RUSSIA 2021

The sorry state of Czech-Russian relations 

Image: John W. Schulze 

Czech foreign policy is normally a rather dull affair. But at an extraordinary press conference on April 17, 2021, things got very, very interesting. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Jan Hamáček, his interior (and, temporarily, foreign) minister, announced that Russian intelligence officers were suspects in a double explosion at an arms storage site in the Czech village of Vrbětice in 2014. In fact, the two Russians wanted in the Czech Republic were the same two agents linked to Russia’s assassination attempt of Sergei Skripal – a former Russian intelligence officer who spied for the United Kingdom – in Salisbury, England. Ties between the Czech Republic and Russia were not destined to be this toxic. A member of NATO and the European Union, the Czech Republic sits comfortably in the heart of Europe. It is not on the frontline with Russia like Poland or the Baltic states. Some of the statements by Miloš Zeman, the country’s president, would be music to Moscow’s ears. For example, Zeman has declared that NATO’s very raison d’être is in doubt following the infamous end of the allied mission in Afghanistan. Since NATO is not in the business of fighting terrorism, he believes, there is now no need for the Czech Republic to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. Nevertheless, Moscow placed the Czech Republic — alongside the United States — on a list of “unfriendly countries”. The revelations in April of Russia’s brazen act of sabotage surely play a role. The explosion at the arms storage site generated domestic momentum in the Czech Republic to dismantle the intelligence networks that Russia had developed out of its embassy in Prague. More in this War on the Rocks article.

Putin at Play: Russian Disinformation Pinballs Around the Globe Russian disinformation campaigns have become notorious around the world for their ability to cause chaos. And while some suggest Moscow’s motives begin and end with creating havoc, the reality is that Russia has clear strategic goals in mind. The Kremlin employs disinformation operations to weaken its competitors overseas, to maintain influence in its own neighborhood, and to keep President Putin in power. The ASD* teamed up with the Bertelsmann Foundation to shine a spotlight on the Lugar Research Center in Tbilisi, Georgia, as a case study in how Russian disinformation works and its capacity to undermine trust in government, institutions, and the transatlantic alliance. Watch the animation here. *The Alliance for Securing Democracy is affiliated with and housed at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, but it is independently funded by a group of more than 175 private individuals and small family foundations from across the political spectrum. ASD does not receive any financial support from governments or social media companies.

Justice Department IG Releases Audit of FISA Procedures On Sept. 30, 2021, the Department of Justice’s inspector general released an internal audit of the FBI’s procedures around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application process. The FBI’s “Woods Procedures” are one element of the FISA application process in which FBI personnel must “document support for all factual assertions contained in [the applications].” Of an initial sample of 29 FISA applications, the audit found more than 400 instances of non-compliance with Woods Procedures. An additional review of more than 7,000 FISA applications authorized between January 2015 and March 2020 found at least 179 instances in which the required Woods file was missing in whole or in part. The report contains 10 recommendations to the FBI and National Security Division of the Justice Department to better execute the Woods Procedures and ensure accurate submissions of FISA applications. You can read the audit here. See also “The FBI’s FISA Mess”, an article written by the executive editor of Lawfare (and deputy general counsel of the Lawfare Institute), together with the editor in chief of Lawfare (and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution).

Escalation in the Taiwan Strait: What to Expect from Europe? Over the last few years, tensions in the Taiwan Strait have led to great concerns over Chinese territorial claims in the region. The potential for an escalation is high – with significant implications for Europe. At the same time, the Biden administration is pursuing a tough stance on China and expects Europe to join a transatlantic approach. Against this backdrop, Körber-Stiftung, in cooperation with the Chatham House Asia-Pacific Programme, brought together a high-level group of senior experts, politicians, and officials from France, Germany, Italy and the UK to address a fictional scenario of a political security crisis in the Taiwan Strait. The recently published Körber Policy Game scenario report summarises the results of these discussions and offers policy recommendations. Körber-Stiftung’s report is here.

CSET Legislation Tracker The CSET Legislation Tracker serves as a resource to identify and monitor federal legislation related to emerging technology and national security. In addition to widely covered bills, members of Congress have introduced proposals to secure the U.S. research enterprise, bolster domestic semiconductor production capacity, promote technology alliances with like-minded partners and improve STEM workforce development. This tracker catalogues legislation on topics within CSET’s key areas of inquiry and relevant to U.S. science and technology leadership. Each piece of legislation is represented as a card. Each card includes the bill’s title, sponsor, number of cosponsors and committee of jurisdiction. The panel on the right displays the CSET research topic within which the bill falls and the bill’s current status. At the top of the tracker, users will find pinned cards highlighting specific bills that we deem significant based on widespread media coverage or notable movement through the legislative process.

Advanced military technology in Russia Military technology innovation enables Russia’s way of war and informs new concepts of operation and military thought around future warfare, especially asymmetric advantages against more powerful competitors. New weapons systems, dubbed Putin’s superoruzhie (‘super weapons’) and first unveiled in 2018, signal Russia’s intent to innovate in the defense-industrial field to counter the perceived conventional military superiority of great power competitors such as the US and its NATO allies. Russia is pursuing the incremental integration of asymmetric force-multiplier technologies into its established and legacy weapons systems. Meanwhile, the defense industry is developing new systems and capabilities in military robotics and has successfully integrated unmanned vehicles, particularly aerial drones, into its military operations. In the space sector, Russia is pursuing the development of capabilities able to potentially counter and disrupt an adversary’s satellite operations. Finally, AI technologies are being developed with a view to the disruption of Western command and control systems and communication facilities, as well as the establishment of information superiority. This Chatham House research paper offers an overview of Russia’s modern military capabilities and advanced technologies in key sectors. It also discusses the effects of military innovation on Russian military thinking and its impact for the US, NATO, and their partners.

Global Organized Crime Index 2021  The Global Organized Crime Index is the result of a two-year endeavor to evaluate levels of crime and resilience in all 193 UN member states. Through this data, it is hoped that the Index will help inform a truly global response to the pervasive threat of transnational organized crime. Organized crime is a scourge that afflicts countries in every corner of the globe, from tiny island states to large economic superpowers, and is an underlying driver of many major geopolitical challenges including conflict, political instability and forced migration. Because of its clandestine nature, however, often little is known about how organized crime operates in each country. To address this knowledge gap, the GI-TOC has developed the Global Organized Crime Index, a unique, data-driven analytical tool that evaluates 193 UN member states according to two metrics: according to their criminality on a score from 1 to 10 (lowest to highest organized crime levels), which in turn is based on their criminal markets score and criminal actors score; and according to their resilience to organized crime, from 1 to 10 (lowest to highest resilience levels). The results of the first edition of the Global Organized Crime Index, outlined in the flagship report and the interactive Index website, paint a worrying picture of the reach, scale and impact of organized crime in 2020. Perhaps the starkest finding of the Index is that the majority of people worldwide live in countries with high levels of organized crime. The Index also shines a light on the ubiquity of some of the most insidious forms of exploitation that are perpetrated by criminal actors the world over, including individuals and networks operating from within the state apparatus. The Index also illustrates the widespread shortcomings in global levels of resilience to organized crime, from weaknesses in criminal justice systems to rampant corruption and violent crackdowns on the freedom of the press and civil society. As a snapshot of 2020, the Index also highlights the adaptability of organized crime to the pandemic. In the face of lockdowns and travel restrictions, criminals not only retooled their regular business, but also exploited new opportunities presented by the global health crisis. Individuals, communities and businesses struggling to stay afloat also became increasingly vulnerable to organized criminal behavior, either as victims or as perpetrators, albeit more often than not due to the absence of any viable alternatives. Addressing the pervasiveness and entrenched nature of organized crime revealed by the Index will require a coordinated global response, but as yet this remains lacking. By providing a consolidated hub of data and baseline evidence of the phenomenon in countries across the world, the Index aims to be a catalyst for further debate on transnational organized crime. Ultimately, the Index strives to inform policymakers and regional bodies so they can prioritize interventions based on a multifaceted assessment of vulnerabilities and enhance national, regional and global cooperation in countering organized crime.

The Authoritarian Interference Tracker The Authoritarian Interference Tracker* catalogues the Russian and Chinese governments’ activities to undermine democracy in more than 40 transatlantic countries since 2000 using five tools: information manipulation, cyber operations, malign finance, civil society subversion, and economic coercion. The Tracker shines a light on the tactics and trends that define the Russian and Chinese governments’ interference efforts, and highlights the interconnectivity between different parts of the asymmetric toolkit.  See below for definitions of these tools and an explanation of the methodology for including cases in the Tracker. Efforts by the Russian and Chinese governments to undermine democracy are not restricted to the transatlantic community. For example, China is particularly active in interfering in democracies in the Asia-Pacific region. Forthcoming iterations of the Tracker will expand to regions beyond North America and Europe, as well as add instances of authoritarian interference by other regimes that adopt similar tactics to undermine democracies. *The Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), a nonpartisan initiative housed at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, develops comprehensive strategies to deter, defend against, and raise the costs on autocratic efforts to undermine and interfere in democratic institutions. ASD has staff in Washington, D.C., and Brussels, bringing together experts on disinformation, malign finance, emerging technologies, elections integrity, economic coercion, and cybersecurity, as well as Russia, China, and the Middle East, to collaborate across traditional stovepipes and develop cross-cutting frameworks. The Authoritarian Interference Tracker is one of the tools created by the ASD.

The Art of Cyberwarfare: Chinese APTs attack Russia Much has been made about the emerging relationship between China and Russia, two countries that the National Defense Strategy recognizes as near-peer competitors to the United States. They’re already collaborating on research, both are run by autocratic regimes, and neither has much affinity for the United States. But the marriage may not be as steady as Russia, especially, would like others to believe. A new report out of Russia accuses the Chinese government of hacking Russian state targets. 

Direction of EU-Russia Political Relations On September 16, 2021, the EU Parliament adopted a resolution on the “Direction of EU-Russia Political Relations”, which calls for a new EU strategy to promote democracy in Russia and changes to the EU sanctions on Russia. European Parliament recommendation of 16 September 2021 to the Council, the Commission and the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the direction of EU-Russia political relations (2021/2042(INI)).

