The correspondent of the British The Guardian Luke Harding, author of two books about modern Russia Mafia State and Shadow State, spoke in an interview with Ukrainian media about his experience of working in Russia and about the methods used by the Russian authorities to influence the situation in Western countries in your benefit. NI publishes excerpts from this conversation.
About Russian democracy
When I arrived in Moscow after my work in Berlin and then in Delhi, I thought that Russia is such a semi-democratic country. Very quickly I realized that I was mistaken - this is not democracy at all, but a corrupt and aggressive revisionist government, which is headed by absolutely inhuman people. I was finally confirmed in this idea when our apartment in Moscow was broken into several times. The British Embassy told us that this was organized by the FSB. I was added to the black list, in the coming years I will no longer be able to get to Moscow. It is clear that the Kremlin does not have much sympathy for me - they not only expelled me from the country, but also constantly attack on social networks and other media with the help of their army of trolls sitting in St. Petersburg. But I am also disliked in America, at least in the Trump administration.
I am absolutely sure that the image of Russia that I create in my books and articles - the image of a "dark kingdom" that seeks to reshape the whole world in its own way - is true. It is unpleasant, of course, that truthful information is often twisted and not allowed to flow, but it is necessary to continue, no matter what, because there are still too many politicians in the world who base their activities on lies.
Today's Russian spies do not look at all the way they are portrayed in old films: they are not gloomy soldiers dressed in tough uniforms, but ordinary people, oligarchs, businessmen, students - anyone. They are smart, well dressed and well read, they love their children. And the work they do behind the scenes is real espionage for the Kremlin, its espionage assets, which are in more or less official relations with it.
It seems to me that Western society, including my country, has not yet fully realized the scale of this phenomenon. Recently, the Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Parliament published a large document that was called the "Report on Russia". It says that London has become "Londongrad", becoming a comfortable haven for money laundering by people from Moscow. Not all of them are necessarily bad people or criminals, but many of them have close ties to the Kremlin.
The report also says that there is a whole network of Britons - lawyers, real estate workers, PR people and others - who were hired by people from the Kremlin to advance Russian geopolitical goals and objectives. It seems to me that this situation is rather dangerous, because against the backdrop of the economic downturn, everyone has suffered: Western countries need money, they need new investments. Plus we are all suffering from the coronavirus pandemic. And then we get money from Moscow. But this money is dirty: it always comes bundled with certain political goals.
Relations between Russia and the West
I think that in order to successfully counter Russia, we all need to first understand what is really going on and what is going on in the head of Putin and his entourage. You know, it seems to me that Vladimir Putin is not interested in a development of events that would be beneficial for everyone. He is a player who always prefers an antagonistic approach. Putin is sure that what is bad for Ukraine or the West is automatically beneficial for Russia. And vice versa.
As during the Cold War, he sees Russia as a state surrounded on all sides by enemies and in a state of permanent unofficial war with Western countries. Therefore, world politicians first of all need to understand this.
Of course, no one in the world wants to openly conflict with Russia, especially after what happened to Ukraine. Therefore, sanctions remain the most appropriate response. In relation to some of the Kremlin figures, they are already working, but this is not enough. Stricter and broader sanctions are needed that would cover their family members, including bans on travel around the world, freezing bank accounts.
We should not perceive Putin as some kind of omniscient "evil genius" who sits somewhere in his bunker in front of a control panel with flashing red lights, and then simply presses a certain button, and at that moment something happens in Kiev. Or London, Washington, and so on.
This is not true. Putin is acting according to the principle "let's try this and see what happens." In this he just follows the traditional methods of the KGB - to sniff out the situation and identify vulnerabilities that exist in other societies, other countries, in order to then take advantage of them. Therefore, Putin himself does not light the fire - he simply sneaks up on it and adds oil to it.
This is exactly what we saw in America with the Black Lives Matter movement. These radical tensions exist independently of Putin, but what he is trying to achieve is to create a state of "cold" civil war in America - ethnic, political confrontation, and so on - in order to exacerbate existing problems. I must say that Donald Trump in this case acts as his accomplice, but in the rank of apprentice, because Vladimir Putin is so successful in kindling the flames of confrontation that he can calmly observe the results of his destructive activities from the outside.
Here you need to understand that exactly the same impact of Kremlin spies and Internet trolls that we saw in America happened in the UK, in my country, because Putin hates the European Union and strongly supports Brexit.
Because he believes that Britain's exit from the EU will primarily harm Brussels, harm the European community, and at the same time weaken the UK economically and politically.
About Russian espionage
So what the whole world saw in 2016 was, first of all, a large-scale, broadest campaign in social networks, the purpose of which was to "push" the sharp, painful points, such as the influx of emigrants to the EU from Syria and the like, so that promote messages in favor of Brexit, for leaving the European community.
But in addition to media influence, there have also been cases of classic espionage involving the Russian embassy in London and even the ambassador of the period, Alexander Yakovenko, who met in London with a number of key figures in the British exit campaign. One of these people made a huge political donation of approximately £ 9 million, and Yakovenko invited the man, named Aaron Banks, to make a gold deal and invest in a project in Siberia. Then the ambassador offered Mr. Banks a diamond deal, and then a gold deal again, and so on.
In the summer of 2016, a Russian spy was even found in the winning party, which was in favor of leaving the EU. It is extremely sad that the British government, headed by Boris Johnson, does not seek to investigate the incident, since they themselves support Brexit, and for political reasons are trying to hush up the case.