Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


Common Cents

High and dry

Ralph Murphy

(5/2017) Cyber security breaches linked to Russian intelligence activities appear to have led to the removal of the American National Security adviser, General Michael Flynn just 24 days into the current administration's term. Conversations tied to electoral issues between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak were either misunderstood or misleading and Vice President Mike Pence may have helped force the ouster. At issue now is an assertive Russian business and political diaspora linked to organized crime with access to world finance centers. Russia lacks the wealth conventionally tied to those activity levels. The commodity merchant has to be reviewed to realistic power projection as the tech levels are just too primitive to suggest they could launch the attacks without foreign assistance.

Russia remains a monolith covering a contiguous area that stretches over a sixth of the world’s land mass. The population however is very light at about 150 million people with the largest group of just over 38 million in the Central federal district that houses Moscow. This area is one of the smallest of the 8 federal districts, but is about twice the size of Germany with well under half its 80 million population. Russian exports and activities linked to the internal market are highly oil and natural gas dependent at reportedly over three quarters of its export earnings. The bulk of these pipelines transport oil to the west.

While participating in the world oil cartel as one of the three top producers along with Saudi Arabia and the United States - Russia relies heavily on western, private sector contractors such as ExxonMobil and BP. This is because even that very rudimentary commodity extraction and provision seems beyond their internal capacity to produce it. They have state producers linked to the industry such as Rosneft and Gazprom, but these appear illusory as do other state firms. They lack the drive or savvy to produce at levels claimed without private sector backing. That backing, oddly enough comes mostly from American firms. The issue now is a break down in the world fossil fuel cartel and the link to the Russian political and intelligence-associated activities in the West as the nation is so dependent on these commodities.

What the Russians do have, however is a military machine that has been aided by the West since the World War II lend lease program helped them oust the German occupation forces. The mentality of the western Russians towards the various federal regions in the Central and Northwest areas involves a proclivity towards weapons and personnel deployment that they overtly used in seizing Crimea and continue to do so with its occupation. They reportedly destabilized other regions with covert or unacknowledged series of actions as well. A group of mafia-like or syndicate-linked, paramilitary units may be linked to the GRU domestic military intelligence group as well as its foreign intelligence counterpart - the SVR that spun off from the Cold War KGB in about 1991.

With the attacks on Western Europe spiking in the last couple of years - Western institutions- especially major banks - have drawn down their Russian activities. In many cases they have simply closed down their operations since the internal market was so hostile. This has led other banks and affiliated producers or lenders to shutter their operations as well. Russia is reportedly having a very difficult time retaining what little foreign currency it has that has been derived from their own commodity production. Contractions have been severe with a deep recession in national income. They've "weathered" downturns of this type before, but this time it does appear it has come with a "service" export of both the GRU Special Forces and linked SVR. It is an almost mercenary export if the term can be used for a nation’s military group. The group must have political backing in top tier, power centers but it's just not clear just where they are. Even how or why they support them because it is not a defensive force beyond propping up some bizarre minority interest at the expense of almost everyone else. GRU or Spetsnaz (Special Purpose Forces) - are trained to "seize, destroy, capture, exploit, recover or damage desired targets".

The Russian military retains conscription of men between the ages of 18 and 27. They are overtly active in the Middle East as well as Europe, but narcotics are a problem as are other criminal activities with an American defense Department report noting "high levels of criminal conduct at every level tied to trauma, social (often ethnic) and cultural mismatches or concerns". There is a direct link to the Russian mafia and that is reportedly involved in "trafficking weapons, extortion in commercial ventures, materiel theft, smuggling, corruption and contract murders". If that was just an internal problem it would be an esoteric concern for the west. But, again they do seem to have found western support. Perhaps even with the expectation that they can be used to fight other domestic problems. By whatever means they stay with political support and appear to become very problematic both on the streets and in the finance capitals of the wealthy host nations with their better-groomed SVR affiliates active there.

Awareness of a concern and its roots afford a strong step forward towards redressing it. The Russian group seems ideologically conservative when tied to their political backer - Vladimir Putin. The United Russia party he leads is however, ideologically diverse and often described as a "catch all". United Russia’s presence in the Duma or lower House of Parliament with 343 of the 450 seats actually is confusing. Seated United Russia parliamentarians need to show a regionally accepted, but forceful personality to qualify for placement. Once seated the ideological concern seems almost moot so long as they aren't radical leftists.

Russia's world role - as exemplified by the law violator’s UN Security Council seat - is difficult to justify. Strength indicators such as money, population or its widely accepted culture are simply not there. Unfortunately, the only power projection they do have in abundance is military and that is routinely used. It wouldn’t be externally without foreign aid and that has to be identified as to its source and objective - as the Russians aren’t realistic world leaders. That, despite many years of misguided western aid - presenting them as viable in the role. Scrutiny and a more accurate portrayal of Russia’s capabilities may lead to a more stable West amid demands for social inclusion that is more In line with their talent than with their ties.

Ralph Murphy is a former member of the CIA Headquarters Staff in Langley, VA.

Read past editions of Ralph Murphy's Common Cents