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Diplomatic crisis in the relations between Russia and the West due to poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal by Soviet chemical weapons in the UK continues. USA, Canada, Australia, a significant number of EU member states and Ukraine in a sign of solidarity with Britain within a few days decided to expel 155 Russian diplomats. The Kremlin threatened to take retaliatory measures. A significant number of Western countries expressed suspicion of involvement of expelled Russian diplomats in espionage.
Fears of Western countries are not accidental. In the years of the Cold War, the KGB of the USSR has developed an extensive network of residences (a foreign intelligence agency) in more than 60 countries in various regions, including the United States and Western European countries. Then the KGB's residences worked undercover of Soviet embassies, consulates, trade missions and missions in international organizations. In the jargon of scouts, those who work under diplomatic cover are called "jackets." Residents of the KGB consisted of scouts responsible for various activities. Soviet spies were engaged in scientific and technical intelligence, receiving information on advanced Western military and civilian technologies. There were specialists in political intelligence, external counterintelligence, radio electronic reconnaissance.
Separate Soviet scouts supported "illegal immigrants" - professional spies who worked abroad under foreign documents and personality. Illegals have integrated into a certain industry or state bodies of a foreign country and extracted information of interest. In a grotesque form, the work of the "illegals" was reflected in the British books about the agent MI6 James Bond, in a series of American films about the CIA officer Jason Borne and in the Soviet detective "Seventeen Moments of Spring."
According to Sergei Naryshkin, Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation, the activity of "illegal immigrants" is still relevant in connection with the tense situation in various regions of the world. Last year, he argued that Russia faces a challenge from NATO member countries that allegedly destabilize the situation in neighboring regions. One of the most famous Soviet spies-illegal immigrants was Alexei Kozlov, who in the 70s uncovered the nuclear program of South Africa and the development of uranium in Namibia. He pretended to be a German who had lived in Algeria for a long time, obtained German citizenship and worked under the guise of an entrepreneur trading in Europe, Africa and Asia with dry cleaners. The task of scouts, working under diplomatic cover, is to divert the attention of counterintelligence of foreign countries from the activities of "illegal immigrants".
The Tasks of Russian Intelligence
Sergey Naryshkin, does not deny that among the Russian diplomats who were expelled there were employees of his department who provided security for diplomatic institutions and maintained communication with colleagues from Western special services. Occupying a post in an embassy or consulate, a spy enjoys diplomatic immunity and he has the opportunity to contact politicians and business representatives, to find informants. Recruited by the British intelligence MI6 Colonel of Russian GRU Sergei Skripal in 1995 worked under diplomatic cover and served as military attaché at the Russian Embassy in Spain. However, Russian intelligence officers have other tasks.
The Kremlin seeks to influence political processes in the countries of the West. Russia is suspected of interfering in the presidential elections in the United States and a referendum on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. According to US President Donald Trump, there are very large number of Russian spies in America. The American president ordered to expel 60 Russian diplomats and close the general consulate of the Russian Federation in Seattle. In the United States, there have already been spy scandals involving the Russian side. Resonance was made by the detention of 11 Russian intelligence officers who worked in the US and Cyprus in 2010. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson believes that the West is conducting the largest in the history expulsion of Russian spies. The British aythorities decided to expel 23 Russian diplomats.
Russia uses special services to curb the expansion of NATO. Moscow is suspected of organizing an unsuccessful coup d'état in Montenegro in late 2016, after the defeat of the Democratic Front coalition, aimed at rapprochement with the Russian Federation, which opposed accession to NATO. Coordination of the coup organized by the Serbian ultranationalist organization "Serbian wolves" was conducted by Russian citizens. In the Serbian media, there was speculation that Russian citizens who had been involved in the organization of the coup were deported from Serbia. After the suppression of the coup attempt in Montenegro, the Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, visited Serbia. Now Montenegro has expelled the Russian diplomat.
