News / Europe

After Crimea, West's Spies, Armies to Raise Russia Focus

FILE - A man walks under an umbrella during a snowfall in Red Square in central Moscow March 31, 2014.
FILE - A man walks under an umbrella during a snowfall in Red Square in central Moscow March 31, 2014.
Reuters
As Western states enter a new era of potential confrontation with Moscow, they face an awkward reality.
 
A quarter-century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the level of expertise on Russia in intelligence agencies, armed forces and governments has diminished drastically.
 
Rising concern over Russian government espionage - including increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks and computer spyware - had sparked some modest renewed interest in recent years, primarily in counterintelligence.
 
But the way Washington and its allies were so blindsided by President Vladimir Putin's military seizure and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, is seen demonstrating a dramatic need for renewed focus.
 
The bottom line, current and former officials say, is that with the post-September 11, 2001, focus on Islamist militancy and the Middle East and later the rise of China, the former Soviet Union was simply not seen a career enhancing specialty.
 
Compared to the Cold War era, when most of Russian territory was off-limits to Westerners, regional specialists say there is no shortage of expertise among academics and in the business community today. But it has so far gone untapped.
 
“There is a good supply of Russia experts out there - people who have lived there with lots of good experience - but the demand has just not been there from government,” says Fiona Hill, U.S. national intelligence officer for Russia in 2006-9 and now director for the Center for the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution.
 
“The Pentagon in particular has lost a lot of its Russia expertise, as has the White House,” says Hill.
 
More of those outside experts are now likely to find work in defense ministries and intelligence agencies, current and former officials say. But in an era of constrained budgets, focusing on Russia is likely to mean redeploying resources from elsewhere.
 
Until the Ukraine crisis that did not seem a natural choice, people with knowledge of internal discussions say.
 
“The main problem is one of capacity at a time when counterterrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Arab awakening have taken up so much energy,” said one former Western intelligence officer on condition of anonymity.
 
Russia is primarily a threat to its immediate neighborhood only, officials and analysts say, but still one requiring greater vigilance than over the last two decades.

Those who know most worry
 
Capacity alone is far from everything. The West's legions of Soviet specialists, with few exceptions, missed the warning signs of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.
 
Still, officials and analysts say there is a growing feeling that the West should have done more to increase its Russia focus particularly as Moscow's defense spending rose some 30 percent after its 2008 war with Georgia.
 
“The people who know the most about Russia's defense capability have tended to take it the most seriously,” says former Pentagon official Elbridge Colby, now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
 
Some central and east European and Nordic states have long focused much if not all of their intelligence and defense resources on Russia. Poland and Sweden in particular are seen leading the pack. Others are now catching up.
 
One reason Washington and its allies were so surprised by events in Crimea was that during Russia's military build-up in the region, there was little or no signals chatter indicating an imminent takeover, intelligence sources say.
 
Still, Moscow had very publicly mobilized its forces several days earlier ostensibly for an exercise. That such obvious clues were missed, some say, suggests analysts had lost their edge in assessing and predicting the actions of the Russian leadership.
 
While U.S. officials are now monitoring closely a Russian troop buildup along Ukraine's eastern border, Western experts differ over whether Putin plans to invade the region.
 
Spy ring, spyware
 
For the United States, two espionage incidents in the last decade helped draw counterintelligence attention back to Moscow's suspected activities.
 
The first was the 2008 discovery of sophisticated spy software dubbed Agent BTZ that infected Department of Defense computers after apparently entering from a USB drive later found in the car park of a U.S. military base in the Middle East.
 
Pentagon officials spent months cleaning systems and the attack is still seen one of the most serious breaches of U.S. government IT security. Although Washington never officially laid blame for the intrusion, several U.S. officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Moscow was the prime suspect.
 
Much higher profile was the 2010 arrest and expulsion of 10 “deep cover” spies in the United States including Anna Chapman, who became a Russian television presenter and celebrity. That followed information from a Russian defector and a major FBI investigation. There is little evidence the spies were hugely successful.
 
In Britain, security agencies began paying more attention to Russia after the 2007 death of Putin opponent Alexander Litvinenko from radioactive poisoning.
 
Until recently, however, military intelligence specialists were simply too busy with operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
 
Russia's Crimea annexation may revive military specialisms such as tank and submarine warfare neglected during the decade-long campaign in mountainous, landlocked Afghanistan.
 
“Antisubmarine warfare is something that has been far too sidelined for the simple reason that the Taliban do not have submarines,” said one former senior European officer.
 
Some of the problems in understanding Russia, however, may be societal rather than military.
 
“For a country that is so patriotic, we can be highly intolerant of others' patriotism,” former Pentagon official Colby said of the United States. “We just don't see their patriotism as particularly legitimate.

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine Could Be in Use by January

U.S. Homeland Security says all passengers arriving in US from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone must fly into one of five airports equipped with enhanced screening for Ebola More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid