Soviet spymasters: The limits of democracy and Navalny

By Peter Polack

Now that Alexei Navalny has been transported to Siberia and possibly the dustbin of history it remains to be seen whether the West can extricate him again. The Russian people can only try to stand up for so long while pressed by the daily requirements of life and incarceration. Fear of losing mass popularity drove Navalny to return to Russia but in doing so he crossed the outer limits of diplomatic intervention from the outside world.

Post-war diplomatic pressure has become spectacularly unhelpful despite the numerous geographical groups regularly banding together in their current common cause. This is not dissimilar to the evolution requirements forced on governments by the recent rise of extremism in the Middle East. Russia has no restrictions that bind democratic governments which commands the adoption of a new hard diplomacy and reduced engagement. Creeping towards isolationism with more sanctions has been unsuccessful.

Perhaps history can provide a clue in the expulsion of over one hundred Soviet diplomats by the United Kingdom in 1971 and latterly in 2018 for the Novichok attack. There can be no requirement for large numbers of Soviet diplomatic personnel without real rapprochement which gives truth to the 2017 American closure of the Russian Federation Consulate in San Francisco.

The top Soviet Ambassadors saw between fifty and twenty espionage incidents each during their tenure. Almost thirty former or later Soviet or Russian Federation Ambassadors were expelled, exposed or recalled in countries nearly all the letters of the alphabet which failed to engineer real change. The extensive use of Russian diplomatic cover to facilitate espionage activities over many decades should not be clouded by the diplomatic counterpunch utilised by all sides.

The ballyhooed use of sanctions against the Kremlin inner circle ring hollow as business proceeds as usual. Even Venezuela has learnt to avoid sanctions by smuggling national gold reserves. The answer is not robotic adherence to glasnost hoping for perestroika but tishina or silence to withdraw up to the essential only. Intelligence, political and diplomatic leadership will likely rage about a new direction as Navalny freezes in Penal Colony No.2 and Russian citizens are forced to cower under the yoke of state capture by rogue elements.

The new paradigm should be a wider net.

Peter Polack is a former criminal lawyer in the Cayman Islands for several decades. His books are The Last Hot Battle of the Cold War: South Africa vs. Cuba in the Angolan Civil War (2013), Jamaica, The Land of Film (2017) and Guerrilla Warfare: Kings of Revolution (2019). He was a contributor to Encyclopedia of Warfare (2013). Polack worked as a part-time reporter for Reuters News Agency in the Cayman Islands 2014-16. His article Syria: The Evolution Revolution was published in the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center magazine June 2014. In October 2018 Defence Procurement International published an article on the Guerrilla Warfare book entitled What Do Today’s Jihadists Have In Common With Famous Guerrilla Fighters Of The Past? In September 2019 an excerpt from the George Washington chapter of Guerrilla Warfare Kings of Revolution was published in the American Intelligence Journal, Vol 36, No.1. In July 2020 McFarland publishers acquired his latest book entitled Encyclopedia of Soviet Spymasters to be published in 2021. The Encyclopedia is a compendium of Russian espionage activities with nearly five hundred Soviet spies expelled from over 50 countries worldwide.

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