Tags: russia | ukraine | assassination | war | wagner group

As Ukraine War Continues, Russian Assassinations Are a Growing Concern

By    |   Thursday, 09 February 2023 02:16 PM EST

Since the beginning of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" in Ukraine last February, a number of his critics have died under mysterious circumstances in a string of high-profile killings. As Moscow's losses on the battlefield mount and the Kremlin's military objectives remain unrealized, sources tell Vice that Russia is keen to settle scores, especially against foreign fighters who joined the Ukrainian side of the conflict.

Several stories of alleged Russian intelligence agents deployed abroad have been reported already, from an "epidemic" of suspicious oligarch deaths around the world to a thwarted murder attempt of a Kremlin critic in France last fall to a letter bombing campaign against Spanish politicians believed to be sponsored by Russian agents.

A U.S. intelligence source who spoke with Vice on condition of anonymity said the "reach" of Russia's spy capabilities is extensive and global. The source also revealed that Russian-aligned entities with the ability to conduct lethal operations are thought to be present in the United States, though a Kremlin-sanctioned hit on American soil would be escalatory.

According to the American intelligence official, Russia's foreign intelligence service probably doesn't "have the bandwidth right now" to plan an "elaborate and complicated covert action" in the United States. Past incidents in the U.K. and Germany show that they do possess the inclination to operate in Europe, however.

The source mentioned "the Skripals, the Litvinenkos" — past assassination plots in the U.K. targeting two ex-spies critical of Putin — as evidence that Russia remembers its enemies and is not above sending assassins into hostile territory to dispatch them.

The Russian network abroad has also spread beyond official government circles, the U.S. government claims.

The Justice Department indicted members of the larger Russian mafia known as the "Vory v Zakone" two weeks ago, along with some of its Brooklyn-based members. The Kremlin is increasingly using the criminal group as an extension of its intelligence arm. Federal prosecutors allege that the Iranian regime hired the organization to kill New York-based dissident journalist Masih Alinejad.

"We face an alarming rise in plots emanating from Iran, China, Russia, and elsewhere, targeting people in the United States, often using criminal proxies and cutouts," the agency said in a press release.

Colin P. Clarke, director of research at intelligence consulting firm The Soufan Group, said he thinks Russia is already skilled at using tactics like assassinations or sabotage to cause chaos for its enemies. He told Vice that Moscow's oft-repeated threats of nuclear war are a diversion for what it's doing behind the scenes.

"Common sense tells you that's not what they're going to escalate to, because we've got nukes too," he said. "But there's going to be steps that happen before that — that's tit for tat."

Russian networks and the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-allied private mercenary contractor, are asking followers on Telegram to carry out attacks on European targets, Clarke said.

"It's a logical next step," he said. "They have the infrastructure in place; they have guys that are willing to do it."

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Newsfront
Since the beginning of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" in Ukraine last February, a number of his critics have died under mysterious circumstances in a string of high-profile killings.
russia, ukraine, assassination, war, wagner group
501
2023-16-09
Thursday, 09 February 2023 02:16 PM
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