R.Politik CEO and founder, Tatiana Stanovaya, is regularly quoted by major Russian and international media outlets. She is available for commentary in Russian and English.

France’s ‘yellow vests’ and the Russian trolls that encourage them

Commentary for Deutsche Welle

Maxime Audinet, of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), concurs: “Russian information campaigns should not be seen as instruments that aim to mobilize new yellow vest protesters or to encourage violence.” Instead, she says that “Russian reporting seeks to further polarize public debate and to create the impression in France and abroad that the yellow vests have deeply divided France and brought it to the brink of civil war.”

Tatiana Stanovaya, a political analyst based in France, shares this interpretation. She says Russia is capitalizing on French President Emmanuel Macron’s political weakness to spread information suggesting “the decline of Europe, a crisis of democracy and growing opposition against the establishment.” However, she “would not say this is having much of an effect.”

READ MORE

The People Vs. the President: United Russia’s Survival Strategy

By Tatiana Stanovaya for Carnegie Moscow CenterThe United Russia ruling party’s annual congress on December 7 and 8 was eagerly anticipated by observers: the party needed to showcase its survival strategies amid falling ratings and growing social discontent. A lot of attention was on United Russia’s future and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s role in it, given the rumors that the Kremlin is considering creating new political parties and even possibly eliminating United Russia…

Many expected Volodin’s people to be replaced by Kiriyenko appointees on the eve of the congress. This didn’t really happen, since Kiriyenko prefers gradual change and avoids head-on collisions. He has opted for molding current party bureaucrats to fit his needs, rather than replacing them with someone new.

Such caution is more of an attempt to conform to Putin’s expectations rather than a rational choice. The president prizes results over everything else, hence the emphasis on technocrats, depoliticization, corporate approaches, and KPIs.

All this also reflects on the choice of personnel: unlike many other politicians, Kiriyenko doesn’t promote his own people, but rather the mechanisms for mass-producing neutral, faceless, easily replaceable political functionaries.

READ MORE

Russia’s foreign intelligence service has a new director. What can we expect from Igor Kostyukov?

By Tatiana Stanovaya, for RIDDLE

On November 22 news emerged that Igor Korobov, head of the Main Directorate of the General Staff (the military intelligence service more commonly known as the GRU), had passed away after a prolonged illness. First deputy vice-admiral Igor Kostyukov was appointed acting head of the service. Russian media, even referring to their own sources unanimously assert that Kostyukov will eventually become Korobov’s official successor. What awaits Russia’s foreign intelligence service after Korobov’s death, and what should be known about its new director?

Let’s start with a few important points. Firstly the GRU, much like any other secret service, is a conservative organisation which takes a dim view of any attempts at reform or significant reshuffles of personnel. Consequently, Korobov’s successor is a subordinate deemed close to his former boss, and one with a deep knowledge of military intelligence. Kostyukov served as deputy head of the GRU until the very last moment, and also stood in for Korobov when his illness got worse.

Kostyukov also supervised the GRU’s activities in Syria, an issue so important to Vladimir Putin that dealing with it suggests regular contact with the Russian president. In 2017 he was awarded the Hero of Russia medal. As such the main goal of the Russian authorities here appears to be guaranteeing the continuity and stability of the GRU’s work.

Biographical details about Kostyukov are scarce. He was born on February 21, 1961 in the Amur Region. A source close to the Ministry of Defence told RBK that upon graduating from the Military-Diplomatic Academy, Kostyukov served as a military attache and then worked for the GRU. The journalist Sergey Kanev wrote in a Facebook post that Kostyukov is the youngest of all serving generals, that he was previously resided in Italy, and that he now oversees the war in Syria. Kostyukov’s son Oleg once worked at the Russian Embassy in Italy. Kanev earlier suggested that another deputy director of the GRU, Sergey Gizunov from St Petersburg, was a contender to Korobov’s position.

