Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image

The Sunday Telegraph: Kremlin tactics echo Cold War

Sunday Telegraph image

(Putin’s Russia is not playing by the Western rules it adopted after the collapse of the Soviet Union)

By Olga Craig
Last Updated: 12:04am BST 22/07/2007Page 1 of 3

If the stand-off between Britain and Russia has brought back memories of the Cold War, then that is just how Vladimir Putin wants it. Olga Craig investigates the ruthless tactics employed by the Kremlin as it attempts to restore the country’s faded might. 
The two pilots and their navigators had just brewed fresh coffee when the red phone rang in the corner of the crew room at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire. The voice on the other end said a single word: “Scramble!” The instant they heard the order, just before dawn last Tuesday, the Quick Reaction Alert teams hauled on their bulky flight equipment and sprinted across the runway, coffee cups tumbling in their wake. Within minutes they were strapped into the cockpits of their Tornado F4 interceptors and set for take-off.

They faced the prospect of a highly unusual confrontation. Radar operators at RAF Fylingdales, the early warning station 20 miles away on Lockton High Moor, had just identified two unknown aircraft speeding towards British airspace as Russian TupolevTu 95 “Bear” long-range bombers. Attempted incursions by the Russians were common during the days of the Soviet Union, but have been rare since.

At the last moment the bombers changed course, soaring in an arc and heading back towards their base on the Kolea Peninsula, high in the Arctic Circle. But the message was clear: Britain need have no doubt it was now engaged in a Cold War-style stand-off with Russia. In case the message was missed, Russian bombers again came close to British airspace on Friday.

It was last Monday, a day before the first air incident, that a fraught diplomatic row between Downing Street and the Kremlin had broken out, sparked by Russia’s refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB body guard whom Britain accuses of the murder of the dissident former agent and British citizen Alexander Litvinenko in a London sushi bar last November. In retaliation, the Prime Minister had ordered the expulsion of four Russian diplomats.

After a tense few days, Russia delivered its direct response on Thursday, a “targeted and appropriate” expulsion of four of Britain’s diplomats from Moscow, plus an announcement it would no longer co-operate with the West in its war on terror and would withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.  
It could have been worse. But the affair has exposed a deeper and more disturbing truth. Russia under President Vladimir Putin, a former lieutenant-colonel in the KGB, is no longer playing by the Western rules it adopted following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

What amounts to a dictatorship has silenced media critics and abandoned any attempt at upholding human rights. The country is run by a cabal of former KGB agents who are aggressively determined to return Russia to centre stage as a world power.

The threat to the West, say experts, has been vastly underestimated. As Edward Lucas, who will soon publish a book entitled The New Cold War and How to Win It, says: “Russia under Putin is a pirate state that unashamedly flaunts its contempt for the law. We have seen nuclear terrorism on the streets of London. They killed a UK citizen and endangered dozens more. Now Russia is brazenly refusing to extradite the prime suspect.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the FSB [the successor to the KGB] runs Russia. It has throttled democracy. It is gobbling up businesses. Now it is hunting the Kremlin’s foes abroad.”

Litvinenko, an outspoken critic of Putin, was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210. Lugovoi swiftly became the chief suspect and Downing Street demanded his extradition. Putin’s response was that it was against Russia’s constitution to do so.

Then, shortly before Mr Brown ordered the four expulsions, came another murder attempt, only revealed late last week. Litvinenko’s close friend and sponsor Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian oligarch who holds British citizenship and who has repeatedly infuriated Putin by calling for insurrection in his native land, was targeted by a Russian hitman at London’s Hilton Hotel.

MI5 and MI6 intercepted intelligence about the plot, which was to have been carried out in the past fortnight, and sent Berezovsky out of the country. The assassin, who was accompanied by a child as “cover”, was deported because police could not find enough evidence with which to charge him.

Berezovsky, a 61-year-old billionaire, fled Russia in 2000 when Putin cracked down on oligarchs of his ilk. The Russian president has demanded Berezovsky’s extradition to face criminal charges in Russia.

In pursuit of Berezovsky and other British-based critics, Russia maintains an astonishingly large number of spies in the UK. Glenmore Trenear Harvey, from Eye Spy magazine, estimates there are about 36 intelligence officers active in Russia’s embassy.
Currently Russia is demanding the extradition of 21 nationals – legal costs for just seven of them have already cost the taxpayer more than £3 million – who include Alexandre Temerko, Dmitry Maruyev and Natalia Chernysheva, all former leading lights in Yukos, the Russian oil company seized by the Kremlin.

