For quite a while, I've been highlighting the presence in the information space, both in Russia and beyond – in the countries on which Russia seeks to exert its influence – of the so-called Kremlin agents.
Earlier, I highlighted the issues of the Russian agents carrying out influence operations on foreign territory, posing as professionals in various fields. These are journalists, as I explained in my earlier piece "Russian Propaganda: Kremlin legion of journalists in Russia and beyond", so-called experts ("Russian Propaganda: Kremlin legion of experts in Russia and beyond"), and migrants ("Radical refugees in Kremlin's service across Europe and worldwide") – perhaps, the most painful issue for the EU as Russia is keen on exploiting the principle of tolerance, widely preached in developed democracies.
However, Europe, which in 2014 chose not to turn a blind eye to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and joined international sanctions against Moscow, has been badly penetrated by Kremlin agents of influence and political organizations, directly affiliated with the Russian government.
In almost every European country and all around the globe, in regions of Moscow's interest, there is an asset network of politicians and political forces, activists and public figures financed and supported by Russia. Exploiting the principles of democracy and freedom of speech, these have their hands untied in pursuing their destructive action at Russia's behest.
To support those networks, the Kremlin through its intelligence agencies funnels billions of dollars from mineral exports, as well as arms sales and drug trafficking, rather than channeling this money for raising pensions and public sector salaries, and supporting own economy.
For example, in France, Marine Le Pen and her National Assembly party, formerly known as the National Front, supervised by GRU military intelligence, has long been at the core of Russia's influence operations.
In 2017, the then National Front, chaired by Marine Le Pen, faced financial issues during their election campaign falling EUR 8 million short of the required EUR 12 million. It was then that Marine Le Pen applied for a EUR 27 million loan to Moscow, at the same time voicing a suggestion that France could recognize Crimea part of Russia if her political force came to power.
It must be noted that before that, the First Czech-Russian Bank provided a EUR 9 million loan to cover campaign expenses of the Russian agent-led National Front.
I'd also like to recall you that it was the radical branches of Marine Le Pen's National Front that radicalized the Yellow Vests movement, turning what had been conceived as a farmers' strike against higher gas prices into full-blown riots, regular clashes with the police and calls for an overthrow of government. Moreover, journalists spotted in the raging crowds a number of French men representing various radical groups that had taken part in the Donbas hostilities on the side of Russian puppet illegal armed groups.
Meanwhile, despite these and many other facts proving Marine Le Pen and her people's direct affiliation with the Russians, who have been using these assets against the French society and stability of the Republic as such, no serious criminal cases have been pressed against her or her group.
In turn, while Marine Le Pen and her political force are the Kremlin's assets affiliated with the GRU military intelligence agency, an FSB-SVR has other assets in the service.
For example, the "Lubyanka" (FSB) group in France includes representatives of right-wing opposition party "Republicans". On the "team" are Senator Sebastian Moran, former chairman of the European Socio-Economic Committee Henri Malosse, member of the France-Russian Federation Group in the Senate Gerard Longe, member of the French National Assembly and member of the France – Russia Group Natalia Puzyreva (Russian-born), Senator Joel Gario-Mailam, chair of the International Council of Russian Compatriots and head of the Russian Musical Society in Paris Pyotr Sheremetyev, and many others.
So it must be understood that, just as on all other bridgeheads, in journalistic, expert, and even migrant circles, there are groups of influence, handled by Russia's various security and intelligence agencies. On this bridgehead, too, there is a clear division in affiliations. Some work for the GRU military intelligence, and some – for the FSB/SVR duo...
The same case is in Italy where the Kremlin's main political force is the Lega Nord party, which received funding through the Russian GRU.
For example, Gianluca Savoini, aide to the right-wing Lega Nord leader Matteo Salvini, made regular trips to Moscow, where he met with the "Russian world" concept ideologist Alexander Dugin, who is also a GRU favorite.
And in October 2018, deputies with the Lega Nord sat with the GRU officials in Moscow's Metropol Hotel to discuss Russia funding in a scheme involving oil deals with the Italian company Eni, through discounts worth tens of millions of euros.
The highest-profile Kremlin assets in Germany are part of the Alternative for Germany political party. Almost all the deputies of the said political force promote Russia's interests in the EU, while the most desperate ones even allow themselves the audacity of taking part in fictitious referendums and elections in Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine, as well as various kinds of propaganda stunts.
Almost all over the world, Russia has its assets – many of them successful to a certain extent. Even on the U.S. soil, a few years ago Russia "recruited" a former congressman to lobby sanctions lift. The man was John Sweeney who had gained notoriety for binge-drinking, DUI, and domestic violence incidents that eventually brought him behind bars. Such a "valuable" asset was handled by the Russian VEB.
Despite quite a ridiculous pick for such a serious task requiring a ton of wit and social skills, this exception only confirms a rule: that Russia is set to destabilize countries where the Kremlin is implementing influence operations through its assets. Talking about the US, Russian intelligence was widely interested in local movements preaching separatist ideology.
For example, in 2016, activists with the California independence movement "Yes California" came into a limelight by submitted to the state attorney's office a motion to hold a referendum on the state's secession from the United States.
This organization was founded by Louis Marinelli, who refers to himself as president of a campaign for the independence of California. It turned pro-active in offline settings following the 2016 presidential election. It wasn't the announcement of the election result that triggered their action but first appointments in the Trump administration, which included ardent anti-Russia hawks.
The Yes California movement mirrored its Scottish counterpart Yes Scotland that operated back in 2014. The movement enjoyed wide coverage across Russian media, while their campaigns Caleavefornia, Califrexit, and Calexit copycat the infamous Brexit.
In turn, the movement's founder, Louis Marinelli, a fighter for the independence of his beloved state, has spent quite a lot of time living, studying, and working in Russia. Moreover, at a certain period, he even sought to obtain Russian citizenship!
In 2007, Louis Marinelli settled in Russia's Samara where he gave English lessons at a local private school before moving to Kazan six months later, and then on to St. Petersburg in 2009, where he entered the St. Petersburg State University, a notorious alma mater of KGB-FSB operatives. By the way, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev are both alumni of this university, where during the Soviet period the KGB would also actively recruit foreign students.
But, after Louis Marinelli sincerely confessed his love for Russia, expressing will to obtain Russian citizenship, he unexpectedly returned to the United States in 2011 where he immediately engaged in separatism-charged political activity.
I believe no further comment is required…
And these are just a few examples of the aggressive and revanchist efforts that Russia has been pursuing around the world through its agent cells.
Russia has been, is, and will be developing a vast network of assets across the world, as long as its financial capabilities allow Russians doing so. Benefiting from the loopholes of democracy and freedoms, as well as the relative accessibility of the western powers, the Kremlin infiltrates them with own assets through bribery, blackmail, and financial luring.
Indeed, in 2014, Europe said a resolute "NO" to Russian aggression. Unfortunately, having said it, Europe seems to have immediately forgotten about this. What we see today is that in the heart of the EU, Russian dissidents defying Putin's regime get assassinated pretty much every year, while militants that are part of terrorist sleeping cells that have emerged across Europe with Russian assistance carry out terror attacks. The European Union's resilience is regularly stress-tested, and practically behind each of such attempts stands the Kremlin.
It's high time bring change to the relations between the West and Russia, otherwise the eighth year of passive politics could drive Western civilization into a deep internal crisis – under close supervision of Russian architects of chaos.