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Russia between economic crisis and geostrategic projections

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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As Lev Tolstoj maintained “There is nothing stronger than those two: patience and time”. These are two of the most characteristic traits of the soul and psychology of the Russian people. On the other hand, if you follow Sun Tzu’ strategic guidelines, whoever has time masters also space.

The fact of getting accustomed to suffering and sacrifice have always been typical of the Russian people who, as Vladimir Putin said by quoting Gogol, “have the sharp word which comes from the bottom of the heart.”

Today this is perhaps the most rational way of analyzing the state of the Russian economy and its new geopolitics, which started with the Russian armed forces’ engagement in Syria in favor of Bashar el Assad and against the very complex system of local and international jihad.

The slow but relentless increase in oil prices, organized by the oil and gas futures market during the current different, albeit parallel, crises in Iran and Saudi Arabia, is already an important sign of renaissance for the Russian Federation’s economy.

Furthermore, after the recent Doha summit of April 16, all oil market analysts predict that the oil barrel prices will increase rapidly throughout the second half of 2016 while investors, however, still cautiously maintain short term positions.

This is the result of a mix of factors such as the slow, but stable, global economic recovery and the planned decrease of oil extraction as a result of the decisions recently taken in Doha.

Certainly the Doha Summit failed because of the tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but all the latest OPEC projections point to a gradual increase in oil prices per barrel, although there are no explicit messages to that effect by the Vienna cartel.

Hence Russia’s accounts are stable and are bound to improve, despite the severity of its recent economic crisis.

Since the beginning of 2016, inflation has been falling as a result of lower consumption.

In March 2016, however, the Russian prices increased by 7.3% as against the previous year, after an 8.1% rise in February. Anyway the Russian consumer prices are below market forecasts, which pointed to 7.5%.

Moreover the current rate of Russian inflation is the lowest of the last two years.

Thus inflation has absorbed the ruble devaluation, by also allowing further monetary easing margins.

Nevertheless the decrease of disposable income was over 5% in 2015, with rapidly falling wages and an obvious massive impoverishment.

However, the share of the Russian population living below the poverty line is already limited compared to the data of previous years.

Russian poverty grew from 3.1 million needy people to 19.2 in 2015, the highest rate ever since 2006, and is now partially on the wane.

Again last year wages and salaries fell by 2.6% on average, while the Russian Stock Exchange index (MICEX) grew by 7.9% according to the 2015 data.

Nevertheless all Western analysts maintain that the worst is over for the Russian economy.

All Russian macroeconomic data and statistics point to a significant growth of exports throughout the second half of 2016, while the strategic link between the growth of the Iranian economy, after the JCPOA signature, and the increase in Russian oil and non-oil exports, makes us think that Russia used its military forces in Syria well, also at domestic geoeconomic level.

In all likelihood, the rational solution taken by the Russian government was the increase in oil and gas taxes decided in 2014.

This 15% increase in the oil and gas taxes allowed to reduce the tax burden on other Russian productive sectors, more oriented to the internal market and, in the future, to exports.

Another Russian rational decision was to make the ruble fluctuate, so as to save on currency reserves and better absorb the downward shock of oil prices.

Hence more rubles for oil and gas units exported, with a longer duration of the reserve fund.

All while the public deficit, already low by current Western standards, can be easily covered by the issue of government debt securities for the domestic capital market.

Basically the Russian economic crisis, which had been planned to “file Russian strategic nails” is now over and the Russians’ infinite patience mentioned by Tolstoj will do the rest.

After the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation in 2014 and the drop in oil prices, which have delayed recovery, also the World Bank has predicted a slow improvement of Russia’s economy. Hence, a timid growth which, according to US analysts, will be based particularly on the fiscal and monetary policies of President Putin’s elite.

Moreover, despite persisting sanctions, the Russian Federation is using the weak ruble to expand non-oil exports, which are already rising especially after the agreements between Russia and China and between Russia and the Eurasian Customs Union.

