Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Coneheads Return: Why is "Respected Kommersant" Trashing Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR)?

"[D]ismissing the latest spy scandal as indication the Russians are ineffectually still fighting the Cold War is to miss the big picture. In fact, Moscow is skillfully advancing its interests in the West, not through intelligence but business, often supported by crafty industrial espionage, influence-buying, and under-the-table deal-making...

In Western Europe, Moscow has operated by making lucrative arrangements with foreign energy companies that become de facto lobbyists for the Kremlin within their own countries."---"Why The Russia Spy Story Really Matters" (RFE/RL, 7-9-10)

The farcial Russian illegal aliens collared last summer by the FBI were only charged with money laundering and failing to register with FARA as agents of a foreign government [See "DOJ Dusts Off Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)"].

According to the media, the eleven Russian "illegals" could not manage even one act of espionage, although some of them were here for ten years; and America had a good laugh at Russia's expense. Of course, it may be that the U.S. government could have charged them with more serious offenses but chose to keep these quiet for diplomatic or investigative reasons.

Now the Kremlin-friendly Russian business daily owned by the Gazprom-connected billionaire Alisher Usmanov and known on the World Wide Web by the ubiquitous stock epithet "respected Kommersant" is also publically trashing Russia's foreign intelligence agency for its spectacular and very public failures.

"Respected Kommersant" is claiming that a mysterious turncoat SVR officer named Colonel Shcherbakov, who was in charge of Russia's illegals' operations in the U.S., was working for the CIA. "Illegals" are Russian citizens who pose as Americans.

I knew that Alisher Usmanov's Kremlin-friendly Kommersant specialized in made-to-order hatchet jobs on British climate scientists because Gazprom is not on board with global warming, but now "respected Kommersant" is encouraging the whole world to laugh at their foreign intelligence service (SVR) for being ineffectual relics of the cold war.

It's a pretty good guess that the SVR is about to be purged and cease to exist. [See the early predictions about this purge from Brian Whitmore, RFE/RL (7-28-10) "Resurrecting The Old Lubyanka."]

During the Soviet era, the foreign intelligence service was a directorate of the KGB. When communism ended, Yeltsin separated the foreign and domestic services. Some observers predict that the SVR may be folded back into the domestic state security, the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Or maybe not. One observer, Andrei Soldatov, claims that "the FSB [is already] building its own foreign intelligence arm." That is by far the most interesting tidbit I have heard in connection with last summer's riotous Russian spy scandal.

Moscow Times (11-12-10) reports on Kommersant's kompromat campaign:

Kommersant said the Shcherbakov scandal might lead the SVR to be put under the Federal Security Service, an idea previously proposed by former FSB head Nikolai Patrushev, who heads the Security Council.

During Soviet times, the KGB had both the domestic counterintelligence and foreign intelligence directorates under its wing. Foreign intelligence became a separate agency during Boris Yeltsin's presidency.

But [journalist Andrei Soldatov, head of the Agentura.ru research centre] expressed doubt that such a merger was possible, noting that the FSB was now building its own foreign intelligence arm.

Gregory Feifer of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty suggests that the perception that Russia's spies have gone to seed may miss the point about how Russia advances its interests.

Last July Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty wrote an article titled: "Why The Russia Spy Story Really Matters" (7-9-10).

Interestingly, the RFE/RL article—supposedly about those Russian spies who wandered off the set of "The Coneheads" and ended up pruning hydrangeas in suburbia—is actually not about those spies at all. Instead, the article is all about corruption in the energy industry.

RFE/RL (7-9-10) explains:

"[D]ismissing the latest spy scandal as indication the Russians are ineffectually still fighting the Cold War is to miss the big picture. In fact, Moscow is skillfully advancing its interests in the West, not through intelligence but business, often supported by crafty industrial espionage, influence-buying, and under-the-table deal-making...

In Western Europe, Moscow has operated by making lucrative arrangements with foreign energy companies that become de facto lobbyists for the Kremlin within their own countries.

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