23 Nov

Espionage as Method of Modern Hybrid War

My intention is to discuss the question of espionage as one of the measures of an advanced hybrid war. However, the emphasis is in the concept of the advanced hybrid war which by definition is heavily based on non-military warfare like propaganda and misperceptions, covert political-active operations, intelligence, cyber attacks and espionage. The annexation of Crimea in March 2014 by Russia was executed in compliance with the specific doctrine of an advanced hybrid war developed and adapted by the Russian armed forces and security services some time before. Yet evidence about hybrid warfare were experienced earlier in connection of the cyber attacks against Estonia in 2007, or in connection of the discovery of the Red October malware program that had stolen years huge quantities of confidential information for example from the Finnish Foreign Ministry in 2013.

The ongoing hybrid war by Russia is applied more globally being one of the key methods to challenge the liberal international order. Scholars acknowledge that strategic culture of any country is a product of historical experience. Contrary to other BRICS states, the grouping of emerging greater powers to which also Russia belongs, only Russia displays, as a new study by CSIS states, “a propensity to use force to achieve its strategic objectives”. Consequently, “Russia is a revisionist country and is extremely sensitive to Western actions aimed at promoting liberal democratic principles and forging military alliances in what it still perceives as its regional “sphere of interest”. Another strategic goal of Russia to wage a hybrid war is to safeguard a managed democracy.

Since the beginning of Putin’s third term as President in March 2012, Russia has become more aggressive in the fight against “colour revolutions” that could lead to destabilization inside Russia or in the sphere of influence of Russia. Putin has blamed the West and their agents for these revolutions. Already in 2003 he stated that “I do not think there are people in the world who want democracy that could lead to chaos”. Furthermore, in his UN speech last September, Putin stated that “democracy revolutions” cause not only destabilization but also terrorism. For the West, however, the colour revolutions represent people’s peaceful protests against tyranny and corruption.

Already as an acting President Putin launched the military offensive in Chechnya in February 2000 and stated: “Now we start the ending of the break-up of Russia.” In addition to this goal, since the beginning his third term in March 2012, Russia has started to strengthen its grip on its sphere of influence in its neighboring countries and most recently also in the Middle East, in the arctic and the Baltic Sea region. Finland is a member of the EU, and thus an integrated part of the political West, but geopolitically a neighboring country of Russia. Finland being outside NATO and a vulnerable target for any Russian effort to use measures of hybrid warfare for its purposes.

Professor Mark Galeotti of New York University stresses that Russia is utilizing the conditions of globalization and does not envisage the future military conflicts coping the traditional perceptions of wars. Besides Russian special forces and security services officers, the new soldiers of the Russian hybrid army are in his view the Western consultants of Russian companies, well paid journalists working for the Russia-led media houses and channels, pro-Russia “experts” of Russian affairs and former Western Moscow ambassadors willing to facilitate co-operation between Russia and the West not based on long term strategic considerations but short term financial interests. Galleotti considers most of them as “useful idiots” referring to Lenin’s famous remarks about the Western cultural personalities who praised the October revolution.

The Russian scholar Maria Snegovaya of Columbia University stresses that Russia has been using an advanced form of hybrid war in Ukraine that relies heavily on an element of information warfare that the Russians call “reflexive control” of the opinion, like during the civil protests in Euromaidan in the Autumn 2013 and early 2014. In her view Moscow has used this technique skillfully to persuade the U.S. and its European allies to remain largely passive in the face of Russia’s possible use of military means to destroy Ukraine. It is important to recognize that “reflexive control” and information warfare, are developed by the former Soviet Union. We could in Finland exercise historic memory to clarify the concept. During the Cold War, Finland was “finlandized” either you like the concept and its content or not. As a diplomat before 1992, one of my tasks was to explain that no finlandization ever existed. Today we know that there existed finlandization. Yet our country survived the Cold War. Our political system was influenced but not dramatically damaged. For example, no Soviet criticism was allowed in case you wanted to play a role either in politics or public administration. Whether there exists an attitude of reluctance to criticize the Russian behavior in Ukraine is a case in point. The experts of Aleksanteri Institute failed to predict the annexation of Crimea only hours before the annexation really took place. They were not alone. The annexation was a big disappointment to most of the members of the political elite. Finland’s strategic culture is based on historic experiences and geopolitics. This may explain why the concept of finlandization is not liked in Finland. My point here is that finlandization was possible because of Russian hybrid war was efficient, but not efficient enough.

