As Belgium and Europe mourned and condemned the senseless terrorism in Brussels, some officials in Moscow seem to be gloating. The first outcome of new terror attacks in the heart of Europe will be a more severe stance on the migrant crisis, a fresh debates over EU border controls, in particular those in the Schengen zone as well as a further rise of ultra-right parties in the EU countries.
The extreme right wing politicians have already seized the opportunity to push anti-Muslim sentiment and this discourse divides Europe even more. The atmosphere of fear and division will also worsen social, political and economic crises. And the EU is weakening further more.
Even before, France’s National Front got a record support in local elections in December 2015, benefiting of the November Paris attacks. In Germany, the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party recently achieved record performances in regional elections and is currently the country’s third most popular party.
Both France and Germany will hold general elections in 2017, and the results may be influenced by the refugee crisis and the multiple terrorist attacks in European cities. The mainstream parties are under electoral pressure from their ultra-right rivals. As a result, the governments may adopt some elements of nationalist party platforms. The rising insecurity may force voters in the United Kingdom to vote for “Brexit” in the referendum this summer and to serve as a justification for a greater isolation from the EU.
Lastly, the Brussels attacks will hurt European economies. First of all tourism sector is under threat as people will be scared to travel to European popular tourism sites. The EU countries residents fear that terrorism has become a part of their daily lives, and they may avoid travelling or going to densely crowded areas, such as cafes and shopping malls. This will reduce domestic consumption and will impact economy growth, which would result in an economic crisis.
In that context I would like to focus on those who benefit of Europe’s problems. And we got the answer from Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a notorious Russian MP and the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. “Terror attacks are happening in Europe and they will continue. And Russia does benefit of them. Let them die and parish”, the radical politician said on TV channel Rossiya on March, 22.
Not less interesting was the reaction of Russian high-ranking officials. InformNapalm gathered several statements of Russian officials expressing their condolences:
Aleksey Pushkov, Chairman of the Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs: “While Stoltenberg tries hard to fight with imaginary ‘Russian threat’ and places armed forces in Latvia, people are blasted on his doorstep in Brussels”
Igor Korotchenko, member of the Public Council under the Ministry of Defence: “Europe is paying the price for double standards of its politicians. They did not draw conclusions from the terrorist attacks in Paris.”
Mariya Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson: “You cannot support terrorists in some parts of the world and think that they will not come to other parts.”
“Despite the terrorist attacks some Western countries don’t want to return to cooperation with Russia”, Maria Zakharova said. Here one can interpret her words in different ways…
Unexpectedly, a quick reaction to Brussels attacks was published by the press office of the Russian Union of Travel Industry: “After the terrorist attacks in Brussels, the Russians may have their tours to Europe cancelled”, Irina Turina, press secretary of the Russian Union of Travel Industry, said. “Belgium is not a top-destination, however Brussels is included in tours across Europe”, she added.
These quotations give a clear understanding that Russian officials are hostile to the EU and that they are gloating as they see Islamic extremists striking Europe.
Later, the head of Ukraine’s security service (SBU), Vasyl Hrytsak, openly blamed Russia for the bomb attacks in Brussels, the Interfax-Ukraine reported. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it is an element of Russia’s hybrid war, though they will be blaming it on ISIS“, he stated.
“We have both open and closed sources of information, and I, unfortunately, can’t divulge what we have, so to speak, behind closed doors under the fretboard, but to begin with, you probably noticed. I gave a paper in which I was surprised by the statements of Zhirinovsky about the terrorist attacks in Brussels, which he did on the TV channel “Rossiya”. In my opinion, Zhirinovsky is the politician that reflects everything that is done in Russian political circles, he speaks the truth. That is what others are afraid to speak, Zhirinovsky took and gave,” Hrytsak concluded.
According to his saying, Ukraine’s security service conducted several special operations, during which it covered 4 of the transit centres, used by ISIS militants and detained 25 foreigners, including 19 citizens of the Russian Federation.
“What does this mean? ISIS supporters come from Russia or from former Soviet countries, they move freely on the Russian territory and then they use Ukraine as a transit zone”, he said. Thus Hrytsak stressed that he didn’t hear about ISIS members arrests by Russian security services in Russian Federation.