A Limited Partnership – Russia-China Relations in the Mediterranean In the last several years, Russia and China have increased their presence and influence in the Mediterranean, creating opportunities for growing cooperation at odds with U.S. interests and objectives in the region. A new CNAS report explores how the United States and its allies should approach the two distinct challenges of Russia-China cooperation in the Mediterranean: Russia a security one and China an economic one. 

Fiscal Year 2022 Intelligence Authorization Act approved In July, 2021, the Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously approved its FY 2022 Intelligence Authorization Act. Timing for full Senate consideration of the bill has not yet been announced. The unclassified portions of the bill include several provisions related to AI and emerging technology:

Sec. 336 requires the Director of National Intelligence to report to Congress on trends in technologies of strategic importance to the United States and areas in which competitors are poised to match or surpass the United States. 

Sec. 340 requires the DNI to develop a plan for establishing a modern digital ecosystem for the development, testing, fielding and updating of AI systems.

Sec. 343 requires the DNI to report to Congress on the potential to strengthen all-source intelligence integration on foreign cyber threats, with a particular focus on cyber supply chain risks.

Sec. 352 requires the DNI to submit to Congress a plan to increase cooperation with the intelligence agencies of key democratic partners regarding technological competition with China. 

Sec. 601 requires the president to report to Congress annually with a technology strategy to maintain U.S. leadership in critical and emerging technologies relevant to U.S. national security.

The deal between Georgian State Security Service and the KGB of Belarus causes international uproar EVCSP’s* Georgia Watch Briefing (issue 32) reports that the 2016 agreement between Georgia’s State Security Service (SSG) and the KGB of Belarus which foresees information exchange on state security issues and cooperation on various security challenges, such as crime against the constitutional order, sovereignty and territorial integrity, transnational organized crime, terrorism, cyber terrorism, and illegal circulation of weapons, came into force on August 1 of this year. The news broke at time when Georgia’s Western allies are increasing pressure against Belarusian authorities through expanding the sanctions list over a rigged 2020 presidential election and the subsequent crackdown on peaceful protests, raising concerns both locally and internationally that Tbilisi is drifting back into the Russian orbit and that the Belarussian citizens sheltering Georgia might no longer be safe in the country.  Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on her Telegram channel that she had sent a letter to the Georgian Foreign Ministry, calling on the Georgian MFA to voice “a clearly expressed position on the inadmissibility of using this agreement to issue information about Belarusian citizens and other cooperation that could endanger Belarusians residing in Georgia.” Tsikhanouskaya believes that “only the complete termination of the Cooperation Agreement with the KGB will guarantee the security of Belarusians in Georgia.” Leading MEPs on EU-Georgia relations have both called on the Georgian government to not extradite those who found safe haven in Georgia. Like Tsikhanouskaya, Kaljurand urged “the Georgian authorities to annul the information exchange agreement between the SSG & the Belarusian regime’s infamous KGB”. The deal was also harshly criticized in a Foreign Policy article by Ian Kelly, US Ambassador to Georgia from 2015 to 2018, and David J. Kramer, a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor. “To abrogate an [April 19th] agreement with the EU while affirming an agreement with the dictatorial regime in Minsk is not a good look for Georgia, to say the least, and heightens concerns about current Georgian authorities’ commitment to a Western orientation and democratic values” reads the article. Kelly and Kramer also believe that the US needs to take tougher stance on the Georgian Dream government and issue targeted sanctions as “they are likely the only way to get the current tailspin to stop” – “Should Georgian Dream fail to return to the [April 19th] agreement, or refuse to abrogate its agreement with the Belarusian regime, or engage in election shenanigans, the Biden administration should impose targeted penalties on the leadership of the Georgian Dream party”. On its part, the SSG said “The state, in accordance to its interests, voluntarily exchanges the information in the direction of fight against crime, hence, this Agreement does not oblige the parties to carry out an act which is against their state interests.” The agency further stated that the SSG was being “deliberately discredited” through a “disinformation campaign.” *European Values Center for Security Policy is a Czech, non-governmental, non-partisan institute defending freedom and sovereignty.

Russia’s Coercive Diplomacy In this FPRI* report, the author explains why the Kremlin massed its forces near Ukraine this spring. Russian policy to Ukraine since 2014 has largely focused on retaining and defending the territories it has seized and implementing the Minsk accords to its advantage. A full-fledged ground invasion could potentially threaten the Nord Stream II pipeline between Russia and Germany, and it would likely unite NATO, possibly even leading Sweden or Finland to join the alliance. It would also spark additional sanctions from the United States and the European Union. A further collapse of relations with the U.S. and EU could make Russia more dependent on China for trade and economic cooperation. *The Foreign Policy Research Institute is dedicated to producing the highest quality scholarship and nonpartisan policy analysis focused on crucial foreign policy and national security challenges facing the United States. 

Syria and the West: the Efficacy of Economic Sanctions The U.S. and European Union have constructed an expansive and complex array of sanctions against Syria’s regime over the last 30 years, and particularly in the past decade. While such measures have been punitive in nature, the West has sought to utilize them since 2011 as a source of pressure and diplomatic leverage amidst the long-standing deadlock facing negotiations over the country’s future. Despite the best intentions, sanctions have not yielded any meaningful change in Syria diplomacy and as a result, they have become a source of intense political and analytical debate – for some, they are still of value and for others, they are only a source of humanitarian suffering, even if unintentional. The Middle East Institute’s new study (A Comprehensive Review of the Effectiveness of U.S. & EU Sanctions on Syria) is here.

Digest of United States Practice in International Law 2020 The Office of the Legal Adviser publishes the Annual Digest of United States Practice in International Law to provide the public with a historical record of the views and practice of the Government of the United States in public and private international law. The complete 2020 Digest is available at the bottom of this page. The 2020 Digest provides a historical record of key legal developments in 2020. Chapter 16 discusses selected developments during 2020 relating to sanctions, export controls, and certain other restrictions relating to travel or U.S. government assistance. It does not cover developments in many of the United States’ longstanding financial sanctions regimes, which are discussed in detail. It also does not comprehensively cover developments relating to the export control programs administered by the Commerce Department or the defense trade control programs administered by the State Department. Details on the State Department’s defense trade control programs are available here. The Office of the Legal Adviser furnishes advice on all legal issues, domestic and international, arising in the course of the Department’s work. This includes assisting Department principals and policy officers in formulating and implementing the foreign policies of the United States, and promoting the development of international law and its institutions as a fundamental element of those policies. The Office is organized to provide direct legal support to the Department of State’s various bureaus, including both regional and geographic offices (those which focus on specific areas of the world) and functional offices (those which deal with specific subject matters such as economics and business, international environmental and scientific issues, or internal management).

Western Companies Must Stop Funding Misinformation in Belarus Last week, Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya narrowly escaped the clutches of her country’s authoritarian government as it tried to forcibly remove her from the Olympics and send her back to Minsk because she criticized her coaches online. Thankfully, international officials stepped in to protect her, and Poland has offered her safe harbor and refugee status. According to Tsimanouskaya though, she didn’t realize just how much danger she was in until her face was on Belarusian state television. “In Belarus, if they show you on TV and call you a traitor, that means you are most likely going to jail,” said Alexander Opeikin, who leads the non-governmental organization that assisted Tsimanouskaya in getting to safety. State TV is used by authoritarian governments the world over to control how their citizens perceive the world around them. But in Belarus, state TV has turned into a full-time factory of violent, dehumanizing programming used to justify the torture and human rights violations committed against those who oppose Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. And the biggest advertisers whose funding enables it all? Western companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle, Colgate, Pepsi, and Procter & Gamble. According to German-Swiss human rights group Libereco, who have been sounding the alarm for months, two out of three commercials on Belarusian state TV are from American and European companies. The numbers come from a study conducted by the group from July 12-18 tallying up primetime advertisements on the three state-owned TV stations: Belarus 1, CTV, and ONT. “For a year now, the Lukashenko regime has been terrorizing its own population; even the worst PR manager should have noticed that,” said head of Libereco in Germany Marco Fieber. “The fact that global brands like Procter & Gamble, Mars, Henkel, Coca-Cola or PepsiCo continue to advertise on the dictator’s propaganda channels is a scandal.” More in this article in the National Interest.

The Case for Stronger Russia Sanctions The claim that Western sanctions against Russia do not work or are unjustified does not hold water. Russia’s economy has been stagnant since Western sanctions were imposed seven years ago, and the Kremlin’s continued hybrid war against the West has made an even tighter sanctions regime an urgent priority, according to this commentary in Project Syndicate, written by a senior fellow at the Stockholm Free World Forum.

Grand Illusions: The Impact of Misperceptions About Russia on U.S. Policy According to the authors (a senior fellow and the director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program and a nonresident senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program) of this paper, getting Russia right—assessing its capabilities and intentions, the long-term drivers of its policy and threat perceptions, as well as its accomplishments—is essential because the alternative of misreading them is a recipe for wasted resources, distorted national priorities, and increased risk of confrontation. The purpose of this paper, published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is to explore the causes of the chronic problem of U.S. misperception of Russian capabilities and intentions, and what can be done to avoid repeating past mistakes. It consists of assessments of: the evolution of U.S. perceptions of the Soviet/Russian threat from the 1950s to the present day, the dominant current narrative of the Russian threat and its drivers, the Russian threat to key U.S. regional interests, and the consequences of misreading Russian intentions and capabilities.

Headline or Trend Line? Evaluating Chinese-Russian Collaboration in AI Chinese and Russian government officials are keen to publicize their countries’ strategic partnership in emerging technologies, particularly artificial intelligence. This new CSET report evaluates the scope of cooperation between China and Russia as well as relative trends over time in two key metrics of AI development: research publications and investment. The findings expose gaps between aspirations and reality, bringing greater accuracy and nuance to current assessments of Sino-Russian tech cooperation.