The advanced or modernized doctrine of the hybrid war was created in the Russian army and security services in the course of the last 15 years. In January 2013, Russian Army General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of Staff, in his speech to the Academy of Military Sciences emphasized that there is a tendency “to erase the differences between the states of war and peace”. Then he went on:

“The emphasis in the confrontation methods employed is shifting toward the broad use of political, economic, information, humanitarian and other non-military measures, taken along with the use of populations protest potential. All that is supplemented with covert military measures, such as information warfare activities and the action of special forces. The open use of force, often under the guise of peacekeeping and crisis solution, only occurs at a certain stage, mainly to achieve the ultimate success of the conflict”.

Gerassimow stressed that Russia had not yet developed a real doctrine of a modern hybrid war, but urgently needed one. During the coming months the doctrine was completed. After the annexation of Crimea in March of 2014, Russia may have changed or re-defined its long term strategy to regain its lost big power status and strengthen its sphere of influence. The early plan to take Ukraine was supposed to take place in a peaceful and gradual process ” by the non-military measures of an advanced hybrid war ” in order to eliminate an “orange revolution”. Ukraine was heavily in the hands of the Ukrainian operative contacts of the Russian security services under the Presidency of Viktor Yanukovych since his election 2010. With Yanukovych and pro-Russian operative contacts Ukraine had to adapt the Russian model of a “managed democracy” and bring Ukraine to the Russian-led Eurasian Union.

Based on the present information Russia decided to change its strategy of non-military hybrid war in Ukraine in the summer 2013 when the Putin administration drew the conclusion that Russia is about to loose Ukraine to NATO and Syria in the Middle East to the Western coalition fighting against Bashar al-Assad. Based on information publicly available In September 2013 a major military exercise took place in Kaliningrad consisting of 75,000 Russian and Belorussian special forces as a masked exercise to annex Crimea. It is assumed that revelations of Edward Snowden in June 2013 ” when he was in the custody of the Russian intelligence services in Moscow ” constituted the basis for speeding up of the advanced hybrid war in Ukraine including first ” the use of populations protest potential” as a cover to the military annexation by the “green men”. Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale has emphasized that Putin decided also in the Summer 2013 to start weakening EU as part of his strategy to eliminate “colour revolutions”. I would not like to speculate whether one of the aims in this respect is related to the refugee crisis which emerged in Europe in the summer of 2015. The recent flow of Russian speaking refugees from Russia to Norway may reveal something in this respect in the future.

The advanced hybrid war can be defined also as a “multilayered espionage” including intelligence and political-active operations combined with traditional and modern more technically executed espionage. Today the traditional espionage is being executed by Russia as during the Cold War including even “the sleeping agents” of which the episode in the US in 2010 is a case in point. Furthermore, the escape of Sergey Tretyakov, deputy head of SVR, Russian foreign intelligence, in the Russian Permanent Mission to the UN in New York, in October 2000 in the United States, is also a clear indication of this practice. The Russian view seems to be that Colonel Tretyakov revealed the ten sleeping agents in the neighborhood of Boston 2009-2010 who had been operative from the early days of the Putin presidency since 2000. Tretyakov died in 2010 a few days after the remarks of Putin that “the traitors will end either with alcohol or overdoses”. There is no evidence that the Russian intelligence services would have been involved. By the way, Tretjakov revealed during his briefings by CIA the name of a Finnish ambassador who had been their paid operative contact “Phoenix” between 1979 and 1994. Are there Russian “sleeping agents” in Finland, Estonia or Sweden? The head of the presidential administration Sergey Ivanov was the youngest General in KGB and served in Helsinki between 1985 and 1993, and earlier in Kenya, Sweden and perhaps Great Britain. He must be fully informed about KGB’s and FSB’s as well as GRU’s Finnish operative contacts as well as sleeping agents working in Finland.

