin’s inner circle and involvement with the regime in Russia
    • History of business relations with the officials and informal leaders propagating wars against Georgia and Ukraine
    • History of business relations with organized criminal groups in Eurasia
    • Participation in corruption projects
    • Cover-up of corrupt activity
    • Facilitation of the Kremlin’s infringement on democratic processes
  • Subversive activity in the West
    • Involvement in illegal trade operations
    • Cooperation with Russian officials to advance elite co-optation and subversion
    • Documented contracts or co-optation of Western public figures
    • Deliberate subversive activity against Western law enforcement, security services, tax authorities and more
    • Possession of offshore companies and accounts with evidence of criminality

US Developments

Buyers tied to Russia still scooping up Trump properties

A recent investigation by McClatchyDC reveals that 10 properties associated with the Trump Organization – totaling a whopping $109 million – have been sold to buyers directly connected to Russia or former Soviet republics. Many of the purchases were made using offshore shell companies to obscure the buyers’ identities, were paid fully in cash above market value, and included individuals who worked for foreign companies subjected to US sanctions. Additionally, many of the buyers had questionable backgrounds, having been involved in Russian-American organized crime and previously charged with money laundering or drug trafficking.

According to Adam Schiff – the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee – these disturbing revelations, apart from signaling money laundering activity, pose a deeper national threat and constitute further evidence that Donald Trump has been involved in illicit financial transactions with Russian elements, some of which have now been sanctioned by the US government. The disclosures are likely to be examined by the ongoing Special Counsel investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian actors (as well as possible influence Russian elements might have upon the president). As of today, two bills have been introduced in the Senate to prevent individuals from using shell companies to engage in money laundering activities, but so far none has been passed.

Russia’s efforts to hack the 2018 and 2020 elections

The US should be ready for Russian electoral interference in 2018 and 2020. According to Andrew Weiss, vice-president of Russia research at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Having the U.S. at war with itself is giving Russia credit internationally,” which provides a strong incentive for the country to continue to exacerbate tensions within the US electorate in 2018 and 2020. In coming months, one can expect fake Facebook and Twitter groups and profiles to appear, on both the right and the left, including cleverly designed bots, all working to blur the line between truth and malicious fiction. In addition, as evinced by the 2016 election and the French presidential elections, among others, personal email, text, and social media data of candidates is expected to be targeted for hacking and leaking. According to experts, even the mildest Russian actions can yield significant repercussions as news stories surrounding a potential scandal are spread and misrepresented across the Internet. In addition to the meddling tactics used in the past, experts also expect that new strategies will be employed, such as hijacking voting booths in more contentious districts, hacking ride-sharing programs, or even cyberattacks similar to Russia’s 2015 cyberattack on Kyiv’s power grid that caused a city-wide blackout. For the 2018 and 2020 elections, officials in the United States are not ruling out anything.

US and Russian energy officials set to meet

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry will host Russian Oil Minister Alexander Novak in Washington this week, putting representatives from the world’s top oil-producing countries in the same room. Perry and Novak are expected to discuss better energy cooperation as the energy aspects of strained Russia-US relations have begun to align. Both Russia and the US want to pump more oil, increasing supply and curbing the recent rise in gasoline prices. In light of current geopolitical relations and the competition between the two countries in the energy sector, some in OPEC are puzzled about why Russia has aligned its views with the Trump administration. Meanwhile, national security adviser John Bolton is travelling to Moscow, where he is set to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Hillary Clinton warns about rising illiberalism, fueled by the Putin regime

In a recent series of public lectures, Hillary Clinton issued a warning about the alarming rise of illiberalism around the world, fueled by the Putin regime. According to Clinton, Vladimir Putin has strategically positioned himself as the leader of an “authoritarian, white-supremacist, and xenophobic movement that wants to break up the EU, weaken America’s traditional alliances, and undermine democracy.” In this way, the Kremlin bolsters and ideologically empowers sympathizers, right-wing nationalists, separatists, racists, and even neo-Nazis, fostering civic tensions and discord that hinders the cultivation of fundamental rights and civic virtue that are so essential to the health of democracy. The former presidential candidate also criticized the Trump administration for waging war on the rule of law, delegitimizing elections, undermining truth and reason, perpetrating corruption, and presenting a “clear and present danger to western democracy”.

The Kremlin’s Current Narrative

Kadyrov and history

It came as something of a surprise that propaganda cheerleader Vzglyad devoted very little attention to the anniversary of the beginning of the German-Soviet War, better known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War. Luckily for us, RT didn’t disappoint and quoted a letter by Ramzan Kadyrov, originally shared on his blog, calling it a warning.

“Hitler planned to have Russia on its knees within months and have a military parade on Red Square, but he was wrong when he thought that his main task was to reach Moscow, Kadyrov wrote.

“It is true that in times of the war the German divisions directly approached Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad. But Hitler didn’t speak Russian and he did not know the Russian history. Otherwise he would have given a second thought to taking the road that had been previously chosen by the French, the Swedes, the Poles and others and ending his life in the same disgraceful way as all these aggressors,” he stated.

“Hitler knew nothing about our history but modern politicians who like to voice threats against our country should study the chronicles of the past ages so that they don’t repeat the mistakes of their own ancestors. Otherwise their name will be forever on the list of those who raised their swords against Russia and died by the sword,” Kadyrov wrote, using the slightly reworded proverbial saying attributed to the 13th century Russian prince Alexander Nevsky”.

An authoritarian leader who continuously tortures the Chechen people and threatens to kill those he doesn’t like is not lecturing us not on history but rather on how we should treat Russia. With admiration, deference, and respect. Exactly what Putin’s Russia deserves!

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion

Russian Election Interference:

Europe’s Counter to Fake News and Cyber Attacks

A recent study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reviews Russian interference in European elections throughout 2017. It focuses on the Netherlands, France, the UK, and Germany, providing an overview of countermeasures these countries have implemented in order to mitigate Russian influence and build resilience. It also includes countermeasures Sweden has taken in the lead-up to its September 2018 elections. Furthermore, it finds that the reasons the recent UK election saw little Russian influence can be attributed to two factors: firstly, it was a snap election and therefore there was not enough time to plan an interference strategy, and secondly, there is little use for the Kremlin to further interfere in the political environment in the UK as it is already sufficiently chaotic. In the case of Germany, the low level of Russian interference was attributed to high-level government deterrence signals warning that the interference would damage the German-Russian relationship.

Based on these case studies, a series of recommendations for countermeasures is provided. The most significant is ensuring that the election systems are part of the critical infrastructure, by not relying on election systems heavily dependent on technology as it provides additional vulnerabilities. The security of elections can be further improved by running regular stress tests and vulnerability analyses. Building resilience in the form of strengthening cyber defence and thereby making election interference difficult and costly is another cornerstone in an effective defence. Governments should work closely with political parties in order to ensure the cybersecurity of political campaigns. Issuing public warnings about possible election interference functions both as a way to educate the population about the threat and as a deterrent against Russian interference. Governments must engage in countering Russian interference on a regional and local level as well, especially in countries where the election process is decentralised. Increasing government-media cooperation and dialogue also protects against dis- and misinformation. This should include ways of involving social media companies in better countering fakes, frauds, and disinformation online. Lastly, political parties and governments should develop contingency plans for when a potential interference occurs, as a way to mitigate the effects of a potential cyberattack or leak.

Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Think-Tank, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against liberal-democratic system.