X Close

Russia threatens to ramp up attacks across Europe

Sabotage conducted abroad holds numerous benefits for Russia. Credit: Getty

May 8, 2024 - 7:00am

In 1937, Joseph Stalin rallied against the “wrecking and diversionist espionage work of the agents of foreign states”, complaining that even his own citizens were unwittingly assisting saboteurs by being “careless, indifferent and naïve about it”. Fast-forward nearly 80 years and now the West is urging its citizens to be vigilant against a wave of Russian wrecking sweeping through Europe. Vladimir Putin’s claim, as he was sworn in for a fifth term as President yesterday, that Russia will be open to dialogue with its global rivals looks increasingly doubtful.

In a bid to raise awareness and resilience, European intelligence officials briefed the Financial Times that Moscow has been engaging in a more aggressive and concerted campaign of subversion throughout the continent, preparing violent acts of sabotage such as bombings, arson and attacks on infrastructure. Whether committed directly by Kremlin agents or via proxies, these hits are coordinated on a mass scale by the Russian government and show scant regard for the lives of local civilians. This is only the latest example of the West calling out Russian subversion — on Thursday, Nato published a statement expressing its concern at Russia’s “intensifying campaign of activities”, including “sabotage” and “acts of violence”.

This campaign is already well underway, with the perpetrators showing no lack of ambition in regards to the range of countries targeted and types of attack prepared. Last month, two German-Russian nationals were arrested and accused of plotting to bomb German industrial and military sites to disrupt aid to Ukraine. Moscow has reportedly interfered with Czech rail networks to destabilise the EU and even attacked the Estonian Interior Minister’s car.

That is before one turns to the increasing problem of Russia jamming satellite signals, to which both UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps and British holidaymakers have fallen prey. It is so prevalent in northern Norway that air traffic is being disrupted almost every day, while the activities of the local police and emergency services are being hampered.

Sabotage conducted abroad holds numerous benefits for Russia. Besides constituting a new frontline in Putin’s wider war against the West, there is the added psychological victory of publicly making European nations appear weak and penetrable, with their citizens successfully persuaded to turn traitor and aid a hostile foreign power. Subversive activity presents further practical advantages for Russia in its war against Ukraine as well: two British men charged with setting fire to a warehouse storing aid for Ukraine were, prosecutors allege, operating on behalf of the Russian government to deprive Kyiv of vital munitions before they could even reach the front line.

There is perhaps another reason why Russia’s acts of destruction on European soil are so brazen. Putin’s broader strategy remains to degrade Western support for Ukraine by making it as difficult and costly as possible to supply Kyiv. Connected to this is the hope that Western democracy may prove a boon to Russia if populations grow weary of propping up Ukraine in a seemingly endless war and so put pressure on their electioneering politicians to sever aid.

Last Thursday, visiting Kyiv, Foreign Secretary David Cameron discussed plans to ramp up Britain’s defence production. However, there has already been an unexplained explosion at a Monmouthshire BAE Systems munitions factory that supplies shells used by Ukraine — one sees how the fear of further sabotage could spark local resistance to the expansion of defence production facilities. Add to that the danger of more generalised discontent among the broader population, as people may wonder if supporting Ukraine is worth increasing the likelihood of Kremlin-hired hoodlums wrecking the rail network.

Those are not the only causes for concern. While Russian sabotage may be merely disruptive now, it could become crippling in future. Danish intelligence services contend that Moscow is gathering information on how to cut power and data cables across Europe, and further calculating how best to “paralyse society” in the event of escalating tensions.

Russia’s announcement this week that it will hold drills near Ukraine to practice for a possible deployment of tactical nuclear weapons should be taken seriously, as should the warning that if British weapons are used by Ukraine to strike inside Russia, Moscow may hit back at British military installations and equipment too. This current wave of sabotage may be just a taste of what is to come.


Bethany Elliott is a writer specialising in Russia and Eastern Europe.

BethanyAElliott

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

25 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
12 days ago

I don’t want to downplay the threat of Russian aggression, but this essay reeks of propaganda.

“Danish intelligence services contend that Moscow is gathering information on how to cut power and data cables across Europe, and further calculating how best to “paralyse society” in the event of escalating tensions.”

I assume every major power in the world knows how to paralyze a foreign nation. I don’t think you need a team of scientists to figure out how to cut power lines and data cables.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
12 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

To further your point, the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency has determined that Russia’s GPS jamming in the Baltic is not some hybrid attack by Russia. The jamming is simply a side effect of Russia’s defence against drone attacks. The huge clues are (i) Russian airspace and Russia’s own GPS equivalent are similarly disrupted by the jamming, and (ii) the jamming intensity varies in proportion with Ukraine’s launching of drone attacks.

As for the “unexplained” BAE Systems explosion, it is being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive. The HSE are not known for their crack teams of hybrid warfare and terrorism investigators, but they are known for inspecting UK workplaces for breaches of healthy and safety law.

