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Russian sabotage defense factories
A fire at the Diehl Defense factory near Berlin broke out on Photo: Berlin Fire Department

Kremlin intensifies sabotage and propaganda in the West ahead of EU elections

As Europeans prepare to head to the polls for the EU elections, security officials warn that the Kremlin is intensifying its efforts to destabilize the continent through a multi-pronged campaign of sabotage, propaganda, and political interference.
Kremlin intensifies sabotage and propaganda in the West ahead of EU elections

In the spring of 2024, Russia intensified its offensive not only on the Ukrainian-Russian front but also hybrid attacks against Ukraine’s Western allies. The delay in providing Western military assistance and the lack of a unified vision of an adequate response to the aggressor openly threatening Western states sent another signal to the Kremlin about the vulnerability of democratic countries to Russian hybrid influence.

European countries have reported an increase in sabotage, cyberattacks, and arson attacks that could threaten the safety of their citizens.

In early March, the Swiss intelligence service (Nachrichtendienst des Bundes NDB) reported increased activity of Russian agents in Europe and emphasized that they are currently the “biggest threat.”

 In May, the head of the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) said that Russia was preparing “physical attacks” against the West, as British and American intelligence officials had exposed a dual threat from Moscow and Beijing.

Ukraine’s military intelligence noted that Russia has not stopped building its own network abroad, aiming not only to destabilize activities but also to influence EU governments.

“The purpose of this activity is to destabilize the situation in the Euro-Atlantic community, in individual countries, to influence the governments of these states, to discredit Ukraine and weaken the pro-Ukrainian coalition and, in general, to weaken the entire free democratic world,” said Andriy Yusov, a representative of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine.

Indeed, in the spring of 2024 alone, Western countries faced a series of cyberattacks and sabotage attributed to Russia.

In particular, several people were arrested in the UK on charges of planning arson attacks on businesses linked to Ukraine. One of the detainees is involved in the Russian terrorist organization Wagner Group and is accused of studying and reconnaissance of targets, as well as attempting to recruit people for foreign intelligence.

Russian sabotage EU Britain Uk
A 20-year-old British man has been charged with planning an arson attack on a Ukraine-linked business and assisting Russian intelligence services. Photo: London fire brigade

The country’s Home Secretary said that in response to Russia’s “criminal activities,” the UK would expel the Russian defense attaché, “who is an undeclared military intelligence officer,” impose restrictions on diplomatic visas, and London would revoke the diplomatic status of several Russian-linked entities in the country.

German police have arrested two suspects in Bavaria for spying for Russia, one of whom is a Russian of German descent and a member of the “DNR” terrorist organization. The detainees were spying on US bases and planning sabotage operations to undermine military aid to Ukraine.

Estonia summoned the head of the Russian embassy because of interference with GPS signals in the Baltic region, which affects aircraft navigation systems.

The Czech media, citing sources in the intelligence services, reported that a pro-Russian propaganda network had been discovered that was aimed at influencing the EU elections and support for Ukraine. According to their information, politicians from a number of European countries received money from Voice of Europe to spread the narratives the Kremlin needs. The Czech Republic believes that pro-Russian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, who is close to Putin, is behind this.

Following this information, the Belgian prosecutor’s office also launched an investigation into possible interference in the upcoming European Parliament elections, where the special services also found Russian influence.

So on April 17, EU leaders decided to set up a temporary crisis working group to monitor and exchange information on possible Russian interference in European elections.

The Czech Foreign Ministry also summoned the Russian ambassador regarding cyber attacks targeting Czech institutions and critical infrastructure.

The methods of the attacks were consistent with the profile of the Advanced Persistent Threat Actor 28 (APT28) group, which is linked to Russian military intelligence. Czech Minister of Transport Martin Kupka also said that over the past two years, Russia has made “thousands of attempts” to disrupt railway traffic in the Czech Republic.

The APT28 group was also accused of cyberattacks against EU countries and European parties, including an attempt to hack into the emails of the German Social Democratic Party leadership ahead of the European Parliament elections.

“The malicious cyber campaign demonstrates Russia’s ongoing irresponsible behavior in cyberspace, targeting democratic institutions, government agencies, and critical infrastructure providers in the EU and beyond. This behavior is contrary to UN norms on responsible state behavior in cyberspace,” the statement published on the European Council website on 3 May 2024, reads.

According to early information, a series of large fires that occurred in Poland in May, as well as fires in Germany and the United States, are also highly suspicious.

On May 20, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced 9 suspects “arrested and accused of direct involvement in sabotage activities in Poland at the request of Russian services.”

In Germany, a dangerous fire broke out at the Diehl Metal Applications plant of the Diehl Corporation.

Its subsidiary, Diehl Defense, is a well-known manufacturer of weapons, including the IRIS-T systems, that were transferred to strengthen Ukraine’s air defense. Earlier, in April, a fire broke out at the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in the United States, which produces ammunition that is also supplied to Ukraine.

Such Russian activity is worrisome, as 2024 is a time of major elections in both the EU and the United States. In addition, despite the attitudes of various international politicians towards the war in Ukraine, events on the largest front in Europe will also affect global security.

Given the history of assassination attempts and Russia’s interference in political processes in the West, it is likely that Moscow will use hybrid warfare tools to influence elections and public opinion this time around. For this, Moscow has sufficient experience, resources, and a lobby in the form of pro-Russian organizations and politicians.

Therefore, it is necessary not only to monitor the activity of Russians in the information space, but also to check the activities of Russian organizations and businesses in the EU.

In particular, a number of Russian institutions, such as Rossotrudnichestvo “Russkiy Dom”, which have already been suspected of spreading Kremlin propaganda and fakes, continue to operate in some European countries, although their activities are limited.

On May 21, the head of Rossotrudnichestvo said that the EU had begun blocking their accounts. So the work is ongoing.

 

Serhii Kuzan is Chairman of Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Center (USCC), military and political expert, adviser to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine (2022-2023), an advisor to the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (2014).

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