RBK drew particular attention to the anti-American character of Kostyukov’s rhetoric. When Kostyukov spoke at the Sixth Moscow Conference on International Security in April 2018, he declared that Donald Trump’s administration seeks to obtain preferential treatment in political and economic affairs by force. Kostyukov went on to call the US Navy’s carrier strike groups and strategic bombers the main instruments of Washington’s foreign policy. However, it should be emphasised that in the current situation the entire Russian elite, and particularly its military and security officials, are anti-American and anti-western in general. In these circumstances, moderation is regarded with suspicion and seen as evidence of unreliability. Ivan Safronov, a special correspondent for Kommersant FM who was present at the conference, noted that Kostyukov spoke as a rapporteur about the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific Region and reported on the issue of North Korea. At the same time, Kostyukov gave a highly informative presentation on the situation in the Middle East and the circumstances of forces present there, with a particular focus on Iraq and Syria.

The second key point is that the GRU now operates under significant pressure after high-profile revelations about the outright failures of its previous work. Nevertheless, it’s important to note Putin’s personal reverence for intelligence officers; in his eyes, whatever mistakes or incompetence they may have shown, they are true heroes. Several observers have already suggested that the arrival of Kostyukov spells reform for the GRU, which may lead to its weakening. Alexander Kolpakidi, a historian of the Russian security services, said in an interview with Kommersant FM that the country’s military intelligence service might even lose some of its current functions: “Reshuffles, changes, and some reforms have probably even begun. I’m sure they’ll try to get rid of all the blunders and ensure they are not repeated in future. The fact that the GRU turned out to be involved in such scandals is surprising; in the Soviet period a competing security agency, now called the SVR but then known as the PSU, was known for them. I think it’s most likely that the GRU will stop dealing with these issues.”

Instead, it may be more logical to expect the opposite: a performative strengthening of the GRU, a move indirectly confirmed by Vladimir Putin’s proposal to restore its former name, the “Main Intelligence Directorate.” In this regard, the GRU has two major advantages. Firstly, it maintains its own operational combat units, which is important given that Russia is involved in a number of active conflicts. Secondly, the role of the Ministry of Defence has markedly increased. This is an important fact given the psychology of Putin, who prefers to entrust critically important jobs to those he strongly trusts. This means that the GRU is now under the patronage of Sergey Shoigu. The Minister of Defence is rightly called the most influential security official in Russia today, despite occasional rumours of the president’s displeasure with this or that mistake in his work. For Putin, Russia’s strategic military power is a critically important issue, and one in which the GRU’s scientific and technical intelligence plays a central role.

Thirdly, there’s no doubt that we should expect increased competition between the GRU and the SVR (the two agencies are traditional rivals.) Kommersant’s source in the General Staff said that Igor Kostyukov “would have to establish relations with his ‘parallel,” meaning the SVR, with which the GRU had clashed in recent years due to the difference in their working methods. In particular, the military believed that the SVR was primarily engaged in ‘desk intelligence work,’ while the GRU went out and unearthed real information using a wide network of agents and informers, thus playing a significant role in international relations. This leak to Kommersant neatly sums up the GRU’s point of view.

However, it is important to bear in mind the SVR’s approach. A number of media outlets wrote that the agency has tried to distance itself from the failures of the GRU, even dropping hints to western counterparts that it had not played a part in its competitor’s staggeringly incompetent escapades. For the SVR, the latest scandals are a blow not only to the “guys from the GRU,” but to all the country’s intelligence agencies. But it will not be easy to encourage Putin to take concrete political decisions to resolve the problem, whether structural reforms or personnel changes. The SVR today is led by Sergey Naryshkin, a “technocrat” who came to the position in 2016. Naryshkin’s new role was less an “appointment” in the full sense of the word but rather compensation for his losing the post of Speaker of the Duma. His current political influence cannot be compared with Shoigu’s. Therefore, even if the Kremlin does pay attention to the SVR’s moaning, it is far more likely to work with the GRU on mending its ways than to reallocate influence to the SVR’s benefit. Nonetheless, the SVR does have one advantage: the head of the agency is a political appointee unlike the head of the GRU, so enjoys direct contact with the president.

While Kostyukov’s appointment should not be seen as a catalyst for wider personnel or structural changes in the GRU, it will mark a trend towards reducing the vulnerability of the military intelligence service, fixing errors, and improving its overall efficiency. At the same time Kostyukov, much like anybody else appointed as head of the GRU, will focus on stabilising the agency’s influence in order to strengthen its position among Russia’s defence and security establishment. Even if Putin decides in favour of significant structural changes to the country’s security agencies (which has been expected for a long time), military intelligence will continue to occupy a central place in whatever balance of power emerges. There is no point in waiting for its influence to abate.

