When the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended, the clash between the Kremlin and the West did not stop. It just paused for many years
This story began before February 24, and before the West imposed unprecedented crippling sanctions against Russia for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It began way before. This is why it should be seen as a process, through its development in time.
The clash between the Kremlin and the West did not stop when the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended. It simply entered into a multiyear pause. It’s not that there are profound, unamendable civilizational disagreements between the Russians and the Americans or Europeans that turn them into irreconcilable enemies. It’s just that the Cold War was a clash of intelligence services and covert influence tools. The collapse of the Soviet Union was not the only result of it. Another outcome was the creation of a perfectly developed agent network in its former territory – a shadow organization – that was perfected with the dirtiest tools of accomplishing goals, including bribing, intimidation, kompromat, lies, manipulations and more. In the early 1990s, this shadow organization lost its head and its scene of operations. However, it proved far more resilience than the average organizations that were falling apart one after another after the collapse of the USSR. It simply switched to the idle mode, dealing with small domestic Russian or personal tasks of its then bosses.
It must have been the same Russian shadow organization that made Putin president of Russia. When in 2005, in his annual address at the Russian Federal Assembly, he said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century, it revealed that a new page was starting in the life of that organization because the Kremlin was obsessed with revanchism. Putin’s environment does not tend to use such words frivolously. So, Russia has challenged the West. Ironically, Russia was unable to accomplish a revanche even hypothetically – with ideology (by contrast to the Soviet Union), economy (Russia’s economic development was already weak and could not be different amidst little freedom in a fundamental contrast to the US or the EU), or culture (Russian ‘culture’ has long stopped generating new senses that could be interesting for the world). As a result, the Kremlin had to use other ‘competitive advantages’ of its country – primarily the shadow organization reinforced with natural resources. Add to this the many years of feeling insulted by the West that probably drove the Kremlin’s and Putin’s revanchism, and you will end up with a Leviathan – savage, destructive, powerful and frightening that is inconceivable in a civilized framework.
This was followed by a decade of steep development of new technology which the Russian shadow organization absorbed with enormous appetite, creating new instruments for accomplishing its goals. In parallel, it was setting up or restoring a global network of agents, informers, collaborators, dependencies and sell-outs and more. With these new instruments and a wider network of influence, the Kremlin managed to easily and quickly tie down the many progressive initiatives of the naive West like a spider ties down a fly in its web. Putin’s Russia took the worst from the Soviet Union and took it to a new unseen level. Meanwhile, the West tried to act with it like Leopold, a cat character from a well-known Soviet cartoon, insisting through its actions that “Guys, we should all live as friends.”
After it flexed its infrastructure and toolkit muscles, the Russian shadow organization began to accomplish real results. The UK’s Brexit referendum can be seen as Its first tangible ‘accomplishment’. It is debatable how legally provable the Kremlin’s influence on the referendum outcome. But given our incomplete knowledge of how the Russian shadow organization works, there is very little doubt that Russia contributed greatly to making Brexit happen. How much time, money and nerves were wasted to have the UK leave the EU? All of that could have been focused on increasing energy independence from Russia.
Then the dubious elections in the US that ended with Donald Trump as the 45th President. US intelligence services spoke repeatedly about Russia’s interference with the election process, providing numerous facts and evidence. This, however, does not seem to have led to systemic consequences. How much time was wasted because the US weakened its position on the war in Ukraine, among other things, under Trump’s presidency? How would Ukraine be today if Hillary Clinton had won?
In parallel, Europe and many other countries faced a wave of populism. Clearly, its economic foundation was the slow recovery from the 2008-2009 Great Recession and European debt crisis. But for some reason, this wave boosted the presence of radical right and left parties in European governments, and the Russian shadow organization always worked with these parties ideologically and financially. As a result, the politics of both individual EU countries and the EU as a whole lost its focus. The Kremlin exploited this for its purposes in many areas.
Some in Europe may see all this as conspiracy. But let’s look at facts. According to reports in Ukraine from 10-20 years ago, Russia had 2-3 institutes that were focused exclusively on Ukraine. Why would Russia need something like that? The world knows that the Russian Russia Today and Sputnik outlets are filled with disinformation - as a result, many countries banned their broadcasting. Why does Russia need them? Now, the talk is about Russian bot farms that peddle their narratives in conventional and social media. You don’t have to believe this. But when I looked at the websites of Spain’s three top newspapers, the articles on war in each of them had comments from the same ‘authors’ with the narratives that are typical for the Kremlin’s bots. Why would average people do this? Why would Russia do this? When it comes to one particular social network, Facebook, it blocks photos and videos from the war although this is what Ukrainians are living through right now and this is their greatest pain. Who initiates this blocking? Why would average people need this? Why would Russia need this?
