The FSB plays a bigger role in Russia’s shadow war

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From the Ukrainian point of view, there are many reasons to carry out dark operations against the Russian aggressor. The recent work of the Ukrainian secret services — including the suspected murder of the ultranationalist Daria Dugina, strikes in the western region of Belgorod in Russia and, even more spectacularly, the October 8 attack on the critical Kerch Bridge – have harmed the Kremlin’s war effort, undermined its national reputation, and shown ordinary Russians that they can no longer pretend the war is in a galaxy far, far away.

In this regard, Ukraine’s plan has worked. The public effect in Russia has indeed been remarkable – Putin regularly references Dugina’s assassination in his speeches, and the spectacular bridge attack has become one of the most debated topics in the military and society. Russian (other than the clumsy mobilization of the regime).

The crisis, and it is indeed a huge crisis for Russian society, always presents an opportunity for society’s adventurers, and its lucky ones. This could explain the rise in public activity of Ramzan Kadyrov and Putin’s leader, mercenary leader and troll farmer, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has become increasingly vocal since the start of Ukraine’s successful military offensives from September, publicly attacking the military and seeking to increase their visibility and credibility with the Kremlin .

Even so, the assassination of Dugina and the attack on the Kerch Bridge represent a larger crisis, since these events occurred either on Russian soil or in lands that Putin annexed.

This too offers an opportunity for adventurers.

The FSB, Russia’s supposedly ubiquitous security service, is now trying to turn the crisis to its advantage. It has some catching up to do – the FSB’s reputation was shattered early in the war when its fifth service’s atrocious intelligence completely failed Ukraine’s unity and fighting capability. The agency hopes it can use this new situation to improve its position in the eyes of the only man whose opinion matters – Vladimir Putin.

FSB generals have long enjoyed immunity from the results of their incompetence. For example, Putin does not punish his security services for failing to prevent terrorist attacks. It’s now an old tradition, dating back to the early 2000s, when the Lubyanka determinedly portrayed every criticism as an attack by Western-funded liberals seeking to destroy the Russian state – a version that Putin has always accepted for cash. He is less forgiving of the behavior of the Lubyanka generals who threatened the political stability of his regime.

Since neither the death of Dugina nor the partial destruction of the bridge caused a political crisis, the FSB is for the time being safe from Putin’s wrath. Moreover, the FSB did not provide close protection for Dugina and her ultra-nationalist father, nor was it responsible for the security of the bridge – the latter being entrusted to Rosgvardia.

The FSB generals also knew that Putin would accept their arguments as to why the attacks had succeeded – after all, they had been trained in the same school. It’s easy to imagine the conversation between FSB director Bortnikov and Putin about the bridge – lots of talk about powerful Western spy agencies and the help they’re supposed to provide to help the Ukrainians attack Russia . Since the attacks, Putin himself has repeated these arguments in public. (It should be noted that US officials quoted by the New York Times said they had no advance warning of the Dugina attack and reprimanded the Ukrainians afterwards.)

It is very clear that the attack on the bridge angered Putin and that he feels threatened when it is seen that his administration cannot shape events. He will certainly ask to be reassured that everything is now under control.

This presents the FSB with an opening. After the assassination of Dugina, the FSB immediately went into action: the car bombing was not only investigated in record time, but the results were presented to the public in a very dramatic way , including CCTV footage. The agency was once again surprisingly quick in its investigation of the bridge attack. There was an equally swift FSB investigation this time too.

The agency emphasizes its work on homeland security. On the same day as the explosion, the FSB released a video of a man with two Russian-made Igla man-portable surface-to-air missiles in the Moscow region, describing him as a Ukrainian agent. Despite several significant flaws in the FSB’s version of events, there may still be some truth – the ORU (Operativno-Rozysknoye Upravlenie or the Operational Research Department) of the Service for the Protection of the Constitutional System and the Fight against Terrorism , is one of the most capable departments within the FSB. And the Ukrainian secret service certainly launched operations on Russian soil.

The FSB, of course, is playing a game with the Ukrainian secret service, sending a message that the agent networks built by its counterparts in Kyiv are bound to be exposed very quickly.

But it’s also a signal for Putin: we’re the people you can trust to keep your diet safe. This has worked several times before; this is the main reason why the FSB has accumulated such enormous powers throughout the 20 years of Putin’s rule, and it seems to be working now.

The security of the Crimean Bridge, a structure of great symbolic and military importance, has now been handed over by Putin to the FSB. And there is no question of consequences for the agency, even if it was the border troops, an integral part of the FSB, who let all these agents into the country, as well as weapons, ammunition and explosive devices ( the suspected Kerch truck bomb contained one to two tons of explosives and was heading for Crimea from Russia.)

The FSB has decided to take greater control of Russian security. It’s a bureaucratic success, but it might not look so smart if Ukrainian spy rings are able to hit high-profile targets again.

This article was originally published by the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Opinions expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.

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