These are just two fact checks that reveal, and I’m being very restrained here, a fevered imagination of the writer.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
12 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Very accommodating. Perhaps it only remains to be seen how accommodating we all are? Many here seem to be…

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
11 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I agree. Anyone that thinks the Pentagon doesn’t have plans sitting in file cabinets for striking every possible point of vulnerability they know about, whether in China, Russia, or any of America’s other enemies, and probably some of America’s allies as well is living in some kind of ideal fantasy land. Heck, I’m nigh certain the USA has plans on file for how to fight itself in a civil war. This is the whole point of having foreign intelligence and military intelligence forces. The idea is to be prepared for a conflict, and to have a good idea what, where, and how to attack the enemy if the need arises rather than being caught unawares and having to throw together a strategy at the last minute.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
12 days ago

Are these the same “intelligence” agencies which didn’t know the Soviet Union was going to fold its tents and just go home? It had been their job for 45 years to find out what the Soviets were doing…but they didn’t know…
Or the ones who went along with “Iraq has WMD”?
The ones who didn’t know about conspiracies for mass murder in British cities?
If the intelligence agencies said it was raining outside you would be best advised to go and look yourself.

Micael Gustavsson
Micael Gustavsson
12 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

Well, since the Soviets themselves didn’t know they were going to fold their tents a couple of years before they did, it was hardly possible for anyone to know (except God, of course).

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
11 days ago

Except the point of intelligence services is to discover information and provide analysis of it to cover a range of probabilities.
Emmanuel Todd managed to forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union but apparently not those whose job and purpose it was to do so.

Talia Perkins
Talia Perkins
11 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

And the Soviets having no intentions of folding their tents, there would be no signs they would do so.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
11 days ago
Reply to  Talia Perkins

Analysis consists of what is realistic, not what intentions may be.
Lord Cameron of Libya intends to have some importance on the world stage; the reality is that he has none because the UK has no military or economic power to wield. And the much talked about “soft power” is a mere sop for the egos of the UK’s rulers to make them feel important.
The USA expresses intentions to “save Taiwan from China”. The reality is that it cannot do so in the highly unlikely event that China decides to invade; it simply does not have the power to do so.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
11 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

But look at who was our man in Moscow, late 80s to early 90s? Very left wing C Steele, who must have been horrified at the fall of the Soviet Union. MI6 absolutely loved him and still use him, eg the fake Russian dossier.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
11 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

Well, those things were far enough in the past that the comparison isn’t quite fair. However, it is fair to question whether the intelligence services who thought Russia would easily defeat Ukraine in a few months, vastly overestimating Russian capabilities, aren’t doing the exact same thing again, vastly overestimating Russian capabilities just two years later with regard to Russia’s ability to orchestrate various terrorist attacks in Europe.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
11 days ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I rather think the i
dea is to scare the populace so they will go along with further infringement of liberty while ramping up the anti Russian feeling.
However I’m not sure either will work; people are fed up with declining living standards and further hardship in pursuit of a foreign policy which they don’t care about is pretty much off the menu.
Incidentally I don’t think Russia ever intended to “take” Ukraine. It didn’t marshal enough force to do so let alone hold it.
The intention was probably to get an advantageous peace agreement whereby Russia got the Donbas etc. That was achieved…until Johnson was paid to persuade Zelensky to fight on. Obviously Russia will achieve its aim but the cost to the Ukrainian people is immense…pure pointless death and mutilation.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
12 days ago

Russia, nearly as desperate as the writer of this piece.

A D Kent
A D Kent
12 days ago

I note this piece has been classified under the ‘Explainer’ tag by Unherd. I think they need to instigate a ‘Stenography’ one too – it would be much more appropriate. Either that or ‘Job Application for the Telegraph/Guardian’ (they’re interchangable on Foreign Policy grounds these days).

Did the author know that the Russian nuclear exercises followed Lord Cameron of Libya’s statements that the Ukrainians could use British munitions to target Russian territory.

As for Russia’s ‘brazen’ acts, the evidence presented here is as well substantiated as Donald Trump’s ‘brazen’ golden hotel room antics.

Dick Garrard
Dick Garrard
12 days ago

“Kremlin-hired hoodlums wrecking the rail network” – surely not a reference to the unions …

R F
R F
12 days ago

The biggest, load of steaming manure I have read ever read. Nothing more than the most rank, amateurish anti-Russian propaganda.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
12 days ago

I expect those sneaky Ruskies will be using those WMDs they found in Iraq

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
11 days ago

I expect the sneaky Ruskies don’t need to find any WMDs.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
11 days ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

Just as well as there weren’t any…

Andy White
Andy White
12 days ago

The fog of war threatens to engulf us all. When the breakdown of the e-passport system was on the news last night, with massive crowds queuing at all the border entry points, hostile power sabotage was the first thing that came into my mind. Probably wrongly, although would the UK government even tell us that such a sensitive IT system had been hacked, if that’s what it was?

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
11 days ago
Reply to  Andy White

The irony of the hundreds meekly queuing instead of pushing past and jumping the barriers, while 100s each week walk undocumented and illegally onto our beaches was atriking.

Johan Grönwall
Johan Grönwall
12 days ago

Kremlin fan boys go ape.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
11 days ago

No..realists present…reality…

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
11 days ago

The writer is trying to scare us. Don’t be.

Steve Crowther
Steve Crowther
9 days ago

Stalin did not ‘rally’ against… foreign states. He ‘railed’ against [them]’. Late Middle English from French ‘railler’, to complain or protest strongly and persistently about something.