History is needed to cope with this problem. Dr. Riku Keski-Rauska has revealed that late Georg C. Ehrnrooth, MP of the Finnish Parliament was a subject of an political-active operation of KGB with the aim to discredit him in Finnish political life. KGB’s Finnish operative contact “Samuel”, Editor in Chief of Päivän Sanomat, Eero A. Santala, in close cooperation with Albert Akulov, KGB officer and diplomat at the Soviet embassy in Helsinki, in March 1972, labeled Ehrnrooth as a right-wing extremist. Akulov was declared as a persona non grata in 1973 but as a result of his effort to recruit the driver of the Turkish ambassador. Akulov was allowed to come back for an unknown reason in 1984. Based on Stasi archives and Mitrokhin KGB- archives we know that KGB and Stasi co-operated to implement “political-active measures” either to support some politicians, like Kalevi Sorsa or Ahti Karjalainen, or discredit others like Pekka Korvenheimo, perhaps Tuure Junnila and Johannes Virolainen, Veikko Vennamo in addition to Ehrnrooth. KGB was able to exercise the strategy of divide et impera in Finland in the 1970s and 1980s. I think we have not revealed but the tip of the iceberg in this respect. It is clear without saying that the Soviet hybrid war was a method that influenced Finnish politics and foreign policy during the Cold War.

I do not want to take position whether the Russian intelligence organs in Helsinki are able to resist Finnish membership in NATO but it is well known that one of the main aims of Russia is to resist NATO enlargement of Finland and Sweden. I remember very well the parliamentary elections in March 2003 when MP Jaakko Laakso (Left Alliance) was the leading voice in the campaign to prevent or ridicule any discussion about the Finnish NATO membership. Based on the Mitrokhin KGB archives, Laakso was recruited by KGB Helsinki Residentura in 1973 with the code name “Jan” as a “trusted contact” but handed over to another Residentura in 1976. Based on the Mitrokhin KGB-archives for example between 1972-84 there were perhaps about 100 agents of KGB in the political parties, labour unions, foreign ministry, other public administrations, trading companies, media and police. Furthermore the East German Military Intelligence (BA/NVA)had for example 1987 more than 12 trusted Finnish contacts in Helsinki based. My guess is that a number of former KGB and Stasi sources or even recruited agents or trusted contacts, could have restored their co-operation with FSB, GRU or SVR even Today. Finland has missed the process of lustration that should have been done after the end of the Cold War.

Today the aim of the Russian “intelligence diplomats” – i.e., spies – is to pressure Finnish politicians not to (1) encourage any kind of positive debate on NATO membership, (2) not to criticize Russia harshly on Human Rights violations, (3) to develop economic ties, and (4) to strengthen bilateral relations with Finland at the expense of the credibility of Finland inside the EU. Those are a few examples of keeping Finland within the sphere of influence of Russia despite. As far as I am informed, the Russian intelligence is also active with respect to the political-active operations with the aim on the one hand to support some of the politicians who are ready for closer co-operation and on the other hand discredit those ones who, for example, have expressed critical views about human rights violations in Russia or supported NATO membership. It is a basic rule that the Russians themselves are never directly involved. We also remember the way Russian media welcomed the election victory of the Center Party and the True Finns as an achievement to stop the process of Finnish NATO membership last spring.

The advanced hybrid war waged by Russia will be a significant challenge to Finland and to the West as a whole, but once again, we should also learn from our own mistakes to be prepared to meet this challenge with success. In the short term, a modus vivendi between Europe and Russia is needed including a diplomatic solution in Ukraine, safeguard NATO territory in the east and the Balkans and stability in the North of Europe. The Office of the Prime Minister of Finland has ordered Aleksanteri Institute to prepare a study about the hybrid war and Russian strategy to be completed next August. I welcome the project although I think the timing would have been more perfect ten years ago and have some reservations whether Aleksanteri Institute is the best possible choice with respect to its record.