Topics of the Week
Citizen of Norway has been arrested under the suspicion that he was conducting espionage for the Russian Federation. Former US special forces captain Peter Debbins has been met with a similar fate.
British PM faces legal action from the MPs over refusing to investigate Russian election interference.
Kremlin’s Current Narrative: How many reasons can Russian outlets find for Navalny not being poisoned?
Good Old Soviet Joke
A journalist asks a Czechoslovak, Romanian, and a German: “What is your opinion on the shortage of goods?”
The German answers: “What is a shortage?”
The Romanian responds: “What are goods?”
The Czechoslovak wonders: “What is opinion?”
Policy & Research News
Norwegian citizen is detained for being suspected in espionage activities
Norwegian police arrested a citizen immediately after he met with a Russian intelligence officer in a restaurant in Oslo. The Norwegian citizen is accused of disclosure of classified information to the foreign authorities.
The man is suspected of violating the Norwegian law and if his guilt is established he might be sentenced for 15 years for undermining the national interests.
It is also confirmed that the suspect was Norwegian DNV GL employee, the company which provides the necessary certification for entities in the “maritime, oil and gas and renewables industries” to insure their equipment.
The Russian diplomat who worked for the trade section in the Embassy was expelled shortly after the spy incident. In response, the Russian Embassy claimed that this accusation of espionage is groundless.
In the past few months, a wave of Russian diplomats’ expulsions swept across Europe. In early June the Czech government expelled two Russian diplomats over fake poison plot against Czech politicians.
Earlier this week the Austrian government announced that it is about to expel Russian diplomat over economic espionage. As a reciprocal move, Russia has declared Austrian diplomat persona non Grata within few hours.
Boris Johnson faces legal action from MPs over refusing to investigate Russian election interference
The pressure on Boris Johnson is mounting as he failed to take further action to conduct an independent investigation on the scope of Russian interference in the UK elections and the 2016 Brexit vote.
The cross-party group of MPs has sent a joint letter in which they initiate the legal action against the Prime Minister for taking insufficient actions to examine the foreign state interference in the election process and protect national security.
They demand Borish Johnson to initiate a full investigation to uncover the details of the election intrusion. MPs are also calling for a series of legislative changes to address future foreign interference and enhance the transparency of the online political campaign and its funding.
According to the letter, such refusal to properly investigate the malign election meddling poses a threat not only to the UK’s democratic process but also constitutes a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, which enshrines the Right to a Free Election under article 3 of Protocol 1.
The long-awaited Russia report was published in July by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee after attempts of Boris Johnson to bloc the release of this document before the last general election. The report indicates that no proper attempts were made by MI5 or British security agencies to investigate the interference and document the evidence.
Downing Street is allocated with two weeks to respond, otherwise, if the response to the inquiry is not provided and any further steps are taken to protect future elections from the hostile outlandish influence, the PM will be taken to the court.
US special forces veteran arrested for spying for Russia
Peter Debbins, a former US special forces captain, is alleged to have passed classified information to the Russian military intelligence agency (GRU) over a period of more than 10 years during several visits to Russia in the 2000s. The U.S. army officer supposedly had contact with GRU agents while on these trips who knew him by the code name Ikar Lesnikov. Captain Debbins is the son of a former Soviet citizen and married the daughter of a Russian military officer from Chelyabinsk. It is reported that he expressed loyalty to Russia and referred to himself as a “son of Russia” to his Russian handlers. According to the US Department of Justice, Debbins has been arrested on charges of espionage and faces life in prison if convicted.
Bipartisan Senate report details Trump campaign contacts with Russia
The nearly 1,000-page report, released with redactions, is “the most comprehensive and meticulous examination to date explaining how Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign welcomed the foreign adversary’s help,” according to CNN. Key findings include that then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort worked with Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik and sought to share internal campaign information with Kilimnik, representing “a grave counterintelligence threat,” that Trump and senior campaign officials sought to obtain advance information on the WikiLeaks’ email dumps through Roger Stone, and that Russian-government actors continued until at least January 2020 to spread disinformation about Russia’s election interference.
Acting Senate Intelligence Chairman Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, concluded that “the Committee found absolutely no evidence that then-candidate Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election,” while Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s top Democrat, stated that the report demonstrated “a breathtaking level of contacts between Trump officials and Russian government operatives that is a very real counterintelligence threat to our elections.”
Kremlin’s Current Narrative
Alleged poisoning of the leader of Russian opposition Alexei Navalny
On Thursday, August 20, the Russian opposition leader and founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) Aleksei Navalny was hospitalized after he fell ill and lost consciousness during his flight from city Tomsk to Moscow. The plane made an emergency landing in Siberian city Omsk, where Mr. Navalny stayed in the ambulance hospital until Saturday, August 22. Currently, Mr. Navalny is at Charité hospital in Berlin. According to the official statement from the hospital, he was in fact poisoned, but he is going to survive.
After Mr. Navalny was hospitalized in Omsk, his family and supporters were insisting and asking the Russian government to allow his transfer for treatment to Germany, however, the hospital refused transportation until Friday evening, August 21st, due to highly unstable condition of the patient. RIA news mention that the decision about Mr. Navalny being “non-transportable” was taken by a council which included German doctors, even though according to Washington Post, German physicians who arrived at Omsk to carry out his transfer, could not fully examine Navalny and were “spirited away by unidentified authorizes”.
In a comment on the reaction of the public to the situation, RT.com reports that the family of Navalny chose a strategy of attracting the most attention, which is “normal for people in politics”, however, his supporters created an “informational bacchanalia”, leading to the idea that Mr. Navalny’s sickness has been blown up by the social media and the journalists.
Some Russian outlets speculate if Mr. Navalny’s poisoning could even make sense at all, at the moment. AIF.ru argues that attempted murder of the activist would only do more harm than good, by “abruptly radicalizing and annoying protest-inclined part of the population”. On the other hand, Navalny is “convenient” for the Kremlin. “The blogger’s persona causes mistrust even among many liberally-inclined citizens”. He prevents the opposition from consolidating, hence he is quite useful for the government. Otherwise, he could be poisoned by anyone, from SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) to some “loner-psychopath”.
Moreover, the peak of the popularity of Navalny has, supposedly, passed, and happened in 2011-2012. Today his main focus is anti-corruption activities and “demonization and dehumanization of Vladimir Putin and his followers”. He aims to destroy the system and then the country itself, but considering his close ties with the West, most consider him merely a marionette, others – a Kremlin-made opposition figure. What brought him to the hospital, however, is his tireless, insatiable urge for power (“health failed, nerves, etc.”). Not being able to become a leader of the country or at least a new revolution (“because of the absence of such”) he drives himself to the extremes, trying to at the very least decrease the support for United Russia. Hence this PR-move, according to RIA.news.
It could as well be another “big story” used to distract attention from the situation in Belarus, one way or another, the activist was certainly incapacitated for the nearest future.
Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Center for Security Policy, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against the liberal-democratic system.