TOPICS OF THIS WEEK
Kremlin ally Medvedchuk arrested for treason in Ukraine.
Khodorkovsky: Kremlin has appointed its Trojan horses all over the EU.
The Russian government wasn’t responsible for the Colonial Pipeline hack, but still denies it and accuses the CIA.
Russian ban forced US Embassy in Moscow to reduce consular services.
Good Old Soviet Joke
Czechoslovakia decided to establish the Ministry of the Navy.
The Soviet adviser asks: Why do you need it? You don’t have a sea.
Czechoslovaks answer: Well, you have the Ministry of Culture, so what?
Policy & Research News
Kremlin ally arrested for treason in Ukraine
On Tuesday, May 11th, Ukraine’s prosecutor-general announced charges of high treason against two current MP’s representing the Opposition Platform – For Life party. Viktor Medvedchuk, a leader within the pro-Russian party, and his associate Taras Kozak, have been accused of two separate counts:
- Collusion with Russian government officials to extract hydrocarbon resources located off the coast of Crimea.
- Providing information concerning the location of Ukrainian military units in the Donbas.
After initial court proceedings, Medvedchuk is potentially facing 15 years in prison. The whereabouts of Kozak are currently unknown but he is suspected to be in Russia.
The arrest of Medvedchuk has caused a stir due to his close personal, business, and political ties to the Russian government. President Putin is godfather to Medvedchuks’ daughter and he is regarded as the most prominent Kremlin ally within Ukraine – according to a Chatham House analyst, “He is Putin’s asset inside Ukraine”. The move is seen as a continuation of President Zelensky’s attempts to crackdown on the influence of oligarchic and pro-Russian political figures in Ukrainian society. Medvedchuk has previously been targeted by economic sanctions directed towards media outlets under his ownership, which were accused of spreading disinformation and Russian propaganda.
From a political perspective, this arrest is a risky strategy. Russia is likely to use this incident in an attempt to justify aggressive action towards Ukraine. At a Security Council meeting on May 14th, President Putin stated that this is an “issue to which we must respond promptly”, suggesting that a reaction is forthcoming. However, this would simply be an extension of the familiar pattern of hostile behaviour directed towards Ukraine. Curtailing the activities of pro-Russian political figures will be popular among the Western-oriented segments of Ukraine’s government and society, which could lead to an increase in Zelensky’s approval ratings.
Khodorkovsky: Kremlin has appointed its Trojan horses all over the EU
Mikhail Khodorkovsky spoke on May 10th about Russian meddling in EU affairs to the Members of the European Parliament. He talked about a wide network of Putin´s allies all across Europe. Pro-Kremlin elites enjoy a prominent position in governmental and security institutions of member states in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, France, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The influence is strengthened thanks to financial incentives, understood as corruption.
According to Khodorkovsky, among the infiltrated entities by Putin´s allies are for example Angela Merkel´s inner circle or the Austrian intelligence service. The exact names were not publicly given. Khodorkovsky believes that Germany is currently the main target of Russian cyber and disinformation campaigns. With the increasing chance of the German Green government, the aggressivity of the Kremlin is raising since the ecological movement is in clear conflict with Russia for its opposition against Nord Stream 2 project. These accusations correspond with the recent cyberattacks on the leader of Green´s party, Annalena Baerbock, that are believed to be a work of the Kremlin.
Dialogue of Civilisations, established by Russian oligarch Vladimir Yakunin in Germany, helps with the identification of potential Russian allies in EU member states. Yakunin´s influence is, however, not limited only to Germany. Khodorkovsky further mentioned Yevgeny Prigozhin and Jan Marshalek. Khodorkovsky reminded that all information was provided based on verified journalist research, but not by courts. Even though many names could not have been publicly stated due to the high sensitivity of issue and concerns for the security of their relatives, Khodorkovsky´s NGO The Dossier Centre disclosed details in the 60-page report to the members of the committee. Khodorkovsky further added: “We are prepared to provide proof that we have upon request of respective law enforcement agencies, but, of course, we are not going to share this evidence with those who are potentially linked to the Kremlin”.
The Russian government wasn’t responsible for cyber attack on largest US pipeline, Biden says
On May 7, a cyber attack shut down the longest gas pipeline in the US, revealing deep vulnerabilities in the nation’s ageing energy grid. The 5,500-mile Colonial Pipeline spans from Texas to New York and provides the East Coast region with half of its gas supply. On Thursday, May 13, President Biden asserted that the attack did not originate from the Russian government, identifying Darkside ransomware, a Russian cybercrime gang, as the culprit instead. Nonetheless, he expects Russia to respond: “I’m going to have a conversation, I’m going to be meeting with President Putin…They have some responsibility to deal with this.”
President Biden issued an executive order detailing how the nation will strengthen its cybersecurity defence. The order will renegotiate the relationship between privately-owned cyberinfrastructure and the federal government by requiring private providers to divulge more information on potential cybersecurity breaches.
Russian ban forced US Embassy in Moscow to reduce consular services
In April, the Biden administration implemented increased sanctions against Russia and expelled 10 Russian diplomats, further straining already tense relations. In the latest altercation between the two powers, Moscow announced a new ban that will prohibit US diplomatic missions from hiring non-Americans, an initiative that forced the US embassy in Moscow to downscale its operations. With a workforce reduced by 75%, on May 12 the Embassy suspended most services, including visa issuance and passport renewal.
Two days later, the Kremlin postponed this hiring ban, allowing the Embassy to resume its consular services. However, the ban is still slated to take effect on August 1 of this year. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova declared the Kremlin’s intent to pursue its implementation: “This matter is fully and irreversibly closed.”
Kremlin’s Current Narrative
Russian state media denies any connection to the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack and suggests that the CIA might be behind it
As we’ve mentioned above, the USA and President Biden didn’t accuse Russia of being responsible for the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack. Nevertheless, Russian media has been actively reporting on it. During the last week, dozens of pieces and interviews were published on the major state-funded platforms. Most articles on RIA, RT and Sputnik mention repetitively that the connection of the cyberattack to the Russian government was supposed by the “American mainstream media”.
RT & Sputnik France articles even go beyond the official Kremlin narrative. They both quote the co-founder and former CEO of Kaspersky Lab, Natalya Kaspersky’s interview to RIA Novosti, in which she claims that the CIA might be standing behind the attack. According to her, the CIA has a team called UMBRAGE, first mentioned in a 2017 WikiLeaks investigation, which “masquerades as overseas hacking groups” from Russia, North Korea, China and Iran. She claimed that “therefore, it cannot be said with certainty that the attack was carried out by a hacker group from Russia. It might have been provoked by the aforementioned group itself or by another country.”
Additionally, in an interview during an RT TV program “The News with Rick Sanchez’’, the host and RT America’s correspondent Faran Fronczak claim that “Moscow and Washington are cooperating in the investigation”, while there is no mention of such cooperation in any other sources. President Biden has only mentioned being hopeful to discuss the establishment of international cybersecurity standards with the Russian president. Additionally, Moscow-based news agency TASS and Sputnik Turkey emphasize Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov’s statement about the lack of willingness from the American side “to cooperate in countering cybercrime”. Hence, this creates a narrative contradiction.
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.