Russian spy services in competition

As we look forward to another six or more years of Putin, Russia's spy services are in fierce competition. And it could be bad news for the UK

Putin at GRU headquarters
William Joce
On 11 January 2012 15:39

The Russian media has been uncharacteristically informative recently about the competition that is raging between the intelligence services there prior to Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin later this year. This competition could have serious ramifications for the UK in the years ahead.

The main focus of discussion in Moscow is the fate of the GRU, the military intelligence service that is seen to have failed in Georgia, Central Asia and in securing information about foreign military hardware. Their budget has been cut and their status reduced.

However, the most interesting aspect, from a British perspective at least, is the ongoing tension and competition between the SVR, the external intelligence service, and the famous FSB, the mighty domestic agency usually described as the descendent of the KGB.

The SVR has begun to fear for its independence after a string of embarrassing incidents recently, including the unmasking of the Anna Chapman spy ring in the US, Katia Zatuliveter in the UK (whatever the UK court system says on the matter) and the industrial spies in the German car industry.

The FSB has for several years now taken on responsibility for ‘domestic threats abroad’ and their less than subtle hand has been detected in the killings of Chechen dissidents in Istanbul and Dubai, as well as the infamous death of Alexander Litvinenko in London.

Putin, himself a former head of the FSB, is believed to favour the status quo for the moment, believing that competition between the services produces their best results. The current fate of the GRU serves as a warning of what could happen if they fail to do their jobs.

The results of all this for the UK are worrying as we look forward to another six year term of Putin’s presidency, with all the current signs suggesting another after that. A confident FSB could launch further attacks against Russian dissidents on British soil. London hosts a large Chechen community as well as many Russian ex-pats, some of whom have openly called for the overthrow of the Putin regime in the past.

The silver lining of such FSB dominance is that large amounts of money, probably extorted from the Russian people, will continue to make their way to London to be spent by the spooks and their wives in fashionable boutiques and on expensive homes.

Meanwhile, the SVR will continue their more subtle schemes to gather intelligence from Britain. The more traditional, understated tradecraft they employ means that agents playing a role similar to Ms Zatuliveter are quite probably already at work. With MI5’s attention diverted for much of this year ensuring security for the Olympics, our defences against such penetration are lowered.

In fact, it has already been suggested by figures far more informed than I that the Russians, among others, will use the Olympics as a means to insert a large number of ‘security’ personnel into Britain, with no guarantee that they will all go home when the games come to an end.

William Joce works for a Conservative MP in Westminster and has lived for extended periods in Russia, having previously worked for the Politico-Military division of the OSCE in the former USSR

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