Alex Goldfarb, a close friend of Berezovsky and co-author of Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB, says: “Neutralising the ‘London 21’ group has been a priority since 2002. First the Russian government asked the British nicely to give up Boris Berezovsky. After the legal options were exhausted, the hit squads began to arrive.”

Trenear Harvey shares the view of many among the intelligence services that Russia is now under the control of its own secret service. It has been estimated that 58 per cent of Putin’s senior officials are drawn from the security services, compared with just five per cent under Gorbachev.

“Putin is surrounded by siloviki, a nationalistic bunch of former security and intelligence officers who had their heyday during the Soviet Cold War era,” he says. “Putin has promoted them to positions of power. They want to regain Russia’s former status. They have become a renewed threat for Western counter-espionage and will attempt to secure military, scientific, IT and commercial secrets. It is a game they know and they have missed playing it.”

It is certainly true that much of what drives Putin is what he considers the “shame” of Gorbachev’s perestroika in the 1980s and Yeltsin’s shift to democracy in the 1990s.

“The Kremlin wants Russia to be seen as a powerful state, after all those humiliations we survived,” says Sergei Markov, spokesman for the Russian Public Chamber, the government watchdog that monitors legislation. “Recent events such as the Kosovo issue and the anti-missile defence placements in Eastern Europe were all incited by the West to challenge the Kremlin. So we have had no choice but to show strength.”

According to Georgy Arbatov, former head of the Duma’s defence committee, Putin’s determination to make a swaggering return to the world stage was initially the fault of the Americans. First the United States ignored Russia’s objections to invading Iraq and then encroached on Russia’s traditional spheres of influence in the Baltics, central Asia, the Caucasus and Ukraine.

The next turning point was when Washington-backed “colour” revolutions toppled Moscow-friendly regimes in Georgia and the Ukraine in 2003-2004. Suddenly, the enemy was at the gate, installing pro-Western governments in Russia’s back yard. “It was a profound shock,” says Stanislav Belkovsky, a Kremlin-connected analyst and head of the Moscow-based Institute of National Strategy. “Putin’s circle became convinced that they would be the next regime to fall.”

Putin quietly began building his arsenal. Between now and 2015 he will spend £100 billion on 1,000 new aircraft and helicopters, 4,000 new tanks and armoured vehicles and a new submarine fleet. Last month he signed a £1.5 billion arms deal with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and sold a £500 million missile defence system to the Iranians, a nuclear reactor to Burma and missiles to Syria.

But while in the past military might and nuclear weapons formed the core of Soviet Cold War power, today it has a much more useful strategic weapon: its energy reserves. And it has not shied away from using them as a means to reassert its hegemony over former Soviet states, blackmailing them by cutting off energy supplies in winter.

The fact is that money speaks louder than ideology in modern Russia. It rivals Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer and has the world’s largest natural gas supply with 1,680 trillion cubic feet – nearly twice that of the next largest, Iran. It is petrodollars that are financing its rearmaments. Its oil-based economy is booming and recently British-Russian commerce has been surging, although companies such as Shell and BP have been victims of an aggressive energy grab by the Kremlin.

Tomorrow the tussle will cross the Channel to the foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels, where Britain and Russia will vie for support from key countries. Britain is pessimistic about garnering allies since many are now reliant on Russia’s Gazprom for their energy. José Sócrates, Portugal’s prime minister and the current EU president, has indicated he will avoid confronting Russia, while the French oil company Total recently secured a 25 per cent stake in developing Gazprom’s Arctic Shtokman field.

It is Germany, however, which depends on Russia for 40 per cent of its energy, that gives most cause for concern. Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, signed a £2.7 billion deal with Gazprom in 2005. Shortly afterwards, when he was voted out of power, Schröder took a post as chairman of the Nordstream project, a £4.5 billion joint venture of which Gazprom owns 51 per cent.

The ruthless tactics being employed by Putin in his quest to restore Russian might on the world stage are evident. Britain is the first country to become entangled in his web – it will not be the last.

Additional reporting by Bojan Pancevski, Sean Rayment and Tony Patterson

This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.