Commentary for Carnegie Moscow center

How the Kremlin Ceded Control Over Russia’s Social Agenda

Amid painful economic choices, political elites and government officials in Russia are growing distant from the public. Meanwhile, the mainstream media’s coverage of social issues is becoming increasingly alarmist, a sign that the Kremlin is losing control over Russia’s social agenda. With its response to social issues a mix of contempt and indifference, it seems that the government’s new maxim and the defining principle of Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term is “the state doesn’t owe you anything.”
A look at mainstream media headlines in Russia shows that while the Kremlin expends significant energy in promoting its national security and foreign policy agenda, it is almost completely oblivious to social issues. Indeed, in Russia, the mainstream media mainly focus on three areas: the president and, to a lesser extent, his cabinet; military and diplomatic conflicts abroad; and the lack of alternatives to the current regime. These three pillars have defined the Kremlin’s information policy for the past six years.

Missing from this list is the government’s social policy, something the mainstream media once vigorously defended during Vladimir Putin’s first two presidential terms. Discussion of social policy gave way to the promotion of innovation and modernization under President Dmitry Medvedev before disappearing from the headlines entirely following the annexation of Crimea, which unleashed a wave of euphoria that sustained the regime for several years. It allowed the Kremlin to maintain a high approval rating while neglecting social issues amid unfavorable economic conditions.

As post-Crimea euphoria has receded, causing the public to shift its attention from the television to the refrigerator, the issues of social injustice and declining standards of living have come to the fore. The Kremlin has opted against actively addressing social issues and ceased to manage its coverage in the mainstream media, bringing about what is best described as an informational free-for-all.

Those who believe that Russia’s government exerts total control over the press will be surprised to learn how social issues are now covered in the mainstream media. Amid painful and highly unpopular economic choices—from raising retirement ages to increasing the VAT—the mainstream media’s news reports on the subject have come to resemble the blog posts of Alexei Navalny and the pamphlets of the radical left.

The last few years have witnessed the transformation of the way in which Russia’s regime legitimates itself. Upon assuming the presidency, Putin based his rule on a social contract that promised Russians income growth and action on social issues. It enabled him to adopt reforms that virtually eliminated the oligarchs of the 1990s, as well as opposition from regional governors, and produced the famous power vertical.

As Russia’s new political elites assumed key positions in the system, the social contract was gradually amended in their favor. In his third presidential term, Putin drifted away from the people, focusing instead on protecting his inner circle. That process is now complete, with the government openly telling the people that “the state doesn’t owe you anything,” in the words of Olga Glatskikh, a Sverdlovsk regional government official.

This evolution has led to two practical consequences. First, the Kremlin has lost all interest in managing the mainstream media’s coverage of social issues, inadvertently affording the press unprecedented freedom in reporting on the subject. As a result, even pro-government news outlets have taken to covering social issues with an eye to increasing their readership. Hence the flood of alarmist headlines on social issues, which are grounded in fact yet seem unnaturally critical by Russian media standards.

Second, government officials’ priorities have changed. The interests of voters have taken a back seat to those of their Kremlin superiors. With resources dwindling, government officials have abandoned political correctness. As they attempt to sell deeply unpopular changes to ordinary Russians, whose opinion of the government has long since ceased to determine whether it remains in power, they sound more like accountants than servants of the people.

Indeed, Medvedev’s infamous phrase—“there’s no money, but hang in there”—is increasingly echoed at various levels of government. United Russia lawmaker Ekaterina Lakhova has recommended that Russians experiment with a “wartime diet” rather than ask the government for greater handouts, while State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has defended raising retirement ages by warning that things may worsen further and implying that pensions may be abolished altogether.

In Russia, the political survival of a government official depends on the answer to the following question: “What is Putin going to say?” The president does not care about petty social issues when there are greater matters at stake, from geopolitics to the lofty goals stated in the May Edict. Inventing accomplishments in defiance of the facts on the ground, bureaucrats fiddle with official data to suit their own needs.