Fact Sheet: Executive Order Imposing Costs on Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Belarusian Authorities for Ongoing Attacks Against Democratic Freedoms, Human Rights, and International Norms Today, on the anniversary of the fraudulent Belarusian election of August 9, 2020, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. signed an Executive Order (E.O.) imposing further consequences upon Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his regime for their ongoing assault against the democratic aspirations and human rights of the Belarusian people, transnational repression and abuse, affronts to international norms, and corruption. See also this Atlantic Council article (“The new US sanctions on Belarus: Strong, but not enough”)

Significant Cyber Incidents CSIS’ timeline records significant cyber incidents since 2006, focusing on cyber-attacks on government agencies, defense and high-tech companies, and economic crimes with losses of more than a million dollars. During the first seven months of 2021 there were 92 significant incidents; the most recent incidents are:

July 2021. A data leak impacted Northern Ireland’s COVIDCert online vaccination certification service, causing their Department of Health to temporarily suspend the portal. 

July 2021. Estonia stated a Tallinn-based hacker downloaded 286,438 ID photos from government database, exposing a vulnerability in a platform managed by their Information System Authority (RIA). 

July 2021. A widespread APT operation was discovered against users in Southeast Asia, believed to be spearheaded by Chinese entities. Researchers found a total of 100 victims in Myanmar and 1,400 in the Philippines, including many government entities. 

July 2021. The Japan 2020 Olympics was subject to data breach exposing the personal credentials of volunteers and ticket holders. The information included usernames, passwords, addresses, and bank account numbers. 

July 2021. The United States, the European Union, NATO and other world powers released joint statements condemning the Chinese government for a series of malicious cyber activities. They attributed responsibility to China for the Microsoft Exchange hack from early 2021 and the compromise of more than 100,000 servers worldwide. 

July 2021. Transnet Port Terminals (TPT), South Africa’s state-run ports operator and freight rail monopoly, had its rail services disrupted after a hack by unknown actors. Transnet reportedly declared it an act “force majeure.” 

July 2021. Several countries used Pegasus, surveillance software created by NSO Group that targets iPhone and Android operating systems, on devices belonging to activists, politicians, and journalists. 

July 2021. The FBI and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released a statement exposing a spearfishing campaign by Chinese state-sponsored hackers between 2011 and 2013. The campaign targeted oil and natural gas pipeline companies in the United States. 

July 2021. Iran used Facebook accounts to pose as recruiters, journalists, and NGO affiliates, targeting U.S. military personnel. The hackers sent malware-infected files or tricked targets into submitting sensitive credentials to phishing sites. 

July 2021. The Russian defense ministry claimed it was hit with a DDoS attack that caused its website to shut down, stating the attack came from outside the Russian Federation. 

July 2021. Norway attributed a March 2021 cyberattack on parliament’s e-mail system to China. 

July 2021. Iran’s transport and urbanization ministry was the victim of a cyber attack that impacted display boards at stations throughout the country. The attack caused delays and cancellations of hundreds of trains across Iran. 

July 2021. Russian hackers exploited a vulnerability in Kaseya’s virtual systems/server administrator (VSA) software allowing them to deploy a ransomware attack on the network. The hack affected around 1,500 small and midsized businesses, with attackers asking for $70 million in payment. 

July 2021. The Ukranian Ministry of Defense claimed its naval forces’ website was targeted by Russian hackers who published fake reports about the international Sea Breeze-2021 military drills. 

June 2021. Russia claimed that Vladimir Putin’s annual phone-in session was targeted by DDoS attacks. 

June 2021. A Chinese-speaking hacking group spearheaded an ongoing espionage effort against the Afghan government through phishing emails. Hackers posed as the Office of the President of Afghanistan and targeted the Afghan National Security Council. 

June 2021. The Iranian government launched a widescale disinformation campaign, targeting WhatsApp groups, Telegram channels and messaging apps used by Israeli activists. The campaign aimed to advance political unrest and distrust in Israel. 

June 2021. Chinese actors targeted organizations, including Verizon and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California using a platform used by numerous government agencies and companies for secure remote access to their networks. 

June 2021. Hackers linked to Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service installed malicious software on a Microsoft system that allowed hackers to gain access to accounts and contact information. The majority of the customers targeted were U.S. based, working for IT companies or the government. 

June 2021. The U.S. and British governments announced the Russian GRU attempted a series of brute force access against hundreds of government and private sector targets worldwide from 2019 to 2021, targeting organizations using Microsoft Office 365® cloud services. 

June 2021. United States Naval Institute (USNI) claimed the tracking data of two NATO ships, the U.K. Royal Navy’s HMS Defender and the Royal Netherlands Navy’s HNLMS Evertsen, was falsified off the coast of a Russian controlled naval base in the Black Sea. The faked data positioned the two warships at the entrance of a major Russian naval base. 

June 2021. A cyberattack reportedly from Russia compromised the email inboxes of more than 30 prominent Polish officials, ministers and deputies of political parties, and some journalists. 

June 2021. Sol Oriens, a small government contractor that works for the Department of Energy on nuclear weapons issues, was attacked by the Russia-linked hacking group REvil. 

June 2021. A spreadsheet was leaked containing classified personal details of the 1,182 United Kingdom’s Special Forces soldiers on WhatsApp. 

June 2021. A ransomware attack targeted iConstituent, a newsletter service used by U.S. lawmakers to contact constituents. 

June 2021. Hackers working on behalf of Russian intelligence services are believed to have hacked Netherlands police internal network in 2017. The attack occurred during the country’s investigation of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) that was shot down in 2014. 

Information Defense: Policy Measures Taken Against Foreign Information Manipulation Most publications on foreign information manipulation focus on the offense, i.e., on the threat. They expose operations or analyze the strategies and tactics of the attackers. Understanding the threat is indeed a priority, but one should not lose sight of its raison d’être: to prevent and/or counter the attack. For the liberal democracies that are the most vulnerable targets of such operations, the main question is how to respond. That is why the author of this Atlantic Council report focuses on the defense. It is not intended to be comprehensive: it cannot cover all responses from all actors in all regions. It therefore focuses on information defense mostly from a governmental perspective, even though private sector efforts will also be mentioned, and mostly from a transatlantic perspective, even though a couple of other examples will also be mentioned. With these limits, this report offers a broad yet concise overview of policy measures taken against foreign information manipulation.

US embassy in Moscow dramatically downscales its workforce The August 5 issue of EVCSP’s Kremlin Watch Briefing made clear that nearly 200 employees at Russia’s US Embassy vacated their posts last week, necessitated by a hiring ban placed on the mission by the Kremlin, which forbids the Embassy from employing Russian and other non-American nationals. Originally planned to take effect in April 2021, the Russian government postponed its implementation until August 1st. The measure was introduced in the midst of worsening US-Russia bilateral relations, to the dismay of many US officials. Discussing the issue, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken issued the following remarks: “These unfortunate measures will severely impact the U.S. mission to Russia’s operations, potentially including the safety of our personnel as well as our ability to engage in diplomacy with the Russian government.” The ban has greatly decreased the ability of Russian citizens to travel to the US, as the Embassy announced that with such a drastic personnel cut, they will no longer be able to process non-diplomatic non-immigrant visas for Russians, in addition to providing other consular services. The Kremlin retaliated, contending that the US resolve to cut visa services wouldn’t barely shift the status quo; Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov argued that, prior to this development, it was already difficult for Russians to obtain US visas. Elaborating, Peskov claimed that “if you unravel the knot of unfriendly steps in the opposite direction, then it becomes obvious that the precursor to all of this is the unfriendly actions of the United States.”

China Assuming New Dominance in Turkmenistan Turkmenistan’s longstanding neutrality has kept it out of Russian regional security arrangements like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which has constrained the level of influence Moscow could have in this notoriously insular Central Asian republic. But now, China is on the way to becoming the dominant outside power in Turkmenistan, according to this new article in Jamestown’s Eurasia Daily Monitor. The reasons for this rise in Beijing’s sway are manifold. First has been China’s already heavy involvement in Turkmenistan’s natural gas sector and transit routes through that country between China and Europe. But other factors include the rapidly growing Taliban threat to the Central Asian region; the readiness of Ashgabat to support China on Xinjiang because, unlike other Central Asian countries, it lacks a diaspora being victimized there; and Beijing’s increasingly obvious interest in expanding its economic involvement in the region into security cooperation. In doing so, Beijing has stolen a march on Moscow and positioned itself to compete with Turkey and other outside powers there in ways that it was never able to before.

Ending Human Trafficking in the Twenty-First Century The authors of this new CFR report argue that human trafficking bolsters abusive regimes and criminal groups, weakens global supply chains, fuels corruption, and undermines good governance. They urge the United States to increase investment in anti-trafficking measures. 

The Case for Stronger Russia Sanctions The claim that Western sanctions against Russia do not work or are unjustified does not hold water. Russia’s economy has been stagnant since Western sanctions were imposed seven years ago, and the Kremlin’s continued hybrid war against the West has made an even tighter sanctions regime an urgent priority, according to this commentary in Project Syndicate, written by a senior fellow at the Stockholm Free World Forum.

The Liberty to Spy Many, if not most, international legal scholars share the ominous contention that espionage, as a legal field, is devoid of meaning. For them, any attempt to extrapolate the lex lata corpus of the International Law of Intelligence (ILI), let alone its lex scripta, would inevitably prove to be a failed attempt, as there is simply nothing to extrapolate. The notion that international law is moot as to the question of if, when, and how intelligence is to be collected, analyzed, and promulgated, has been repeated so many times that it has become the prevailing orthodoxy. This paper, written by an Associate Professor of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, offers a new and innovative legal framework for articulating the law and practice of interstate peacetime espionage operations, relying on a body of moral philosophy and intelligence ethics thus far ignored by legal thinkers. This framework diagnoses the legality of covert intelligence at three distinct temporal stages: before, during, and after. In doing so it follows the traditional paradigms of international law and the use of force, which themselves are grounded in the history of Just War Theory. Adopting the Jus Ad, Jus In, Jus Post model is appropriate, given the symbiosis between espionage and fundamental U.N. Charter principles. This paper focuses on the first of these three paradigms, the Jus Ad Explorationem (“JAE”), a sovereign’s prerogative to engage in peacetime espionage and the right’s core limitations. Examining a plethora of international legal sources, the paper exemplifies the myriad ways by which peacetime intelligence gathering has been already recognized as a necessary pre-requisite for the functioning of our global legal order. The paper then discusses the nature of the JAE. It argues that the right to spy is best understood as a privilege in Hohfeldian terms. It shows how understanding interstate intelligence operations as a weaker “liberty right” that imposes no obligations on third parties to tolerate such behavior helps capture the essence of the customary norms that form part of the practice. Recognizing the liberty right to spy opens the door for the doctrine of “abuse of rights” to play a role in constraining the practice. By identifying the only two legitimate justifications for peacetime espionage—advancing the national security interests of States and promoting an increase in international stability and cooperation—we are able to delimit what may constitute abusive spying, defined as exploiting one’s right to spy not for the purposes for which the right was intended. The paper concludes by introducing four categories of unlawful espionage: (1) spying as a means to advance personal interests; (2) spying as a means to commit internationally wrongful acts; (3) spying as a means to advance corporate interests; and (4) spying as a means to exploit post-colonial relations.

