Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

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Commentary

During Ukraine war, Russian espionage falls short

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Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

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In the wake of the Ukraine war, Europe has expelled hundreds of Russian diplomats. NATO member Germany believes this has hampered Russia’s espionage activities, forcing them to resort to blackmail and cyberattacks. Recently, NATO General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the alliance will take tougher action against Russian spies in response to Putin’s “hostile activities.”

Watch the above video as Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan argues that Russia’s espionage strategy — effective during the Soviet and post-Soviet eras — no longer works, and how the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Europe has rendered traditional Russian spy tactics ineffective.


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The following is an excerpt from Peter’s June 20 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

If you ask a fifth grader what the key to being a good spy is, they would likely respond with some variation of being sneaky or concealing your identity. Well, on today’s episode of “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader,” we’re placing Russian spies in the hot seat.

Since the start of the Ukraine war, Russian spies throughout Europe have been disappointing those fifth graders’ expectations. With most European nations collectively deciding to share information and expel Russian spies from their embassies, Russian intelligence operations in the West have been experiencing quite the disruption.

In places like Germany, the Russians are replacing their spies with bribes and payments to individuals for information. Obviously this isn’t a great strategy, but a little info is better than none. As for those spies who had their identities revealed, they’ll still be of use to Russian intelligence… just on domestic assignments from now on.

Everybody, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Colorado. Today we’re doing a little spy edition. The news is that Thomas Oh, the weighing of the verfasser on Schultz no erfassung shirts for fastening shirts. That’s basically the German equivalent of the FBI responsible for domestic security. Anyway, he has said that most Russian attempts to achieve espionage operations within Germany in the last few months have been basically the Russians just paying people. There’s any number of ways that intelligence services can gather information and paying people has always been a classic, but it’s usually less effective, because then you’re reliant on the people continuing to give you good stuff, and if you pay them, they will come up with stuff to give you even if it’s not good stuff, and if you stop paying them, there is a chance that they will turn you in. So it’s generally pretty far down the list in terms of reliability, better ways just to have your own assets in place. And the way that the Russians have normally done this, the way most countries do this, is by taking their intelligence assets and giving them diplomatic cover. So you basically say this person is a diplomat, when really they’re trying to steal industrial secrets. The Russians have always, always always excelled at this and used it heavily, because they don’t have the technical skills to maybe do something like electronic eavesdropping, like the United States tends to prefer and they can’t attack it from a mass approach like the Chinese can, because they just don’t have the people. So you focus on a handful of highly trained people that you put into every single embassy you possibly can. That strategy worked very well for the Soviets and worked even better for the post Soviet Russians until the Ukraine war, when the Europeans collectively decided that the Russians were persona non grata in Europe, they took some steps. Now normally, there’s this ongoing cat and mouse game among the Russians and the western states and everyone else when it comes to diplomatic espionage. Basically, you’re always trying to keep track of the personalities that are involved, the potential spies, and every once awhile you do a little bit of purge, but you don’t purge everyone that you know, making the other side wonder if their agent was really exposed or not. And it’s a grand old game. But one of the problems you have with this strategy is you don’t necessarily share your list of spies that you’ve uncovered with everybody else, because maybe you don’t trust their information control systems. And if it got out that you had identified one and not the other, then all of a sudden your counterintelligence operations are a bit bunk. Well, with the Ukraine war, basically, the Europeans decided to all at the same time that all spies in all embassies everywhere would not only be determined to be persona non grata and sent home, the list of everyone who fell into that category would be shared not just with the Europeans, but with everyone across the world. So basically, you had 25, almost 35 years of Russian efforts to infiltrate Western institutions and governments, and everyone was exposed all at the same time. And then the list of everyone who was exposed went global. So in the past, if you were to purge three or four, they would end up at someone else’s embassy within a year doesn’t work like that anymore. I mean, the Brazilians might not have hostile relations with the Russians. But when the Europeans and the Americans come with this list of 5000, diplomatic personnel who are actually spies, and then all of a sudden, they all end up in the Brazilian embassy, the Brazilians get a little cheesed off to. So what we’ve seen is the most effective way the Russians have of hacking into society has been gutted. It’s not that these people can’t do anything. But if you’re training someone for COVID, operations and diplomacy, you can’t just turn around and turn them into assassins or analysts. There’s an extensive period of retraining, and the Russians aren’t as young as they used to. And one of the big reasons for the Ukraine war is the demographic collapse and all that good stuff is all very relevant. The most likely use for most of these people moving forward is to backup the Intel system within Russia. Russia has far more spies operating within the Russian Federation than beyond because Russia isn’t a nation state. It’s a multi ethnic empire. And the way it holds everything together is by basically shooting through its own population with spies to make sure that there are no rebellions forming. So it’s not that the Russians have no use for these people. It just has no use for these people abroad.

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