Meanwhile, with Putin’s approval rating at pre-Crimea levels and the Kremlin recovering from embarrassing defeats in recent gubernatorial elections, the Kremlin is choosing to draw on its ample resources to manage political risks instead of addressing social issues. For the Kremlin, the only challenges worth dealing with are critics like Navalny, who has been repeatedly arrested; their supporters, who are persecuted after each round of anti-government protests; and the liberal press, like the New Times, which was slapped with an enormous fine after interviewing Navalny. The Kremlin easily overlooks headlines on social issues that fuel the public’s fear and anger, since these are not seen to pose a direct threat to its political survival.

Simply put, the authorities are no longer able to respond to social needs. Nor will Moscow find it easy to restore control over the social agenda, even if it tries to return to it tomorrow. The government has simply forgotten how to empathize with the public and understand its demands, which it increasingly perceives as excessive and politically untenable. To understand the nature of Putin’s fourth presidential term, look to the government’s new maxim: “We don’t owe you anything.”

Commentary for Carnegie Moscow Center

The Illusion of Control: The Kremlin Prepares for Falling Ratings

Tatiana Stanovaya
However resilient the Putin regime might look to an outsider, it isn’t ready and isn’t preparing itself for a possible decline in its popularity ratings, which may unleash consequences beyond the fall of individual governors and the ruling United Russia party. The Kremlin doesn’t believe that Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime as a whole could become unpopular, so it considers the current decline in support for the government to be a natural and manageable outcome of the recent increase in the retirement age.

Declining support for the government is gradually becoming one of the main problems for President Vladimir Putin’s regime, since the popularity rating of any state institution and the legitimacy of the entire system stem directly from the level of support for the president.

The Kremlin’s recent losses—its candidates were effectively defeated in four gubernatorial elections—have prompted the question of how the presidential administration and the president himself intend to adapt to the new conditions. Is Russia in for yet another wave of political reform, or will the Russian authorities make a different, unexpected move that could help them recapture past levels of popular support, as they did previously with the annexation of Crimea?

Before making any predictions about the Kremlin’s next moves, it must be acknowledged that the federal authorities don’t see the current decline in ratings and the gubernatorial election defeats as anything exceptional. They put these things down to simple miscalculations in the selection of candidates, rather than to changes in the public mood.

Only one of the four gubernatorial election losses—that in the Primorsky region—is seen by the Kremlin as serious, but even there the authorities link their problems to regional specifics, not complex nationwide issues such as increasing the retirement age or the fall in real incomes. As for the other regions, the Kremlin ascribes the losses to the longevity of the incumbent governors, who have apparently forgotten how to talk to people and have gotten too accustomed to automatic victories guaranteed by presidential support and the absence of real competition.

This interpretation allows the government to shift the focus from the decline in Putin’s popularity, which the system refuses to accept as a threat, to the problem of personnel rotation. Hence, government decisions in which appointing new figures takes precedence over using political instruments like parties, elections, and competition.

We saw a confirmation of these tactics right after the elections, when the federal center removed governors who appeared to have been in power for too long and who could have had problems getting reelected later. Their replacements were selected according to the principles of the corporate vertical: they are technocratic managers with little political experience, let alone political ambition. The center intends to elect them with the help of a populist agenda and political strategies. In this context, the governor becomes part of an impersonal corporate management mechanism, rather than an individual actor in a political process.

This reaction indicates that the Kremlin doesn’t believe that Putin and the Russian regime as a whole might become unpopular, so it treats the current decline in their ratings as a natural and manageable outcome of the unpopular recent move to raise the retirement age. The overall mood in the presidential administration is that there is no catastrophe, nothing to panic about. Everyone there is convinced that there is no alternative to Putin, so his rating can’t seriously decline.

This attitude also reflects the fact that Putin’s entourage is increasingly oriented toward the president’s own expectations and perception of his personal historical exceptionality that firmly protects him from any competition. Only Putin’s hand-picked successor could be an alternative to Putin: that’s the logic that has underpinned all the political decisions of the past few years. And if the president’s popularity continues to fall, there’s no doubt that the Kremlin will see it as anything but the president’s political weakness.

This is why we should not expect direct gubernatorial elections to be scrapped: a possibility that some have recently started to talk about. The Russian regime isn’t prepared to make that decision, and the president’s recent speeches are evidence of that. At a meeting with members of the Central Election Commission, he praised the electoral system and stressed the importance of elections for the people.