Heads of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service and the Belarusian KGB meet in Vitebsk On June 3, 2021, Vitebsk hosted a working meeting with the Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service S.N. and Chairman of the State Security Committee (KGB) of Belarus I.T., according to the Belarus Watch Briefing #7 (one of the special EVCSP* newsletters which monitors Russian presence and influence within Belarus). According to official information, the heads of special services discussed the prospects of cooperation in ensuring the national interests of Russia and Belarus. It is stressed that such cooperation is necessary “in the conditions of aggressive policy of the United States and Western countries in the Russian and Belarusian directions”. They emphasized the importance of consolidating efforts aimed at strengthening the potential of Moscow and Minsk to counter global challenges and new threats to the security of the Union State. This meeting is just another example of close cooperation between the intelligence services of Russia and Belarus. The importance of cooperation to confront “enemies” and “threats” is symbolically emphasized. In the spirit of the Cold War, there are statements about “the aggressive policy of the West. Thus, the EVCSP sees both real and symbolic interaction between the officials of the security blocs (siloviki) of the two countries. *The European Values Center for Security Policy, a non-governmental, non-partisan institute based in Prague, Czech Republic, defending freedom and sovereignty.

The Belarusian Revolution of 2020: Afterword Belarus has drawn considerable international attention during the past year. The domestic political crisis has caused a true humanitarian catastrophe with tens of thousands of people incarcerated, tortured, otherwise repressed, or forced to leave the country. The situation with the Minsk regime has presented a foreign and security policy challenge for the EU to which the Union is yet to give an adequate response to. In the latest FIIA Comment, the authors evaluate the situation a year after the beginning of the Belarusian protest against the rigged presidential election. According to the authors, the West and the EU in particular should learn from past mistakes and avoid re-engaging with it until preconditions are met, be this with or without Lukashenka at the helm. The West should also realize that waiting for Moscow to “fix” the problem may promise temporary stabilization, but is much more likely to turn Belarus into a source of long-term geopolitical tension. “The West should do its utmost to make sure that the national dialogue gets underway in the country, the purpose of which will be the beginning of the political liberalization and economic reforms that the Belarusian people aspire to”, the writers argue.

Supply Chains and the Global Data Collection Ecosystem Most of the 27 companies tracked by ASPI’s Mapping China’s Technology Giants project are heavily involved in the collection and processing of vast quantities of personal and organizational data, according ASPI’s report. Their global business operations depend on the flow of vast amounts of data, often governed by the data privacy laws of multiple jurisdictions. The Chinese party-state is ensuring that it can derive strategic value and benefit from these companies’ global operations. ASPI assesses interactions between the People’s Republic of China’s political agenda-setting, efforts to shape international technical standards, technical capabilities, and use of data as a strategic resource. ASPI argues this ‘Data Ecosystem’ will have major implications for the effectiveness of data protection laws and notions of digital supply-chain security.
The Kennan Institute recently conducted a series of interviews with Russian lawyers, journalists, and other experts on new additions to the foreign agents law in the country and about Russian information politics. This series is part of a collaboration between the Kennan Institute and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. Check out the interviews and related articles here.

Revisiting principles and recommendations for Western engagement with Belarus On 23 May 2021, Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s regime escalated the political crisis in Belarus by grounding Ryanair Flight 4978 and seizing and arresting two of its passengers, including the well-known dissident journalist Roman Protasevich. This act of air piracy, and the subsequent re-introduction of restrictions on who is permitted to leave Belarus, have confirmed the regime’s utter disregard for human rights and shown the country’s leadership has no intention of stopping its repression of political opposition. Chatham House’s Belarus Initiative has convened a group of international experts to provide recommendations on how the West should engage with the country following these developments. The meeting focused on the objectives of Western engagement, diplomatic relations, sanctions and best ways of supporting the democratic movement.

Five Key Points for Biden’s Russia Summit During June’s bilateral summit, President Joe Biden has an opportunity to set down markers on critical issues with his Russian counterpart. The author of this article, published by CEPA (the Center for European Policy Analysis) is a research fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House – The Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Russia on an ‘Unfriendly’ Planet: The Psychological Origins of the Kremlin’s Diplomatic War Over the past couple months, Russia and the West (the European Union and the United States) have mutually expelled more than 150 diplomats—high numbers in quick succession that, some observers argue, “did not even happen during the Cold War” (Newsru.com, April 24). And those numbers of expelled and counter-expelled diplomats continue to grow, extending to more and more countries. From the European Union, the Czech Republic (Czechia), Poland, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, and Bulgaria as well as EU candidate North Macedonia all became participants of this diplomatic war with Russia. In the case of Ukraine, Russia even gave a double response: on April 16, the consul of Ukraine in St. Petersburg was detained and expelled from Russia; Ukraine responded by expelling one Russian diplomat from Kyiv, but Russia further escalated by declaring another employee of the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow persona non grata  (Kommersant, April 26, 2021).
The diplomatic standoff between Russia and Czechia has become the most serious among EU member countries. At the beginning of this year, Czech investigators established that Russian military intelligence (GRU) officers were involved in explosions at two military warehouses in Vrbětice, in 2014; as a result, Prague declared 18 Russian diplomats persona non grata. In turn, Moscow responded by expelling 20 Czechs, harshly demanding that they leave Russia within just 24 hours. Consequently, the work of the Czech embassy in Moscow was practically paralyzed. In the end, the countries agreed on diplomatic parity—only 7 diplomats and 25 technical and administrative staff from each country would be allowed to remain in the other. These numbers are expected to be reached by the end of May (TASS, May 25, 2021).
The Czech demand for parity was a belated but still important reminder of international law in the field of diplomatic relations. The staffs of Russian embassies and the territories they occupy in many countries often continue to be as large as they were during the Soviet period (or sometimes inexplicably larger). And there are reasonable suspicions that these diplomatic missions are used not only for diplomatic purposes.
However, this conflict was not limited to embassy or consulate staffs. Russia also banned European Parliament Speaker David Sassoli from entering its territory, as well as several European experts who participated in the investigation into the August 2020 poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny (Svoboda.org, April 30, 2021).
In May, the Russian government approved a list of “unfriendly countries,” which so far includes only the United States and Czechia (Tass, May 14, 2021). More than likely, it will continue to expand to any country actively pursuing policies that do not meet the interests of the Kremlin. This initiative looks novel even in comparison with Soviet times. Of course, for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), all “capitalist” countries were considered “unfriendly” by default, but this was blamed on their governments, not on the entire populations of these states. Now, however, the countries as such are officially being declared “unfriendly”—in other words, hostile.
This naturally raises an interesting reverse question—which countries are considered “friendly” toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia? After all, the Kremlin has managed to spoil relations to one degree or another with almost all countries of the post-Soviet space over the past decade, because, due to imperial inertia, it continues to consider them part of its “zone of privileged interests.” In an indicative historical contrast, dozens of world leaders came to Moscow to attend the May 9 Victory Day military parades in the early 2000s, but this year, only the president of Tajikistan, where a large Russian military base is located, visited Red Square (Opemnedia.io, May 29, 2021).
Members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) geopolitical “bloc,” founded in Russia in 2006, also do not look particularly “friendly” by some measures. A major Chinese interest vis-à-vis Russia, as noted five years ago (see EDM, April 28, 2016), consists of a neo-colonial transfer of its environmentally dirty industries to the Russian Far East; today, China is readying to construct a giant metallurgical plant in Sakha (News.ykt.ru, March 26, 2021). And “friendly” Brazil refused to register Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine against COVID 19 (Svoboda.org, April 27, 2021).
As for Moscow’s actions against US diplomatic missions in the Russian Federation, the spiraling restrictions have significantly limited the US diplomats’ abilities to serve the Russians themselves. In a word, the Russian government, wishing to punish foreigners, once again “bombed Voronezh” (see EDM July 19, 2017). The US Consulate General in Yekaterinburg, the last such mission in a Russian city outside Moscow, closed on May 17 (Newsru.com, May 17). And as of May 12, the residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg also found themselves no longer able to obtain visas for travel to the United States. Joint cultural programs, student exchanges, and so on have all been interrupted. “We regret that due to the actions of the Government of the Russian Federation, we are forced to reduce the provision of consular services by 75 percent, which makes it impossible to provide visa services,” the US embassy in Moscow posted to its website (Ru.usembassy.gov, accessed May 20, 2021). The Kremlin’s accusations of other countries’ “unfriendliness” coincide with unprecedented repressions against the internal opposition, which is declared “extremist” (Novaya Gazeta,  April 16, 2021). In general, it looks like a single interconnected strategy but one difficult to explain with reference to any rational interests of the country. Most likely, the explanation lies in the psychological sphere: indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel once observed that Putin lives “in his own world” (The New York Times, March 3, 2014). The president of Russia, after more than 20 years in power, seems to have honed the thinking that was instilled in him in the KGB. This thinking is built heavily on conspiracy theories: there are no independent partners, “everyone works for someone else.” Therefore, there can be no independent Russian opposition or free elections, only “foreign agents” who dream of overthrowing him (see EDM, February 4, 2021). In supporters of normal federalism, Putin presumably sees those who want to “destroy the country.” And in foreign policy, his obsession, apparently, is geopolitical revenge for the collapse of the USSR, which occurred “by order of the West”—naturally, the main enemy.
The Russian foreign ministry has listed the conditions under which it would lift restrictions on diplomatic missions. And these effectively boil down to the United States softening its attitude towards the Kremlin’s aggressive policies (RBC, May 18, 2021). But will President Joseph Biden agree to such coercion during the June summit with Putin?
The author of this Jamestown Foundation article (Eurasia Daily Monitor of May 26, 2021), is the editor-in-chief of Region.Expert (www.region.expert), the only independent media outlet on Russian regionalism and federalism, and since 2015 living in Estonia due to persecution in Russia for his political views.