A powerful network of pro-Kremlin citizens in countries of the EU and beyond exists today, ranging from average members of a radical party to Victor Orban (speculation has it that the Kremlin holds serious kompromat against him), Silvio Berlusconi (whose hedonism is of such grand scale that only Putin managed to satisfy it, earning Berlusconi’s endless respect), Gerhard Schroeder (who sold his patriotism for Russian oil dollars) and many others. We in Ukraine are perfectly aware of how much loyalty for Russia and work for the Kremlin are worth: the price tags for the services of journalists and other servants of the Russian World were known before the EuroMaidan. They were way above the average income in any of the professions involved. If Russia had good intentions, why would it maintain this network? Why would the Russian shadow organization need all these ‘assets’? If it needs them for its disruptive activities, what can be the scale of the damage it can do, and how serious are the goals it can accomplish?
The capabilities of the Russian shadow organization should not be underestimated. The development of new technology and the accumulation of oil and gas dollars boosted these capabilities. If you are skeptical about them, think of answering a few questions.
Why did Boris Johnson resign now, when the UK took a clear position in the Russia-Ukraine war and Ukraine has withstood thanks to the UK’s support? After all, parties during the pandemic that are the formal reason for the resignation happened long before February 24, 2022. Secondly, why is Victor Orban brazenly blocking any EU decision that supports Ukraine or hurts Russia? Even from the perspective of the possibility theory, Hungary’s interests cannot fully match those of Russia. Thirdly, why did the Russian narratives disappear from the global information space in the first weeks of the war when the Kremlin was in a knockdown after its blitzkrieg failed and Russia faced draconian sanctions? And why now, after the Kremlin rethought the situation and worked on its mistakes, these narratives – about sanctions as the trigger for the global food crisis etc. – are so clearly emerging across the world? Fourthly, why did the resignation of Mario Draghi happen now when Italy, counter to many expectations, took a clear position in support of Ukraine? Why did the 85-year old Berlusconi play the key role in this and why did it take place amidst the strikes of some trade unions that raised the issue of supporting Ukraine rather than domestic issues? Fifth, why do the most reputable publications of Europe and the US publish articles based on assessments and manipulations rather than facts, saying that it makes no sense to support Ukraine? Six, why do average Germans believe that Germany is suffering from sanctions against Russia more than Russia itself? The list of these questions can be endless. But they remain unanswered with a skeptical attitude about the capabilities of the Russian shadow organization.
The Russian shadow organization is working. It is actually in its prime now, demonstrating the best of its capabilities. Thanks to this organization and passivity of the West, Putin is convinced that he will win. The paradox is that, while Ukraine is critically dependent on assistance from Europe and other countries in this war, it is Ukrainians on the frontline that are performing the function of a military tip better than the Europeans perform the functions of supply and economic neutralization of Russia – and its shadow organization first and foremost. This means that, if the Russians fail to accomplish serious success on the military front as it does not have many gaps, they will target other weak points of the Ukrainian-American-European defense system.
The weakest points now are in Europe. They include its vulnerability to the extremely powerful and destructive capabilities of the shadow organization. It is therefore obvious that Putin is no longer fighting against Ukraine alone – although the war against Ukraine is ongoing on the frontline. He is fighting against European countries and the EU as a whole. The fact that Europe leaves the blows like the suspension of gas supply unanswered further convinces Putin that he is right, can act with impunity and will win.
For some reason, the West does now know how, cannot or does not want to counter the threats created by the Russian shadow organization. Something should be done about it. Otherwise, the centers of modern civilization will soon tumble into chaos. It does not matter whether it will look like a massive inflow of refugees, social protests at home or a vacuum of governance triggered by political impotence. What is absolutely obvious is that the decades of postwar prosperity will remain in history books very soon if the West remains inactive. And any remotely acceptable future of Ukraine will not even be on the table.
Ukraine could contribute to neutralizing the Russian shadow organization. Many Ukrainians experienced it from inside back in the day, and were subsequently forced to explore ways to fight off its destructive influences on public life in Ukraine. The West, however, should first realize the problem, its scale, and the need to counter it systemically. Without this, Europe will soon plunge into socio-political chaos. It will weaken its capacity to support Ukraine and Ukraine’s ability to fight as a result. It may threaten the existence of the European Union as such. Under those circumstances, Vladimir Putin will be hard to stop. And even if he stops on Ukraine territorially out of fear of NATO’s nuclear strike, the depth and scale of destructive influence of the Russian shadow organization will be hard to limit. In that case, the only thing to say to Europe will be “Hang on.”