A belated summary, delayed by lots of travel and events.
The main publication for May was my lengthy report for the ECFR, Putin’s Hydra: inside Russia’s intelligence services, which I’m pleased to say has become its most-read product yet. The summary is:
Far from being an all-powerful “spookocracy” that controls the Kremlin, Russia’s intelligence services are internally divided, distracted by bureaucratic turf wars, and often produce poor quality intelligence – ultimately threatening the interests of Vladimir Putin himself.
Drawing on extensive interviews with former and current intelligence officials, “Putin’s hydra: Inside Russia’s intelligence services” explains how the spy agencies really work, and argues that Europe’s view of them is patchy and based on outdated caricatures.
The paper punctures the myth that the agencies are the power behind the throne in Russia. They are firmly subordinated to the Kremlin, and Putin plays them off against one another. They are not a united bloc but a disparate group, whose solidarity disappears as soon as there is an opportunity to make money or avoid blame.
The agencies often replicate each others’ work, engaging in bloody competition rather than sharing intelligence. The need to please the Kremlin and deliver quick results leads to shoddy information gathering and analysis. Intelligence chiefs must shape and sugarcoat the facts to suit the president – or risk their jobs.
Fighting for territory, and locked in a Cold-War mindset where “If the West loses, we gain”, Russia’s spy agencies take extreme measures abroad – even assassinations. Their actions in the West may seem tactically effective but are strategically disastrous, painting Russia as an unpredictable threat.
European governments can moderate the agencies’ actions in their countries by adopting a tougher approach. This means investing not just in in counterintelligence but also addressing the governance weaknesses that facilitate the Kremlin’s campaigns, including placing tougher controls on their sources of dirty money.
‘Spain versus Russia’s kleptocracy,’ ECFR blog, 4 May
‘Don’t Feed the Troll, and Don’t Reward a Tantrum,’ Russia! magazine, 4 May
‘The Russian patriot’s dilemma,’ Business New Europe, 9 May
‘Putinism won’t end with a bang, but a warrant‘, openDemocracy: Russia, 10 May
‘Why the departure of Putin’s chief bodyguard actually matters,’ ECFR blog, 26 May
‘Russia’s pessimism paradox,’ Business New Europe, 30 May
Also, the video of a joint event with Alexander Golts at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Russia’s “New Way of War”: Not so new, and not just war, can be watched here.