G7, London The first in-person G7 meeting for two years took place in London and a lengthy 90-page communiqué was published on the 5th of May 2021. The Foreign and Development Ministers of the Group of Seven (G7), and the High Representative of the European Union declared:

Russia

  1. We are deeply concerned that the negative pattern of Russia’s irresponsible and destabilising behaviour continues. This includes the large build-up of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s borders and in illegally-annexed Crimea, its malign activities aimed at undermining other countries’ democratic systems, its malicious cyber activity, and use of disinformation. We express full solidarity with all partners affected by actions connected to Russian intelligence services against their interests and security, which will continue to be met with the staunchest resolve. We note with regret the deterioration in Russia’s relations with Western countries, and stress the importance of respecting the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as the essential foundation of diplomatic relations between states.
  2. We recall our joint statement of 26 January on the arrest, sentencing and detention on politically-motivated charges of Alexey Navalny, as well as our condemnation of his poisoning on Russian territory with a military-grade chemical nerve-agent of the “Novichok” group. Any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable and contravenes international norms against the use of such weapons. In light of Russia’s obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, we urge Russia to investigate and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil without further delay. There must be accountability for those that use chemical weapons.
  3. We remain deeply concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia, and the systematic crackdown on opposition voices, human rights defenders, independent civil society, and media.
  4. We reiterate our interest in stable and predictable relations with Russia. We nevertheless will continue to bolster our collective capabilities and those of our partners to address and deter Russian behaviour that is threatening the rules-based international order, including in the areas of cyberspace security and disinformation. We will continue to engage with Russia in addressing regional crises and global challenges of common interest such as climate change; arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation; and peaceful, sustainable economic development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

ODNI Releases Annual Intelligence Community Transparency Report Consistent with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), as amended (codified in 50 U.S.C. § 1873(b)), and the Intelligence Community’s (IC) Principles of Intelligence Transparency, released the eighth annual Statistical Transparency Report Regarding Use of National Security Surveillance Authorities.
This report provides the public not only statistics, but also contextual information, regarding the scope of the government’s use of FISA authorities, National Security Letters, and other national security authorities.  In conjunction with other publicly released material, this report adds insight into the rigorous and multi-layered oversight framework governing the IC that safeguards the privacy and civil liberties of United States (U.S.) person and non-U.S. person information acquired pursuant to these national security authorities. 

Remarks by President Biden in Address to a Joint Session of Congress On April 28, 2021, President Biden delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress.  Below you’ll find some sections of his speech that are particularly relevant to readers interested in Russia.
“America is an idea, the most unique idea in history. We are created, all of us equal. It is who we are. And we cannot walk away from that principle and in fact say we are dealing with the American idea. With regards to Russia, I know it concerns some of you. I made it clear to Putin that we are not going to seek—excuse me—escalation but their actions will have consequences if they turned out to be true. And they turned out to be true. So I responded directly and proportionally to Russia’s interference in our elections and the cyberattacks on our government and our business. They did both of these things, and I told them we would respond, and we have. We’ll also cooperate when it is our mutual interest. We did it when we extended the New Start Treaty on nuclear arms and we are working on climate change. But he understands, we will respond”. The full text of Biden’s remarks can be found here.

Belarus plane action eases Russian military restraints The recent action against a civilian flight between two EU capitals has removed any remaining doubt Belarus is content to continue down the path of becoming a rogue state. There could be no clearer statement that President Lukashenka has turned his back on the West and abandoned any restraint or concern for international censure. Since the rigged presidential election in August 2020, Lukashenka has placed all his bets on Moscow and Russia has been quick to take advantage of the military opportunities this offered. Russian troops have held demonstrative exercises showing how speedily they can be inserted by air directly from Russia onto Belarus’s borders with Poland and Lithuania – all with full cooperation from Minsk. Closer integration between the two armed forces has seen the establishment of joint military training centres and a rolling series of exercises and, with the massive Zapad-2021 military exercise now on the horizon this coming September – the first for four years – many of the restraints Russia might have felt in what it could do with this exercise have been lifted. The author of this Chatham House article is a senior consulting fellow of Chatham’s Russia and Eurasia Programme.

UK and Japan agree strengthened trade and security partnership ahead of G7 meeting Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab held talks on the 3rd of May 2021 at Chevening House with Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Toshimitsu Motegi ahead of the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ meeting. The two foreign ministers discussed the UK’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade grouping and the Foreign Secretary thanked Minister Motegi for Japan’s support. The UK and Japan also agreed the basis for deepening further trade and security cooperation. The UK’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (published in March) outlines a new focus on the Indo-Pacific region. Both sides recognized the Integrated Review’s alignment with Japan’s flagship foreign policy strategy, the Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision. The foreign ministers also explored opportunities for increased collaboration in areas of shared interest and where the 2 countries can share expertise such as economic security, advanced technologies, health and science.

Putin’s Bid to Ditch Dollar Picks Up as Exports Move to Euro According to Bloomberg’s article on April 26, 2021, Vladimir Putin’s multi-year push to reduce Russia’s exposure to the dollar hit a major milestone as the share of exports sold in the U.S. currency fell below 50% for the first time. Most of the slump in dollar use came from Russia’s trade with China, more than three-quarters of which is now conducted in euros, according to central bank data published late Monday. The common currency’s share in total exports jumped more than 10 percentage points to 36%, the data for the fourth quarter show. Multiple rounds of sanctions and the constant threat of more to come have pushed Russia to find ways to isolate its economy from U.S. interference. The central bank has also stripped back its holdings of Treasuries in its international reserves, loading up on gold and euros instead.
The shift away from dollar trade with China accelerated in 2019 when oil major Rosneft PJSC switched export contracts for crude shipments to euros. Lots of mid-cap companies are now also seeking ways to reduce exposure to the U.S. currency, with many switching contracts to yuan or rubles in trade with China, according to Daniel Haindl, the co-head of FX & interest-rates sales at VTB Capital in Moscow. “We also see that a growing portion of settlements between Russia and former Soviet countries is in rubles,” Haindl said. Washington imposed new penalties on Russia this month, including limits on buying newly-issued sovereign debt, in response to allegations that Moscow was behind a hack on SolarWinds Corp. and interfered with last year’s U.S. election.
The Biden administration has said it’s prepared to escalate those penalties if the Kremlin fails to rein in hacking attacks and attempts to interfere with the U.S. political process.
Russia must take urgent steps to cut its use of the dollar to a minimum to eliminate dependence on “this toxic source of permanent hostile actions,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview in February.

The impact of Western sanctions on Russia and how they can be made even more effective When analyzing a Western policy on Russia, one must first assess the nature of Russia’s government. The authors call it “kleptocratic” or “neopatrimonial” autocracy, as such regimes sustain loyalty of elites and population through the redistribution of benefits and spoils. The two main objectives of Vladimir Putin’s system are to maintain power and to enrich a narrow elite. The Kremlin’s foreign policy should be seen from this perspective. It is designed to promote the interests of the current Kremlin elite, not the Russian nation. One means of doing so has been small victorious wars, as described by a century-old Russian term. As the Russian economy has barely grown since 2014, the Kremlin has become more cautious with major real warfare. Instead, it pursues cheaper, so-called hybrid warfare, such as cyberattacks and assassinations.
For the West, a real war with Russia has been out of question. But, since Russia’s aggression in Ukraine in 2014, the West has felt a need to do something substantial to impede Russian foreign aggression. Its natural choice has been sanctions. The West has focused on two kinds of sanctions: financial sanctions and personal sanctions on human-rights violators and corrupt businessmen working for the Kremlin. In addition, the West has introduced some restrictions on the export of technology, while it has abstained from the previously common trade sanctions. In general, sanctions are becoming more diverse, with the share of trade sanctions falling, while financial and visa sanctions are becoming more popular.
This Atlantic Council report aims to assess how effective Western sanctions on Russia have been in macroeconomic terms, and what could be done to render them more effective. Its focus is the impact of sanctions on gross domestic product (GDP). The authors argue that while Western sanctions have not succeeded in forcing the Kremlin to fully reverse its actions and end aggression in Ukraine, their effect has been quite substantial with regard to the weakening of the Russian economy and stopping further military aggression. The financial sanctions had the greatest impact on Russian GDP, by restricting Russia’s access to foreign capital, including credits to both the government and the private sector, as well as foreign direct investment (FDI). A secondary impact of the financial sanctions was enticing the Kremlin to pursue a more restrictive fiscal and monetary policy than would have been ideal for economic growth.
This report distinguishes microeconomic effects of sanctions as well, but does not try to quantify them. When passing judgment on the effect of sanctions, the authors make the following distinctions: Did the sanctions roll back objectionable policies, contain them, or deter Russia from further objectionable policies? First, however, it is important to assess the real problem with Putin’s regime and its international repercussions.

Russia in the Middle East: National Security Challenges for the United States and Israel in the Biden Era As U.S.-Russian tensions continue to escalate, Russia’s role in the Middle East is of urgent concern both to Israel and the United States. Potential flashpoints include Syria and Iran, new spheres of Russian engagement from Afghanistan to North Africa, and sensitive cybersecurity issues. Russia is also moving in tandem with China to push back against U.S. dominance, including in the Middle East. Leading experts from Israel and the United States address these challenges in a new report published by the Kennan Institute (The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC Herzliya is one of Israel’s leading academic institutes).