Russian leadership didn’t make him wait for a reaction to these serious claims. Commenting on statements by the head of the SBU in the post in Facebook of condolences in connection with terrorist attacks, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote: “The chief of the SBU, Mr. Hrytsak, who claimed Russia’s involvement in the terrorist attacks in Brussels, is a jerk”.
In his turn, the head of Putin’s administration Sergey Ivanov said: “I’ve read Medvedev’s comments. As a philologist he should be praised for a well-chosen word. I think the word “jerk” correctly characterizes the chief of the Security Service of Ukraine, which suggested a Russian hand in the terrorist attacks in Brussels”, TASS agency quoted Ivanov as saying.
Later, we saw in Russian media a disinformation activity which partially suit Hrytsak’s statement about Islamic extremists from former Soviet countries, but which shields Moscow at the same time. So, Russian propagandist channels reported about the Belarusian-born Dovbash brothers’ link to the attacks. However, when interviewed by RFE/RL, Ivan and Alexei denied those reports, they confirmed they did convert to Islam but denied involvement in any extremist activity.
The Secretary of the National Security Council and defence of Ukraine (NSDC) Oleksandr Turchynov backed Hytsak’s line when he wrote on his page on Facebook that the war in Donbas and terrorist attacks in Ankara, Paris and Brussels nave “the same directors”. “The terrorist attacks are consequences of the hybrid war unleashed by Russia. Deliberately destroying civilian infrastructure in the Syrian cities, Russia has actively promoted a strong migration flows within which it is easy to mask fundamentalists and terrorists,” Turchynov said.
These claims were nothing new, on March 1, NATO’s top commander in Europe, Philip Breedlove claimed that Russia uses Syrian refugees as “weapon” against West. Philip Breedlove thinks that the mass bombing of civilian targets appeared to serve no other purpose than to weaken Europe by creating a massive, and continuous, wave of people desperate for food, shelter and safety. “Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve”, Breedlove told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Breedlove pointed to Russia’s six-month air campaign and the Syrian government’s use of barrel bombs against civilian targets as proof that the two countries are simply trying to create a mass displacement of people. Russia and Syria are indiscriminately bombing Syrian civilians to drive the refugee crisis and “weaponise migration”, a NATO commander concluded.
“Weaponizing migration and refugee crisis”, that’s exactly what we heard on Russia’s policy but in another place on a different topic. Janis Sarts, director of Nato’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, based in Riga, Latvia, told the Observer that Russia had a track record of funding extremist forces in Europe, and that he believed there was evidence of Russia agitating in Germany against Merkel.
EU Observer in its article asks if the Russian leader Vladimir Putin was trying to use refugees to topple German chancellor Angela Merkel. In fact, Merkel’s decision to welcome the huge numbers of people coming from Syria to Germany has drained her popularity over the past year.
Pro-Kremlin media tried to make things worse by spreading a fake story that migrants also raped a 13-year old girl. German police debunked the Russian media fake story and Berlin prosecutors have opened proceedings against Ivan Blagoy, a journalist from Russian TV Channel 1.
“Even if the stories are debunked, they make a mark. It’s called the ‘rotten herring’ technique and it’s described in FSB textbooks,” the source said, referring to Russia’s intelligence service, EU Observer reports. The rotten herring is the idea that even if an allegation is disproved it stays in people’s minds because they talk about it.
After the sexual assaults, reportedly by men with Arab appearance, in the New Year eve in Cologne and the whole media buzz about it, the popularity of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right party that faces allegations of secret Kremlin funding, rose significantly.
The German government could no longer ignore that it was the target of a propaganda attack. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, denounced the “political instrumentalization” of the case. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, said there was no justification for Moscow for using a 13-year-old girl for “political propaganda”.
Let’s focus on the alleged Kremlin’s link to Islamist groups. We are going to quote revelations by a former Russian agent on Moscow’s involvement in Islamist terrorist activities in Europe and the Middle East.