In reality, Putin’s reverential treatment of elections has little to do with any democratic propensities he might still have. He is simply convinced that the fairness of the regime’s agenda and the infallibility of its course make electoral losses impossible.

Putting an end to direct elections would mean that the president was acknowledging his unpopularity and the legitimacy of protest sentiment. In any case, Putin made it clear that the authorities will preserve the municipal filter—which requires those running for office to collect endorsements from local council members—by describing it recently as “democratic.” The president’s logic is simple: if the municipal filter didn’t prevent opposition candidates from being elected, it is not as harsh as it was made out to be.

At this time, the Kremlin is not remotely inclined to allow cardinal changes to the political system. Any changes that may occur will have to do with the transit of power rather than adjustments made due to falling ratings.

It’s not incompetence or lack of political foresight that makes the Kremlin underestimate the impending political risks. Rather, Kremlin officials are overly fixated on Putin’s moods. Unlike their predecessors, who mostly focused on the political system, the current political strategists cater to the president’s personal political needs, ensuring his comfort. The creative freedom and intrigues enjoyed by former deputy chiefs of staff Vladislav Surkov and Vyacheslav Volodin are absent, and there is no prospect of their return. This is probably why “administrators” have turned out to be more in demand today than political strategists.

However resilient the Putin regime might look to an outsider, it isn’t ready and isn’t preparing itself for a possible decline in its ratings, which may unleash consequences beyond the fall of individual governors and the ruling United Russia party. We already saw what that sort of decline can lead to back in late 2011, when even some members of the in-system opposition parties like the Communist Party and A Just Russia, as well as prominent establishment figures like former finance minister Alexei Kudrin and businessman and presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov joined protesters on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square.

To maintain stability, the Kremlin is currently left with two potentially effective mechanisms. The first is to artificially inflate its ratings with the help of information campaigns and the institutional toughening up of the regime, eliminating the vestiges of real competition.
That option looks far more realistic than the alternative: regime liberalization, which terrifies the Kremlin and is seen as capitulation to the West by a significant part of the Russian elite, especially among the siloviki.

The regime is opting to create a corporatist state, which automatically equates corporate interests with the interests of the people, stripping the latter of their last remaining political rights. Only a lack of resolve among the “administrators” and the absence of an order from above to tighten the screws leave any hope for pluralization, which will only come from below.

READ MORE

Commentary for The Independent

‘Legendary’ GRU military intelligence agency should have historical name restored, says Putin

“This was a psychological and political show of support by Putin,” says Tatiana Stanovaya, CEO of the political analysis firm R.Politik. “He was telling them that he would support them to the end regardless of the failures and their poor fortunes.”

For Mr Putin, those failures are secondary to a much larger struggle with the West, says Ms Stanovaya.

“He believes the GRU are the victims of this story and has made it very clear that you shouldn’t expect any radical changes in the service,” she says. “Even personnel changes, which may yet happen, will not take place immediately.”

“It’s clear Putin has given the order for the leaks to stop,” says Ms Stanovaya. “That’s where he sees the vulnerability. Far from dismantling the GRU, he wants them to end up stronger.”

READ MORE

From information war to intelligence agency battles

Commentary for European Council on foreign relations

The unmasking of GRU agents will intensify inter-agency battles between Russian intelligence services, and may stoke yet more conflict with foreign states

Western and independent journalists’ exposing of Russian agents present in Salisbury was a shock for the Russian government, even in a period of renewed international scrutiny of its intelligence services. The biggest lapse on the part of Russia’s services since the end of the cold war will change how the Kremlin organises them. The key question now is how it will: set about improving the effectiveness of the military intelligence service – the “GRU”; protect its serving operatives; and avert future failures. Speculation about the government disbanding the GRU, meting out severe punishment, or sacking its top brass is misguided: instead, it is likely to take steps to actually strengthen military intelligence.

In the first instance, some personnel changes are indeed likely. Rumours have raced around Telegram that GRU chief Igor Korobov may be replaced, potentially by his first deputy Igor Kostukov. But, whatever happens, the GRU itself will still benefit from Vladimir Putin’s firm support.  (Incidentally, the GRU no longer exists as such, although Western media remain prone to use the term.)