Significant Cyber Incidents This CSIS* timeline, with a focus on cyber attacks on government agencies, defense and high tech companies, or economic crimes with losses of more than a million dollars, records significant cyber incidents since 2003. This list is a work in progress that CSIS will update as new incidents come to light. * The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a bipartisan, nonprofit policy research organization dedicated to advancing practical ideas to address the world’s greatest challenges.

ODNI Unseals 2020 FISC Decision Granting Government Surveillance Powers On April 26, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a redacted Nov. 18, 2020 ruling issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The decision, written by Judge James E. Boasberg, grants the U.S. government’s request for approval to continue collecting information on non-U.S. persons in order to acquire foreign intelligence information. Under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the government must seek reauthorization of the certifications and procedures it uses to target foreign nationals to collect intelligence each year. The FISC reviews these requests annually to ensure that the U.S. government’s collection program is in compliance with FISA and the Constitution.

Global Trends, a More Contested World The National Intelligence Council released its quadrennial “Global Trends” report on the 8th of April, 2021.

2021 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community This annual report of worldwide threats to the national security of the United States responds to Section 617 of the FY21 Intelligence Authorization Act (P.L. 116-260). This report reflects the collective insights of the Intelligence Community (IC), which is committed every day to providing the nuanced, independent, and unvarnished intelligence that policymakers, warfighters, and domestic law enforcement personnel need to protect American lives and America’s interests anywhere in the world. This assessment focuses on the most direct, serious threats to the United States during the next year. The order of the topics presented in this assessment does not necessarily indicate their relative importance or the magnitude of the threats in the view of the IC. All require a robust intelligence response, including those where a near-term focus may help head off greater threats in the future, such as climate change and environmental degradation. As required by the law, this report will be provided to the congressional intelligence committees as well as the committees on the Armed Services of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Information available as of 9 April 2021 was used in the preparation of this assessment.

NSCAI’s Final Report (2021) The mandate of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence’s (NSCAI) is to make recommendations to the President and Congress to “advance the development of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and associated technologies to comprehensively address the national security and defense needs of the United States.” This Final Report presents the NSCAI’s strategy for winning the artificial intelligence era. The 16 chapters in the Main Report provide topline conclusions and recommendations. The accompanying Blueprints for Action outline more detailed steps that the U.S. Government should take to implement the recommendations.

European AI Policy Conference – Trends in Leadership, Strategy, and Innovation The Center for Data Innovation hosted the “European AI Policy Conference: Trends in Leadership, Strategy, and Innovation” as an online event on December 1, 2020. This report of April 9, 2021 provides an overview of some of the highlights from the conference, including summaries of each panel discussion and highlights from various keynote speeches.

Image of Russia: Mighty Slavic Brother or Hungry Bear Next door? According to a new GLOBSEC* report, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the Western Balkans have been, due to their geographic position and history, contested territories that have seen global and regional powers compete for control and influence. Following the fall of communism in 1989 and the successful integration of CEE into the EU and NATO, it seemed almost inevitable that the allure of Russia would diminish as would its footprint.  Russia’s turn to a more confrontational foreign policy approach has seen the country use various methods, including active measures, disinformation and information operations, to increase its leverage in an attempt to roll back the pro-Western transition of the region.
By cultivating and amplifying pro-Russian attitudes and narratives, the Kremlin rather is seeking to weaken both the EU and NATO from within, slowing and/or paralyzing their decision-making processes and shaping their policies.  To counter these influence strategies, it is necessary to first comprehensively understand how Russia is seeking to depict itself in CEE and the Western Balkans and how successful its attempts have been. Equally important is the need to take note of both commonalities and differences across the region and within different segments of societies. *GLOBSEC is a think-tank based in Bratislava, Slovak Republic.

Fact Sheet: Imposing Costs for Harmful Foreign Activities by the Russian Government The Joe Biden administration announced a series of measures punishing Russia, including financial sanctions and the expulsion of diplomats, in response to a range of alleged malign activities by Moscow. These include the so-called SolarWinds hack, interference in U.S. elections, and a CIA assessment that Russia paid bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan. The new sanctions prohibit U.S. banks from buying new Russian government bonds. The United States also sanctioned thirty-two individuals and entities over alleged attempts to influence the 2020 election, and it is expelling ten Russian diplomats. The Biden administration formally accused Russia’s foreign intelligence service of carrying out the SolarWinds hack—widely considered to be one of the world’s largest cyber intrusions—which targeted U.S. government and corporate computer networks. The penalties come amid a continued Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border that has also increased tensions with the United States.

Security at the frontier: UK-Japan perspectives on cyberspace, outer space, the Arctic and electron Increasing global connectivity has brought with it a new range of security threats that were unfathomable just decades ago. Global reliance on the internet and on virtual networks has revealed a range of new cyber vulnerabilities and threats, including to critical infrastructure and the Internet of Things (IoT). Cyber technology has brought with it a new security focus on outer space, which has become key to the functioning of national and international infrastructure on the ground. Furthermore, technologies using the electromagnetic spectrum, which are increasingly integral to military operations, create new challenges and adversarial threats including the prospect of electronic warfare. These challenges have expanded geographically too, as countries explore new physical frontiers, like the Arctic, as regions of strategic interest. This Chatham House* conference report, comprising four expert essays and a meeting summary, draws upon Chatham House’s December 2020 conference ‘Security at the Frontier’, to examine the latest developments in cyberspace, outer space, the Arctic and electronic warfare, and considers how best the UK and Japan might respond to these challenges. *Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is a world-leading policy institute based in London.

Russia Warns Could Block Zoom If It Prohibits Government Use Zoom is the latest American tech company that may soon have its access to the Russian market blocked by state authorities as a result of continued tensions between Washington and Moscow. According to Russian media sources (The Moscow Times, April 7, 2021), Zoom is barring its proponents from selling licenses to Russian state agencies over fears of impending U.S. sanctions stemming from the treatment of imprisoned political dissident Alexei Navalny. In response to the development, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov – though downplaying the possibility of an all-out ban – emphasized the need to develop Russian alternatives to the U.S.-based online meeting platform. Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov expressed similar sentiments while touting the effectiveness of the Russian-developed Sferum platform as an alternative for schoolchildren. 

Earmarks and Directives in the Foreign Operations Appropriation While not actual “earmarks,” both “hard” and “soft” directives have a significant impact on the U.S. government’s ability to program, implement, and evaluate foreign assistance. There are as many reasons for the application of these directives as there are sectors where they are applied; however, the outcome is the same: an inability to flexibly adapt assistance to changing contexts. The increase in directives has squeezed funding in other areas such as democracy building and economic reforms, consequently reducing the U.S. government’s ability to pivot quickly with non-humanitarian economic assistance funding to address a crisis or take advantage of an opportunity for development. By studying the composition of these directives, this CSIS paper serves as a starting point for Congress and the executive branch to engage in meaningful strategic reform and implementation of foreign assistance operations.

Illuminating SolarStorm: Implications for National Strategy and Policy As the security community uncovers the full scope and scale of the SolarStorm / Sunburst / Solorigate attack, policymakers are grappling with its impact on federal policy priorities. While we won’t obtain a full understanding of SolarStorm for months or years, we know enough today to contemplate bipartisan avenues for better management of cybersecurity risks across the economy. In Aspen Digital’s new compilation report, seventeen experts—including members of the Aspen Cybersecurity Group—offer policy-relevant takeaways from the attack and actionable ideas for transforming this crisis into a landmark moment for better cybersecurity.

Common Code / An Alliance Framework for Democratic Technology Policy The 21st century will be defined by competition—a contest of economic power rooted in technological advances. How countries decide to compete will shape the lives of billions of people. Technology-leading countries will determine how to harness new technologies to combat disease, feed humanity, counter climate change, gain wealth, explore the universe, gain influence over others, secure their interests, and protect their independence and freedom. The leaders in adopting emerging technologies such as AI, quantum computing, biotechnology, and next-generation telecommunications, and those who shape their use, will garner economic, military, and political strength for decades. The world’s liberal democracies stand at a crossroads. Political power and economic might is diffusing. The integrity and efficacy of postwar institutions are increasingly challenged. Fresh thinking and new approaches are needed to tackle the challenges ahead to ensure that the future of technology is a beneficial one. No one country can achieve this on its own. The requisite knowledge and capabilities are too dispersed. Broad-based, proactive, and long-term multilateral cooperation among like-minded countries is needed to maximize effectiveness across a range of areas, including research and development (R&D), supply chain diversity and security, standards-setting, multilateral export controls, and countering the illiberal use of advanced technology. To achieve the necessary level of coordination and collaboration, the world’s tech-leading democracies should spearhead the creation of a new multilateral architecture for technology policy—a technology alliance.
Technological leadership by the world’s major liberal-democratic nations will be essential to safeguarding democratic institutions, norms, and values, and will contribute to global peace and prosperity. A unified approach by like-minded nations also is needed to counteract growing investments in and deployments of emerging technologies by authoritarian, revisionist powers. Many have made the case for such a grouping, most notably the United Kingdom’s recent call for a “Democracy 10” to tackle 5G and other technology issues. Similarly, former U.S. government officials have advocated for the creation of a “Tech 10.” Despite this interest in a new coordination mechanism for multilateral technology policy, the work needed to create it has been elusive. This document lays out what that alliance framework should look like, the opening chapter of a new, multilateral techno-democratic statecraft strategy for the 21st century. It answers the key questions needed to move from concept to an actionable blueprint necessary to tackle the 21st century technology competition.

