Russia’s spies are operating across Europe and in Britain, according to one academic
Operating with a “wartime mindset” throughout Europe, Russian agents are said to be launching cyber attacks, infiltrating governments and killing dissenters Mark Galeotti has warned.
The senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague says under former KGB officer Vladimir Putin, Russia’s agents are now more bloodthirsty than their Cold War predecessors.
Dr Galeotti warned Russia has a “network” of sympathisers already in place in Britain and has silenced potential whistleblowers.
They’re trying to build up what are called agents of influence – people who voice matters in certain circles in the UK
Agents have targeted MPs and businesses as they build an army of spies and contacts to be Putin’s eyes and ears in the West.
He told The Sun Online: “They’re trying to build up what are called agents of influence – people who voice matters in certain circles in the UK.
“Which MPs might be keen to be part of an intervention? Which businesses? Who can be counted on to speak up against sanctions?
“It’s about carefully building up these networks of who can be useful in speaking up now – but who in the future can be useful in more direct ways.
“Then if things get even worse between Britain and Russia, all of a sudden that’s when the Russians have got these networks in place.
“It is not anything that’s going to hit tomorrow, but the Russians are not going to hit today or tomorrow – but they’re building networks up just in case.”
Since 2010 when MI5 warned “the threat from Russian espionage continues to be significant and is similar to the Cold War” there has been “a continued uptick in the scale and aggressiveness of Russian operations” across Europe.
Under former KGB officer, President Vladimir Putin, Russian spies are building networks in the UK
Made up of four main agencies, Russia’s intelligence services have close ties to President Putin.
Dr Galeotti’s report on Russian espionage concludes Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, the FSB, which was once headed by Putin and is the main successor to the KGB, is the most powerful and has carried out assassinations.
Russia’s military intelligence service, known as GRU is known for its “aggressive and risk-taking culture” that reflects its military background.
Putin joined the KGB in 1975 and went on to head the FSB briefly in the 90s
Dr Galeotti wrote: “Perhaps the most striking of the agencies’ external operations are their “active measures”: everything from assassination to political subversion. At the most extreme end are targeted killings and direct attacks, generally conducted by the GRU or FSB.”
He adds both agencies’ main aims of such activities are to “eliminate direct threats or to create chaos.”
As well as assassinations the spy network also uses the web. Dr Galeotti wrote: Where guns or bombs are not called for, sometimes a computer virus or directed denial-of-service (DDOS) attack will work.”
President Obama and Putin have clashed over suspected spies in the US
The FSB is reportedly the most powerful Russian intelligence agency
Russia has poured money into its spy agencies since 2000, according to Dr Galeotti.
He said: “Particularly since 2014 and the Crimea invasion Putin has to some extent taken his boys off the leash.
“How aggressive they are willing to be – are they going to take risks? It’s absolutely clear – you talk to people in Moscow and they make no bones about it.
“You talk to people who are either in the services or in the realm of security services and pretty much one thing they agree is that Russia is already at war.
“It’s not a shooting war, but it is a war of geopolitics and trying to undermine our systems.”
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It comes as tensions between Russia and the West escalate after President Barack Obama ordered 35 Russian suspected spies to be kicked out of the US and imposed sanctions on the FSB and GRU over their involvement in hacking US political groups in the 2016 presidential election.
Russia has denied all allegations of hacking with Putin saying he will not retaliate to the White House’s latest move until Donald Trump takes office next month.
In a statement, the Russian president said: “We will not expel anyone.
“Further steps towards the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry out.”