More importantly, the GRU’s troubles have provoked new struggles within and between the Russian intelligence agencies. Each is seeking to gain advantage from the situation and to ensure the blame falls on other services. The SVR – the Foreign Intelligence Service – has pointed to the lack of professionalism at the GRU and sought to regain responsibility for political intelligence. KGB successor, the FSB, meanwhile, may revisit its old dream of merging the SVR into itself. Indeed, some Western media have suggested thatt an SVR agent could have leaked the details of the Salisbury operation to Britain. The FSB may use this to reinforce its own version of this story: that the unmasking of Russian agents represents betrayal of one service by another. The Novaya Gazeta newspaper recently published leaked information claiming to show that SVR chief Sergey Naryshkin’s family possess Hungarian residence permits and property there. This instantly weakened Naryshkin’s position, giving reason to suspect that the GRU’s desire for revenge lay behind the disclosure. Even if untrue, the situation is surely highly fraught.

The Russian government will not now become more cautious or oblige the intelligence services to be less indiscriminate in their activity

The Kremlin considered merging the SVR and the FSB in 2016, but put the idea aside once Putin appointed Naryshkin – then speaker of the Duma – as head of the SVR. It resurfaced, however, at the beginning of 2018, when the expectation began to grow again that deep structural changes to Russia’s state apparatus were imminent. The FSB tried once more to advance its idea of enlarging itself by swallowing up others. The eventual lack of change is likely due to former Presidential Administration chief Sergey Ivanov, who is still a key figure in Putin’s inner circle. In any case, the trials and tribulations of other services have given the FSB new arguments in the furtherance of its own interest.

In Putin’s eyes the chemical attack on Sergei Skripal is an example of “the fuss between security services” which “did not start yesterday”, as he said during a controversial and emotional speech at Russian Energy Forum. But The Economist has shared the Western security services view over the case, namely that Salisbury was “a step too far”. “Russia has broken an unwritten rule of the spying game by using intelligence for offensive purposes”, the newspaper quotes Sergei Boeke of the Institute of Security and Global Affairs as saying.

The Kremlin thinks differently: it is the West that has been breaking the rules by its overreaction to what was a routine operation, even if the operation happened to get out of control. A principal claim levelled against Russia is that it is not only engaged in spying but is also out to weaken Western democracy and political legitimacy – in contrast to how American, French, or even Chinese secret services behave. But to the Kremlin the world looks completely different: Putin believes that after the collapse of the USSR the United States continued to try to undermine Russia, and indeed redoubled its efforts in this direction after his regime emerged. Western actions led to conflict in the post-Soviet space, including in Georgia and in the Ukraine crisis. The Kremlin also strongly believes that Washington directs all other Western countries in its anti-Russian efforts, laying the ground to destroy Putin’s regime and the country itself. The Russian president has, on countless occasions, accused the West of attempting to interfere with Russia’s political system and elections in general through building a network of Western influence inside Russia. Oligarchs, pro-Western opposition, and NGOs form key links in this network.

As a result, whatever the misdeeds or mishaps of the GRU, Moscow views the post-Salisbury fallout as something the West has whipped up as part of its ongoing war against Russia. State media share messages which give an indicate of the Kremlin’s thinking in this direction, referring to “Western hysterics”.

So what will this mean for Russia’s intelligence agencies and their activities both at home and overseas? For one thing, the result will not be a Russian government that becomes more cautious or obliges the intelligence services to be less indiscriminate in their actions. Nor indeed will the services dial down their cyber-espionage or information warfare; the ‘à la guerre comme à la guerre’ approach to the West remains intact.

Instead, the government may adapt the tools it already has in order to deal with the challenge it believes it faces. The firm bond between political civil authorities and secret services is one such tool, and this relationship will now only strengthen, not weaken. The Security Council in turn will play a key role in this hardening: the conservative and anti-Western secret services influence on the council will make itself felt through the council’s role in both day-to-day and strategic political decision-making. Services’ desire to retaliate see them carry out some unmasking of their own, potentially of Western agents working in Russia, with a view to reminding the world that imperfections exist among services of all countries.