Reimagining U.S. Strategy in the Middle East U.S. policy toward the Middle East has relied heavily on military instruments of power and has focused on regional threats—particularly the Iranian threat—with the goal of keeping partners on “our side.” These long-standing policies have largely fallen short of meeting core U.S. interests and adapting to new regional realities and strategic imperatives. RAND researchers* offer an alternative framework, suggesting that the U.S. strategic priority must center on reducing regional conflict and the drivers of conflict. This revised strategic approach puts a greater focus on addressing conflict and socioeconomic challenges that are creating unsustainable pressures on the region’s states and immense suffering among its people. Researchers analyze how the tools of U.S. policy—political, security, economic, diplomatic, and informational instruments—would need to adjust to more effectively address such challenges in ways that are mindful of limited resources at home. Researchers also examine how the United States deals with both partners and adversaries in and outside the region and consider how to better leverage policies to the benefit of U.S. interests and the region. The researchers recommend specific actions organized into the following three pillars: (1) shifting resources from the current heavy reliance on military tools to a more balanced approach that prioritizes economic investments, governance, diplomacy, and programs focused on people; (2) favoring a long-term time horizon to reduce regional conflict and support growth and development, even at the cost of short-term risks; and (3) working multilaterally with global and regional partners to address key challenges. The research report offers many recommendations. *This research was conducted within the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy, a center within International Programs at the RAND Corporation.

RUSSIA – the new report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (UK) The new report of the ISC (the committee of Parliament with statutory responsibility for oversight of the UK Intelligence Community), was presented to Parliament pursuant to section 3 of the Justice and Security Act 2013, and ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 21 July 2020.

Director’s 2021 Vincent Briscoe Lecture The full transcript of Director GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) Jeremy Fleming’s speech for the 2021 Vincent Briscoe Lecture for the Institute for Security, Science and Technology at Imperial College London is now available. The speech considered the impact fundamental changes in the tech environment have had on the economy and society in the UK, and the way in which the global pandemic has accelerated those trends at home but also enabled adversaries in new ways.  It examined the challenges surrounding geopolitical competition in technology, and the need to reform the international approach to cyber and technology for the 21st century.  The speech is also available to be watched on YouTube.

The Militarization of Cyberspace? Cyber-Related Provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act With Congress struggling to pass stand-alone cybersecurity legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is now the primary vehicle to pass all matters of cybersecurity legislation. Because the annual defense bill typically requires provisions to have a tie to national security, other cyber issues, like those pertaining to criminal justice, tend to be excluded. As a result, the authorities and resources awarded to Department of Defense (DoD) cyber mission far outpace those provided to civilian agencies responsible for partnering with state, local, private, and international partners. With ransomware and cyber incidents at an all-time high, Congress should either include a new title in future Defense bills to bolster US cyber enforcement and civilian agencies’ capabilities or pass a cyber-omnibus bill to fix policy gaps and provide commensurate funds to federal and local agencies to combat malicious cyber activity. In Third Way’s paper, Third Way* analyzed the last five NDAAs (2017-2021) to chronicle Washington’s reliance on the NDAA to shepherd through a wide swath of cybersecurity legislation. *Third Way is a national think tank that champions modern center-left ideas.

China and Russia: closing the maritime system? The author of this article in the Council on Geostrategy’s “Britain’s World” (an online magazine about geopolitics from a British perspective) is an Associate Professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies and a James Cook Associate Fellow in Indo-Pacific Geopolitics at the Council on Geostrategy. The Council on Geostrategy is a new think tank, based in London. The author wrote the article in a personal capacity.

FBI-DHS-CISA Joint Advisory on Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Cyber Operations The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Homeland Security, and CISA have released a Joint Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) addressing Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) cyber actors—also known as Advanced Persistent Threat 29 (APT 29), the Dukes, CozyBear, and Yttrium—continued targeting of U.S and foreign entities. The SVR activity—which includes the recent SolarWinds Orion supply chain compromise—primarily targets government networks, think tank and policy analysis organizations, and information technology companies and seeks to gather intelligence information. This CSA complements the CISA, FBI, and National Security Agency (NSA) Joint CSA: Russian SVR Targets U.S. and Allied Networks and provides tactics, tools, techniques, and capabilities to help organizations conduct investigations and secure their networks. CISA encourages users and administrators to review Joint CSA AA21-116A: Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Cyber Operations: Trends and Best Practices for Network Defenders and implement the recommended mitigations. For additional information on SVR-related activity, review the following resources:

  1. CISA-FBI-NSA Joint Cybersecurity Advisory: Russian SVR Targets U.S. and Allied Networks

  2. CISA Current Activity: NSA-CISA-FBI Joint Advisory on Russian SVR Targeting U.S. and Allied Networks

  3. White House Statement: Imposing Costs for Harmful Foreign Activities by the Russian Government

Russia’s Espionage in Estonia: A Quantitative Analysis of Convictions The activities of Russia’s Intelligence Services are receiving a lot of media attention. However, large-scale Russian intelligence blunders in the US, in the UK and in other NATO countries have resulted in very few convictions. On the other hand in Estonia, there are at least 20 convictions of Russian spies since 2009. This paperof the International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS), the leading think-tank in Estonia specializing in foreign policy, security and defence issues, published in November 2019 and based only on publicly available sources, aims to give an overview of the results of the fight against Russia’s espionage by Estonian law enforcement authorities. It shows that effective countermeasures are possible, if there legislative basis, law enforcement agencies with knowhow and the will to implement them.

The Bronze Soldier Crisis of 2007: Revisiting an Early Case of Hybrid Conflict This report revisits the spring 2007 crisis in Estonia, centred on the World War II memorial known as the Bronze Soldier statue. The crisis is well-known both in Estonia and abroad. It was one of the first wake-up calls to the cooling of relations between Russia and the West. It also involved the first use of wide-ranging cyber-attacks against a state.New sources have made it possible to connect some dots and shed some light on actions that 13 years later we would call ‘hybrid’. This report of the International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS), the leading think-tank in Estonia specializing in foreign policy, security and defence issuesshould be useful for anybody interested in Russian affairs and in Russia’s modus operandi for influencing events abroad – especially decision-makers, think-tankers, journalists, academics and students.
In addition to an overall timeline of the events and an examination of their historical context, the report offers:

  1. An overview of Russia’s understanding of the use of hybrid means, drawn from Russian strategy documents of the last two decades.
  2. An explanation of how it was possible to make history a problem in current politics.
  3. Insights into the synchronised use by Russia of diplomacy, proxies, media and the secret services; and later also the economy.
  4. A description of how these means were used to bring rioters onto the streets.
  5. A quantitative analysis of Russian media activity in the months leading up to the crisis.

What occurred in Estonia in 2007 would now be called a hybrid attack, or the materialisation of hybrid threats. The different interpretations of history by Estonians and by Russian-speakers created a division in Estonian society that was used to sow discontent. The crisis was fanned by the coordinated use of diplomacy, social and traditional media (and what now would be called fake news), economic pressure and—for the first time—cyber-attacks. The only dimension of state power that was not used was military force.

The Domestic Security Grey Zone: Navigating the Space Between Foreign Influence and Foreign Interference Australia has been a global first mover in updating its legislation, policy and bureaucratic structure to manage foreign influence risk in the 21st century. Australia’s response has focused on criminalising, disrupting and deterring the most pernicious form of foreign influence – foreign interference. However, a ‘grey zone’ is emerging between acceptable foreign influence activities and unlawful foreign interference. This paper (of the National Security College at Australia National University) asks: how should Australia address foreign influence that falls short of interference, but is nonetheless inconsistent with Australian values, interests or sovereignty?

New Sanctions Imposed on Russia On March 18, 2021, the Secretary of State, acting under authority delegated pursuant to Executive Order 12851, has determined pursuant to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) that the Government of the Russian Federation has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals. The sanctions imposed on Russia in connection with this determination include a prohibition, subject to partial waiver, on the export to Russia of national security-controlled goods and technology subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).
Federal Register
Rules and Regulations

U.S. Department of Commerce to Expand Restrictions on Exports to Russia in Response to Chemical Weapons Poisoning The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) will expand export restrictions on Russia pursuant to a March 2, 2021 determination by the Secretary of State that the Government of Russia has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals. The Department of Commerce released the following statement:
“By deploying illegal nerve agents against dissidents, both inside and outside its borders, the Russian government has acted in flagrant violation of its commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention and has directly put its own citizens and those of other countries at mortal risk. The Department of Commerce is committed to preventing Russia from accessing sensitive U.S. technologies that might be diverted to its malign chemical weapons activities.”

U.S. Treasury, Commerce, and State Departments Impose Sanctions and Export Control Measures on Russian Officials and Entities On March 18, 2021, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) expanded export restrictions on Russia pursuant to the March 2, 2021 determination by the U.S. Department of State that the Russian government had used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law and against its own nationals. Specifically, BIS suspended the following license exceptions for national security-controlled items subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and destined for Russia: RPL (Servicing and Replacement of Parts and Equipment), TSU (Technology and Software Unrestricted), and APR (Additional Permissive Reexports). Moreover, BIS instituted a presumption of denial when reviewing license applications for exports of national security-controlled items to Russia, including applications for commercial end-users and civil end-uses. Notwithstanding the foregoing, however, certain categories of exports and reexports will continue to be permitted under a partial waiver of the sanctions on national security grounds.

Global Britain in a Competitive Age, the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy This is a new (March 2021) U.K. Government 114-page report on British defense and foreign policy, presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister by Command of Her Majesty.

Information Bedlam: Russian and Chinese Information Operations During Covid-19 The covid-19 public health crisis involves more than a fight against the coronavirus. It has prompted an information war in which the United States and its allies are losing ground to adversaries, particularly Russia and China. While the pandemic enables disruption of the information environment, it also presents a research opportunity. Based on a literature review through January 2021, evaluated at an expert seminar, this CEPA policy brief provides a baseline analysis of changing tactics, narratives, and distribution strategies in Russian and Chinese information operations (IOs) relating to the covid-19 pandemic.

