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Intelligence agencies warn that Russia is planning to sabotage Europe: Risk has 'significantly increased'

The Kremlin is carrying out covert operations in several European countries. NATO expressed public concern and promised to counter Russian influence.

El presidente de Rusia, Vladímir Putin, asiste a la reunión anual ampliada de la Junta del Ministerio del Interior de Rusia para resumir los resultados del trabajo de las autoridades de asuntos internos en 2023.

(Cordon Press)

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Europe is on alert. Russia is making plans to sabotage much of the continent, according to reports from think tanks and various intelligence agencies. As its troops are waging war in Ukraine, Russian intelligence networks have been reinforced in European territory.

The incorrect prediction of a quick victory in Ukraine and the expulsion of more than 600 agents who operated under diplomatic credentials, among other failures, left the Russian espionage apparatus decimated. At the heart of the new reform were a restructuring plan and new recruitment strategies, including the enlistment of freelancers and Russians who escaped after the invasion.

"We assess the risk of state-controlled acts of sabotage to be significantly increased" said the head of German national intelligence, Thomas Haldenwang, in statements reported by The Financial Times. Last Friday, the German government accused Moscow of being behind a group of hackers that carried out a number of cyber attacks against the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). This Monday, it called its ambassador to Russia, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, for consultations.

The German government strongly condemns a campaign by the state-controlled Russian cyber group ART28 directed against members of the governing board of the Social Democratic Party of Germany.

The Czech Republic was also targeted the hacking group APT28. The investigation carried out by Czech and German authorities revealed an attack last year via emails from senior members of the group. It also targeted other sectors such as arms and aerospace. Some Czech institutions also suffered attacks from the group, according to authorities.

Examples of foreign collaboration are abound. Less than two weeks ago, local media reported that a young British man was accused of planning a fire at a company linked to Ukraine. The prosecution claims that Dylan Earl, 20, was recruited by Russian spy services. At the beginning of the year, Microsoft accused Russian state-sponsored cyber spies of spying on some of its corporate emails and trying to use the information to access private services.

NATO concerned

Germany, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the United Kingdom have all been victims of "malign activities" that "deeply concerned" the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the alliance acknowledged earlier this month.

The organization also noted that the attacks are part of an "intensifying" Russian campaign in NATO territories. Three European agencies agree, according to The Financial Times, that the Kremlin is becoming more aggressive and better organized in operations such as covert bombings, arson and infrastructure damage. Russia has little interest, they say, in the lives of civilians.

"We will act individually and collectively to address these actions, and will continue to coordinate closely," promised NATO, warning that "Russia's actions will not deter Allies from continuing to support Ukraine."

What does Russia want?

Interference in GPS navigation systems, sabotage of facilities such as factories and transportion, the enlistment of local groups... "The patterns of behavior match predictions of what Russia would attempt to do in advance of an open conflict with NATO" says analyst Keir Giles, from British think tank Chatham House. All these tactics could be part, according to the analyst, of a strategy that would seek to immobilize Europe "without firing a shot."

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) stated in a recent report that Russia's goals, broadly speaking, are to polarize populations, mobilize groups that support related elites and undermine the support of adversary governments. It also aims to recruit local politicians for the Russian cause and raise political tension to generate crises.

"Russian approaches are often crude," acknowledges the report. The lack of self-criticism is one of the most serious failures of the Russian apparatus. However, "the Russians persist." Initial failures can become successes.

For this reason, RUSI warns that Europe must intensify its counterespionage operations and look beyond its immediate surroundings: Russia is spreading its influence around the world. In Africa, it seeks to achieve "colonial" control of the continent's resources. In Cuba, as Voz Media reported, it has formed an alliance on multiple fronts with the Castro regime.

"This poses threats far beyond Ukraine," warns the institute. "It is critical that Western states rise to meet that challenge."