On December 6, 2015, in a televised interview with the Ukrainian news program TSN Weekly, an alleged former FSB officer admitted that Russia is behind ISIS while ostensibly opposing it. Former FSB officer codenamed “Yevgeniy” (shown back toward camera) revealed that Russia’s FSB security services was, at the very least, complicit in the Paris attacks carried out by ISIS, and most shockingly that the FSB was involved in the creation of ISIS, which it influences through its agents who staff it.
The man claimed that radical Islamist groups are staffed with Russian agents and that Moscow has a real impact on their activity.
‘Yevgeniy’, Former Russian FSB Officer: “Among those who fled to Europe there were infiltrators with fake documents and a made-up legend. They would actively infiltrate into Muslim communities. With the support of the security services, they made financial donations, thus acquiring prestige and moving up the hierarchy”.
The Kremlin’s influence also includes ISIS, according to Yevgeniy, as former officers of the Iraqi army and members of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party started creating the organisation. All of them graduated from Moscow-based institutions. The man claims that the Russian special services are involved in the creation of ISIS.
Talking about how the Kremlin could benefit from the attacks in the EU, Yevgeniy reminds that Russia is run by a former KGB officer who regards the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century and he’s trying to revive the USSR.
In February Russian FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov made a surprising announcement that 1,700 Russian citizens were in Iraq fighting for ISIS. The number of Russians and former Soviet bloc citizens who have joined to fight for ISIS has dramatically increased to around 7,000.
Back in October 2015, speaking at the Commonwealth of Independent States Council of Heads of State, Putin said, “There are an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 fighters from Russia and other CIS member states fighting for ISIS.”
But are they really controlled or manipulated by Russian secret services? As the history tends to repeat, let’s check a valuable historical overview. In 2013 former Romanian spy chief Ion Mihai Pacepa published a book “Disinformation”, co-authored with law professor Ronald Rychlak, a prominent expert in the history of religion. It reveals us “secret strategies with a use of terrorism”.
Ion Mihai Pacepa is a former three-star-general in the Securitate, the secret police of Communist Romania, who defected to the United States in 1978 following US President Jimmy Carter’s approval of his request for political asylum. He is the highest-ranking defector from the former Eastern Bloc, and has written several books on the inner workings of the communist intelligence services.
In fact, “Disinformation” reveals how KGB operation seeded Muslim countries with anti-American, anti-Jewish propaganda during the 1970s, laying the groundwork for Islamist terrorism against U.S. and Israel.
Pacepa claims that Yuri Andropov, the KGB chief for 15 years before he became the Soviet premier, sent hundreds of agents and thousands of copies of propaganda literature to Muslim countries. “According to Andropov, the Islamic world was a petri dish in which the KGB community could nurture a virulent strain of America-hatred, grown from the bacterium of Marxist-Leninist thought.” Pacepa and Rychlak conclude that much of the anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and elsewhere can be traced back to Soviet clandestine operations, the Daily Mail wrote.
With an information war against Ukraine and the West it seems that Kremlin’s disinformation machine rose again. During the old Cold War, Russia was a country where the KGB was a state within a state. In the Russian Federation the KGB has been rebranded to the FSB and now there is one FSB officer for every 297 citizens in the country.
Alexander Litvinenko, who began as an informant of the KGB in 1986, joining as an officer two years later, defected to Britain in 2000. He wrote a book, “Blowing up Russia: Terror from Within”, in which he claimed FSB agents had been responsible for the bombing of apartment blocks in Moscow and two other cities in 1999 in a false-flag operation to justify the attack on Chechnya and secure Putin and his retainers in power.
Former spy Alexander Litvinenko was killed in November 2006 by radioactive polonium-210, believed to have been administered in a cup of tea by two Russians he met in London. A British public inquiry into the killing of Litvinenko has recently concluded that Russian President Putin probably approved his assassination.
The Second Chechen War provided a key pillar of cementing Putin’s popularity and his dictatorship. In the time of bombings a curious incident happened in Ryazan on September 22, 1999, which gives every appearance of being the FSB caught in the act of placing a bomb in an apartment.
Akhmed Zakayev, an exiled leader of the unrecognised Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Aslan Maskhadov, a former Chechen president, and other representatives of the more secular wing of Chechen separatism consistently called the leaders of the religious radicals in Chechnya agents of the FSB designed to discredit their cause. They accused the group Caucasus Emirate and its leader between 2007 and 2013 Dokka Umarov of being controlled by Russian secret services.