The Kremlin special services are active in Poland and the Baltic states, as their leadership opposes the construction of the second branch of the Russian gas pipeline "Nord Stream" and promotes options for reducing the EU's energy dependence on Russia. In March 2018, the chairmen of the parliaments of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia in a joint statement warned other European countries that Russia would use the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline as a political tool. Poland is lobbying the construction of an alternative project "Baltic Gas Pipeline", which will allow supplying 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Norway. About 8.78 billion cubic meters of Norwegian gas is planned to be supplied by transit through Poland to Slovakia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Ukraine. The Polish government plans to increase the capacity of gas terminals on the Baltic coast to 7.5 billion cubic meters per year.
By the way, the governments of Poland and Lithuania also expelled several Russian diplomats and suspect them of espionage. Local intelligence agencies earlier noticed the trail of Russian spies. Recently, a member of the Ministry of Energy was detained in Poland, suspected of transferring to the Russian intelligence information about the plans of the Polish government in the field of energy security and reducing dependence on natural gas supplies from Russia. In 2015, Lithuanian special services detained an FSB officer whose task was to influence the adoption of state decisions.
Reagan's methods of the West
The expulsion of Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning of Skripal is an excuse that the US and its NATO allies use to undermine the influence of Russian intelligence and drive Russia into an even greater international isolation in response to its aggressive foreign policy. Washington and Brussels decided to weaken the residences of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation. The West demonstrates determination and makes it clear that Russia's "illegal immigrants" may be the next target of counterintelligence, which is considered almost a unique tool of Russia's foreign intelligence. The West uses the experience gained in the years of the Cold War. The current expulsion of Russian diplomats resembles the actions of the Atlantic camp in the 80's. Recruited by French special services, lieutenant colonel of the KGB Vladimir Vetrov disclosed 4 thousand documents classified as "top secret", including information on 422 Soviet intelligence officers. In 1983, up to 150 Soviet spies were sent from America and Europe. They worked under the "roof" of embassies, trade missions and under the guise of journalists. France alone expelled 40 Soviet intelligence officers who worked under diplomatic cover.
The Trump administration is copying the tactics of former Republican President Ronald Reagan. Then the FBI conducted an operation code-named "Famish" to identify Soviet intelligence agents in the US and reduce the threat of information leakage to the USSR. In September-October 1986, Reagan expelled 80 Soviet diplomats accredited in New York, Washington and San Francisco who were suspected of working for the KGB. Russia has not drawn any conclusions since the end of the cold war. The Kremlin continues to impose its informational influence in the West and eliminate former employees of Russian special services like Sergei Skripal and Alexander Litvinenko, who went to the West and disclosed secret information. Republicans consolidate the entire Western world around the US, using a threat from Russian spies who can even use chemical weapons in the territories of other countries for the sake of the Kremlin's interests.
Defeat of Russia?
The mass expulsion of Russian diplomats demonstrates Russia's weak position in the West. When the issue concerns the national security of one of the NATO member countries, most of Europe expresses solidarity with Washington, and not with Moscow. Even those countries where eurosceptics dominate the political arena, including the Czech Republic, Italy, and Hungary have decided to expel Russian diplomats. Only Austria, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Portugal refused to do this. The diplomatic crisis has had a negative impact on the relations between the EU and Russia. Even Germany, which is interested in building the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, decided to expel four Russian diplomats. Heiko Maas was appointed the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany. In contrast to his predecessors Sigmar Gabriel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Maas is a hardliner to Russia, does not support the easing of sanctions, and stands for the US-EU security alliance.
Russia can further drive itself into international isolation if it starts expelling European and American diplomats in return. The Russians intend to send a proportional number of diplomats from 23 countries which decided to expel employees of Russian diplomatic institutions. Moscow declared persona non grata 13 Ukrainian diplomats. Also, 60 American diplomats must leave the territory of Russia before April 5. It is planned to close the US consulate in St. Petersburg. Discomfort from this will be experienced by Russian businessmen who go on business trips to America. The fewer consulate employees will work in Russia, the longer will be the preparation of a visa. Mass expulsion of Russian diplomats, whatever one may say, is a defeat of Russia and a demonstration of mistrust from the West to the Kremlin's master. True, it is not known whether Vladimir Putin himself is guided by such logic.