Andrew Parker, the head of the UK’s MI5, which is the United Kingdom’s domestic counterintelligence and security agency, did not mince words when characterizing Russia’s behavior in recent months. In an address delivered before an international audience of security chiefs gathered in Berlin, he drew little differentiation between the threats posed by Russia and those posed by extremist groups like the Islamic State within Britain’s borders. Parker said,
The reckless attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, using a highly lethal nerve agent, put numerous lives at risk, including that of his daughter. It was only through near-miraculous medical intervention that his and his daughter’s lives were saved, and wider preventive action was able to be taken.”
That alleged nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England was not the only element of Russia’s foreign policy efforts Parker took direct issue with in his address. He went on to levy his concerns about the ways in which Russia has streamlined its disinformation efforts to help bolster their denials of aggressive acts that Parker deemed to be “flagrant breaches of international rules”.
The Russian state’s now well-practised doctrine of blending media manipulation, social media disinformation and distortion, along with new and old forms of espionage and high-levels of cyber attacks, military force and criminal thuggery is what is meant these days by the term ‘hybrid threats’.”
Parker called on the international community to work “to shine a light through the fog of lies, half-truths and obfuscation that pours out of their propaganda machine.”
In recent months alone, Russia has been accused of conducting the aforementioned assassination attempt on UK soil using a Cold War era nerve agent known as novichok, as well as working to aid Bashar al Assad’s attempts at covering up Syria’s use of banned chemical weapons against civilians inside rebel controlled portions of the nation. Russia has been providing Assad’s Syrian regime with direct military support throughout its ongoing civil war and the international endeavor to route out ISIS, but was also tasked with ensuring Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons had been destroyed.
Following the most recent allegations of chemical weapons use, the United States, UK, and France launched a joint air strike offensive on three targets alleged to be integral components of Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure. Russia has since launched a multi-faceted media campaign aiming to shift the narrative away from the use of chemical weapons at all, instead claiming that the Soviet era missile defense systems in place throughout Syria managed to intercept the vast majority of inbound missiles — a claim refuted by national defense agencies as well as commercial satellite images.
Russia went further, to claim that they had captured two failed missiles, which they were shipping back to Moscow in an attempt to bolster their own cruise missile technology. Eric Pahon, Pentagon spokesman, said at the time,
This is another example of the Russian disinformation campaign to distract attention from their moral complicity to the Assad Regime’s atrocities and the civilian carnage in western Syria … On the Tomahawk, we have seen no proof, other than statements made to Russian state-owned media, that their claims are true. This is likely another smoke screen of propaganda to distract from the real issue at hand — the murder of innocent civilians by a murderous regime propped up by Russian backing.”
Parker echoed the sentiments of the Pentagon in his address, though he did temper his statements with an acknowledgement that Russia has the opportunity to rebound from the geopolitical course their on and work their way back into international cooperation, though they seem disinterested in doing so. He said,
One of the Kremlin’s central and entirely admirable aims is to build Russian greatness on the world stage, but its repeated choices have been to pursue that aim through aggressive and pernicious actions by its military and intelligence services … Instead of becoming a respected great nation it risks becoming a more isolated pariah.”
Image courtesy of the Associated Press