Those extremist groups were used by Moscow to consolidate its power in the region and to eliminate more fearful enemies. Creating problems to solve them is an old KGB trick, it worked in Chechnya and now it works in Syria.
Thousands of Salafi-jihadists from the Caucasus, mostly from Chechnya and Dagestan, went to Syria and Iraq since 2011 to fight for ISIS. Tarkhan Batirashvili (known as Abu Omar al-Shishani) became one of the ISIS top military commanders.
Michael Weiss, writing in The Daily Beast, provides new evidence that Russia is playing a double-game with Islamic terrorism. He claims that Moscow is encouraging and facilitating Chechen radicals to go for a jihad in Syria and Iraq, in order to solve a security problem in the Caucasus. At the same time, the rise of ISIS weakened the Syrian opposition and Russia’s ally, president Bashar Assad was presented as the only solution to the terrorist group.
In the recent investigation by Novaya Gazeta journalist, Elena Milashina, concluded that the “Russian special services have controlled the flow of jihadists into Syria”. She explored the issue in of the village of Novosasitili in Dagestan’s Khasavyurt district, where, since 2011, over 20 residents went to Syria to join ISIS. Milashina spoke to the “negotiator” who came to Novosasitili and he told “her of his role as an intermediary between the FSB and local militants in arranging the departure to Syria.
Elsewhere, Giga Bokeria, a former Georgian national security adviser, says that in 2014 “local information networks provided credible information that individuals affiliated with Russian security forces were recruiting potential jihadists in the Northern Caucasus to travel to Syria.”
Many experts point out that significant part of the ISIS members are citizens of the Russian Federation while military command is composed of former Saddam Hussein generals, who studied in the Soviet Union and worked closely with the KGB.
“The connection between the Russian-speaking jihadists and the Russian-trained ex-Baathist Sunni military officers is what formed the core of what we now think of as ISIS,” said Estonian expert Eerik-Niiles Kross. He’s a former director of the Estonian intelligence services, and served under the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2003-2004, working to rebuild the Iraqi military intelligence organization.
“Based on Russia’s history of infiltrating and manipulating terrorist organizations and extremist groups, it’s not so far-fetched to believe there is an operational relationship between Russian security services and elements of ISIS,” the FreeBeacon reported him as saying in December 2015.
These revelations should change the conversation about ISIS and its creators, supporters and enablers. On the other side there is evidence that other states support this extremist group. In particular, the governments of the Gulf States are often accused of supporting Islamist groups, as well as other “conspiracy theories” are evoked. In fact, it seems that ISIS is composed of a range of sub-groups which are under different influence.
So, what benefits of Islamist attacks in Europe for Russia could be? They can be used to blame the United States and NATO for a disastrous policy in the Middle East, and on the other hand they justify Moscow’s intervention in Syria.
Secondly, the terrorist attacks combined with huge refugees’ influx, provoked in particular by Russian bombings, boost backing of far-right parties across Western Europe, the exact political forces, which have strong contacts with Moscow. Let’s remind that the French National Front received a 9 million euro loan from the First Czech-Russian Bank, controlled by Moscow, in November 2015. There is no wonder why its leader Marine Le Pen is advocating Kremlin’s agenda in foreign policy and why she urged France to recognise the annexed Crimea as part of Russia.
The terrorism may further divide the European Union, while the current political situation is very fragile. So, playing double game with Islamist radicals on one hand and backing far-right and far-left radical groups on the other may be a cunning “divide and rule” policy. It seems that for Putin’s regime, the split in the European Union is an ultimate goal of its policy, as Berlin, Paris, London and Brussels oppose Moscow over Ukraine.
Meanwhile, there are no considerable signs that the EU is effectively tackling the terrorist threat on one hand and a “proxy war” which is enhanced by disinformation media campaign. Either the European leaders underestimate or are unaware of Russia’s capabilities and goals, or bureaucracy system and lack of experience, as well as lack of unity among the EU members, do not permit to respond quickly enough. If there are no needed changes in the EU’s policy, it could lead to disastrous consequences.