FBI Private Industry Notification: “Malicious actors almost certainly will leverage synthetic content for cyber and foreign influence operations” On Mar. 10, the FBI’s Cyber Division released a Private Industry Notification (PIN) warning that “Malicious actors almost certainly will leverage synthetic content for cyber and foreign influence operations in the next 12-18 months.” The PIN explains that manipulated images or video—often referred to as “deepfakes”—can be investigated by the FBI when the synthetic content is malicious and “attributed to foreign actors or is otherwise associated with criminal activities.” The report specifically highlights content generated with artificial intelligence or machine learning techniques. It alleges that Russian, Chinese and Chinese-language actors have already used these emerging technologies to create real-looking profile images of nonexistent people in an effort to make their messages appear more authentic to online users. As technology continues to advance, the PIN asserts, the public is increasingly likely to encounter fraudulent, synthesized content online.
The PIN warns that “cyber actors may use synthetic content to create highly believable spear phishing messages or engage in sophisticated social engineering attacks,” citing a November 2020 Europol research report It further provides guidance for identifying the use of deepfakes in influence operations, using a photo from thispersondoesnotexist.com to illustrate different indications of deepfake technology. And it offers general guidance for combatting disinformation campaigns in a digital landscape littered with synthetic content.
The PIN was coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

Economic defence alliances may help deter economic warfare The world is entering a period of rapid evolution in economic statecraft driven by the rise of China, economic devastation from COVID-19 and geopolitical flux within the US, EU, UK, and other nations. Such evolution is driving new offensive approaches and in turn this must drive the development of defensive measures by democratic states. There is widespread recognition that the current national security competition with China is as much economic as military. Chinese economic threats range across a spectrum from traditional economic competition, such as Made in China 2025, to geopolitical power plays like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to outright systematic theft of intellectual property. China is also using its economic power to achieve geopolitical ends through the threat and execution of unilateral, punitive tariffs and other coercive methods. This has been amply demonstrated through its recent interactions with Australia, for example, in which the Chinese government used tariffs and other economic weapons on key Australian exports like beef, barley, and wine to punish the nation for its investigation of China’s role in the spread of COVID-19. Similar coercive measures have been pursued against Sweden, Germany, and other nations. Nor is it just China that uses economic power in such a fashion. Russia regularly uses its control over the flow of oil and natural gas -and more recently vaccines – to neighbouring countries like Ukraine to further its geopolitical goals. Read the full article from LSE Business Review (London School of Economics).

The defender’s dilemma: Defining, identifying, and deterring gray-zone aggression This new AEI report, adapted from the forthcoming book The Defender’s Dilemma, discusses the nature of gray-zone aggression and offers policy proposals on how to deter it. The key points are:

  1. Gray-zone aggression takes place in the gray zone between war and peace and is used to weaken another country using means short of war.
  2. Using it is advantageous to the attacker, as it involves far smaller risks and expenses than armed aggression does, and to date results in scant punishment.
  3. Russia and China are today’s main practitioners of gray-zone aggression against the West, each using a different combination of means of aggression.
  4. Because gray-zone aggression exploits open societies’ vulnerabilities, any country can use the opportunity and can create new means of aggression.
  5. As it does not involve the sustained use of force and targets civil society, defense and deterrence must include all parts of society.

Three North Korean Military Hackers Indicted in Wide-Ranging Scheme to Commit Cyberattacks and Financial Crimes Across the Globe On Feb. 17, the Department of Justice released a newly unsealed indictment that charges three North Korean cyber operatives in connection with an alleged scheme to steal currency and commit cyberattacks on banks and businesses around the world. The indictment alleges that the men—Jon Chang Hyok, Kim Il and Park Jin Hyok—worked with other conspirators on behalf of Pyongyang’s military intelligence agency in North Korea. It also alleges that the trio sometimes traveled to and worked from other countries, including China and Russia.
The Justice Department alleges that defendants worked for North Korean military intelligence to engage in criminal hacking, often under the banner of cybercrime groups known as Lazarus Group and APT38. The indictment alleges a broad campaign of criminal cyber activity. It describes “a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy to conduct a series of destructive cyberattacks, to steal and extort more than $1.3 billion of money and cryptocurrency from financial institutions and companies, to create and deploy multiple malicious cryptocurrency applications, and to develop and fraudulently market a blockchain platform.” The attacks targeted the entertainment industry, banks, U.S. federal agencies and hundreds of other companies. The indictment was filed on Dec. 8 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The three defendants remain at large.

The Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service’s Sixth Annual Report Russia continues to be the primary threat to the EU in cyberspace, presenting intensifying dangers in terms of online espionage, cyberattacks, and also a likely turn to deepfake technology in the near future, a new report from the Estonian intelligence services says.
Published on Wednesday (02-17-2021), the annual security assessment from Estonia’s Foreign Intelligence Service noted that Russia continues to apply certain ‘KGB-style’ tactics in cyberspace to sow discord among Western societies. The report comes after the disclosure in December 2020 that Russian state agents had most likely been behind the Solar Winds Attack.*
Estonia’s research states that in all likelihood, Russian special services will now seek to step up their development of so-called ‘deepfake’ technologies in the field of cyber warfare. Deepfake technology involves the creation of synthetic media, generally, video material, using artificial intelligence and machine learning tools which allow for an individual’s facial expressions and speech to be doctored to appear real. “In the future, the Russian services are likely to exploit deepfake technology,” the Estonian intelligent document states. “This threat will be particularly high once technological development reaches a level where deepfakes are convincing enough to be unrecognisable to the human eye,” it adds, also noting that this will present challenges in the future in terms of the ability of the public to distinguish between true and false information.
*Microsoft reckons that the huge attack took the combined power of at least 1,000 engineers to create. The months-long hacking campaign that affected US government agencies and cybersecurity vendors was “the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen,” Microsoft has said, and involved a vast number of developers. The attack may have impacted as many as 18,000 organizations as a result of the Sunburst (or Solorigate) malware planted inside SolarWinds’s Orion network management software. Among US agencies confirmed to have been affected by the attacks include the US Treasury Department, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the US Department of State, and the US Department of Energy (DOE).

Securing the ICTS Supply Chain (15 CFR Part 7) On January 19, 2021, the US Department of Commerce issued a long-awaited interim final rule (“Interim Final Rule”), which would enable the Department of Commerce to prohibit or otherwise restrict transactions involving the Information and Communication Technology and Services (“ICTS”) supply chain, including both hardware and software, that have a nexus to certain designated “foreign adversaries,” including China, Russia, and Iran, for purposes of protecting national security. The Interim Final Rule is scheduled to go into effect on March 22, 2021.

Deeper Sino-Russian Ties on the Horizon During their respective New Year’s addresses, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping underscored the need to continue and expand the bilateral cooperation that took place between Beijing and Moscow over the past year. According to Xi Jinping, cooperation in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and expanding trade were proud achievements, while closer alignment of China’s expanding Belt and Road Initiative with the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union offers an opportunity for sustained growth. In his address, Putin praised Russia and China’s coordinated responses to international challenges in 2020 and said he expects new achievements in bilateral ties in the coming year. Source: China Daily, January 1, 2021

China’s Technological Rise This brief written for ICDS (the International Centre for Defence and Security think tank in Tallinn, Estonia) explains how China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is poised to become the world’s first technology enabled totalitarian superpower. No country will be untouched by this development, including Estonia, where a Chinese state-owned technology company Nuctech specialising in “security solutions” monitors cargo crossing the NATO border with Russia using a radiation-based technology originally copied from Europe. A clear understanding of the Chinese political system shows why there is fundamental cause for concern in all this, and why Chinese technology should not be viewed as politically neutral.

Navigating the Deepening Russia-China Partnership Increased cooperation between Russia and China threatens to erode U.S. military advantages, strain an already stressed U.S. defense budget, and undermine America’s ability to uphold its commitment to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific. Moscow and Beijing’s growing alignment also poses serious risks for liberal democracies as Russia and China popularize authoritarian governance, water down human rights norms, and export their illiberal models of technology use. In this new CNAS report the authors provide an in-depth examination of the deepening ties between Russia and China, the United States’ two most consequential adversaries. The authors assess the potential for further cooperation between Moscow and Beijing while also describing the state of the Russia-China relationship in defense, democracy and human rights, technology and cybersecurity, and economics.
This report highlights the risks that alignment between Moscow and Beijing create for U.S. interests, underscores the ways that Russia is amplifying the challenge China poses to the United States, and offers recommendations for how Washington can navigate their deepening partnership. The United States should not disregard the risks of deepening Russia-China relations, but Washington also should not seek to counter cooperation between Moscow and Beijing in every dimension or region of their partnership. To effectively answer the challenges posed by growing ties between Russia and China, the authors conclude that “policymakers, equipped with a concrete understanding of how Russia-China relations are likely to evolve and where their cooperation will be most damaging to U.S. interests, must act quickly to navigate and disrupt the challenge posed by the countries’ emerging entente.”

Sanctions by the Numbers – Spotlight on Russia The latest installment of the CNAS Sanctions by the Numbers series provides an overview of U.S. sanctions policy toward Russia since 2010. “During the Trump administration,” the author finds, “the rate of new sanctions on Russia slowed but took on a broader focus, with new sanctions targeting malign cyber activity, election interference, and Russia’s support for countries like North Korea.” Other editions of CNAS’ Sanctions by the Numbers are here.

A European Magnitsky Act The EU’s recently approved Magnitsky-style law allowing the 27-member bloc to impose sanctions on human rights abusers could soon become reality as calls grow in Europe to apply the new punitive measures to Russia over the detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The European Parliament suggested putting the plug on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Sergey Magnitsky was a Russian tax expert and whistleblower who claimed to have uncovered massive fraud involving corrupt officials. In 2009 he died in prison after being severely beaten by guards and denied access to medical treatment. In 2012, the US adopted the Magnitsky Act, with sanctions targeting those responsible for Magnitsky’s death and other gross human rights abuses in Russia. This was followed in 2016 by the Global Magnitsky Act, which envisages sanctions for serious human rights violations and corruption from all over the world. Similar laws modeled on the Global Magnitsky Act were adopted by several other countries, including Canada, the UK and the Baltic states, and finally in December 2020, by the EU itself.

NSA: Cybersecurity Year in Review (2020) While not all-inclusive, this Year in Review outlines key milestones and mission outcomes achieved during NSA Cybersecurity’s first year.

Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies A new office at the State Department has been approved – the Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET) – which will help lead diplomatic efforts. “The need to reorganize and resource America’s cyberspace and emerging technology security diplomacy through the creation of CSET is critical, as the challenges to U.S. national security presented by China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other cyber and emerging technology competitors and adversaries have only increased since the Department notified Congress in June 2019 of its intent to create CSET,” a State Department spokesperson said.