Russia may also now try to play the ongoing information wars more openly, establishing media more clearly directly linked to Russia itself, including new internet outlets and information agencies. It may also seek to work more intensively with social and political forces opposed to traditional elites and lacking faith in political institutions. The Kremlin will become less reticent about involving itself in information battles and using freedom of speech – a key achievement of democracy – as way in which to carry out “hybrid” intrusion.

Unfortunately, the information warfare already playing out across the globe now has a rocket-booster under it: confrontation between Russian secret services. For Russia it is counter-offensive time, no matter who broke the rules first.

Commentary for Reuters

Espionage scandals show Russian army’s growing clout

Asked on Monday if there would be a shake-up at the defense ministry, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said the low quality of the allegations leveled at GRU did not justify such changes.

“Russia believes there’s no point in reducing the GRU’s activities because that would be a unilateral concession that would not yield anything and probably be seen as a sign of weakness,” said Tatyana Stanovaya, who is well connected to the political elite and runs political analysis firm R.Politik.

“I think that malicious operations could even be conducted more often than in the past,” she said.

The Kremlin is dismayed by fraying informal communications channels between Western and Russian intelligence agencies, she said, and sees the espionage world as a realm without rules.

“The army’s influence will rise,” said R.Politik’s Stanovaya. “Putin believes Russia is in a state of war.”

READ MORE

Commentary for L’Opinion

Elections de mi-mandat: personne ne doute aux Etats-Unis de nouvelles interférences russes

Ayant « goûté » à la puissance qu’apporte la cybernétique, la Russie n’entend pas y renoncer, selon la politologue Tatyana Stanovaya

Selon la politologue russe Tatiana Stanovaya, créatrice du site R.Politik, la question de savoir si Vladimir Poutine devait s’engager auprès de Donald Trump de ne pas influencer le scrutin à venir s’est posée au Kremlin avant le sommet d’Helsinki. Elle a été vite tranchée, raconte-t-elle, dès lors que l’entourage du Président s’est entendu sur le fait que, dans le très fort sentiment anti-russe ambiant à l’Ouest, Moscou serait de toutes les façons pointé du doigt qu’il interfère ou non lors de ces élections.

Si elle se garde bien d’évaluer la réalité et l’ampleur que pourraient prendre d’éventuelles interventions russes lors des « midterm », Tatiana Stanovaya explique qu’après avoir « goûté à la puissance du pouvoir cybernétique, la Russie n’entend pas en tout cas y renoncer ». Elle a d’autant moins « l’intention d’abandonner le champ de bataille volontairement » que d’autres pays dans le monde ont commencé à investir le monde cybernétique et que le régime de Poutine craint de se trouver un jour à son tour l’objet de cyberattaques. « On a eu tort de prendre à la légère l’offre que Poutine a faite à Trump de créer un groupe de travail sur la cybersécurité », estime d’ailleurs la politologue.

READ MORE

Commentary for The Independant

The west has declared war on the GRU – but don’t expect Russia to tame its spies

For long periods of Mr Putin’s rule, the GRU was almost absent from the big intelligence table, with no obvious role in a shrinking empire. But its fortunes turned in 2008, after the war in Georgia, when the army realised it needed better intelligence for delicate operations. Another turning point came four years later, with the appointment of Valery Gerasimov as chief of the General Staff.

“Their horizon widened, and with supply came demand,” says Tatyana Stanovaya, CEO of the political analysis firm R.Politik. “They settled into this new role just as Putin began to reject his own idea that Russia needed to be friends with the west.”

According to Ms Stanovaya, inter-agency conflicts have certainly grown since the Skripal scandal. Many officers have complained that the GRU had not been professional enough and were putting their president on the line. At the same time, she notes, systemic loyalty to the president guards against any major excesses, including leaks and hostile briefing. The first rule in Russia’s secret world is allegiance to Putin.

“For Putin, these guys are still heroes, living modestly, and risking their own lives to protect the motherland,” says Ms Stanovaya. “How can he criticise them? No, he’ll give them more muscle. Any step back would be seen as a recognition of defeat.”

READ MORE

Cookies & Privacy

By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies as explained in our Conditions générales.

Sign up for our emails!

Receive updates and news from R.Politik

Your email is safe with us, we don’t spam.