However, which is the link between the Russian economic adjustment underway and its current and future geopolitics?

Perhaps the key factor lies in the creation of a new political and military entity, namely the Russian National Guard, recently established by President Putin.

In principle, it is the merger of various pre-existing armed structures and units.

As many as 170,000 soldiers from the troops of the Ministry for Internal Affairs; an unreported amount of staff coming from the Ministry for Emergency Situations; 40,000 operational units of the OMON police forces, specialized in managing and suppressing riots; 5,500 officials of the SOBR rapid- reaction forces, in addition to the Operational Reaction Forces and Aviation of the Ministry for Internal Affairs, selected by its Special Designation Center, including the Zubr, Rys and Iastreb Special Forces units.

In the latter case we speak of at least 800 military men available for the new structure.

Therefore the total number of the National Guard military staff will range between 250,000 and 300,000 units.

The Guard’s tasks and functions will be managing and preventing problems of public order, combating terrorism and taking actions against “extremist” groups, namely the Chechen gangs and the future protesters in the future “orange revolutions” almost certainly planned by the West against Russia.

Then, the Guard will be responsible for homeland defense and security; the protection of State structures and special internal and foreign transport; the protection of the assets and companies of Russian citizens and organizations approved by the Government; the support to border troops, that are traditionally an integral part of the Russian Intelligence Services; the fight against arms trafficking; the command of all National Guard troops and finally the protection of men and means of the Guard itself.

Hence the whole internal security will be entrusted to the National Guard and this will obviously relieve the Russian internal and foreign Intelligence Services of a whole range of traditional and routine tasks.

President Putin wants a more geostrategic intelligence, less overburden with public order tasks, and this is a lesson we should learn also in Italy and in the West.

Some people think that President Putin wants to create a “personal army”, but the Russian President’s power is such that it is thought that he does not certainly need this new Guard only to strengthen his personal power, which is already pervasive and without any credible internal opposition.

Conversely, in all likelihood, with this new military organization, President Putin wants to avoid the coalescence of two dangers he sees looming over the Russian Federation’s near future.

These dangers are the imported jihad and the sequence of the various orange revolutions which, even combined with Islamist terrorism, could destabilize Russia permanently and make it viable for the financial and strategic interests of the West.

Probably President Putin is convinced that the United States and some US allies may make Russia pay a very high price for its ongoing engagement in Syria and the Middle East, which is the real game changer of contemporary geopolitics.

Not to mention the fact that, by opening its Syrian-Mediterranean front, the Russian Federation knocks out and bypasses the whole military network that NATO and the United States are placing along the Russian Federation’s land borders, from Estonia to Poland and the Czech Republic, up to Romania.

Certainly Putin thinks that this is a challenge which is worth a slow and relentless internal destabilization of the Russian society and politics.

This would also explain the “free hand” given by the Russian leader to the internal Services with the creation of the new Guard.

Hence the Services would now find it much easier to take actions to face external and internal threats to the Russian Federation’s political (and economic) system.

The designated Head of the new National Guard is General Viktor Zolotov, former Head of the President’s Security Service.

A man certainly trusted by Putin and a great intelligence expert.

Zolotov was born in 1964 and is a member of the Russian Security Council, an advisory body to the President, reformed in 1996, which meets at least once a month and coordinates the Russian Federation’ security, in close cooperation with the Services’ leadership.

In the past he was the bodyguard of Anatoly Sobchak, the mayor of St. Petersburg, who protected President’s Putin first steps in the very complex post-Soviet era.

Member of the KGB “active reserve”, as Putin, Zolotov was given up for dead several times but, as often happens in the great Russian intelligence game, he is obviously alive and “operational.”

In the 2000 “siloviki war” (the siloviki are the former KGB members), which was a war between some groups of agents of the old Services and the inner circle of the already powerful Putin, Zolotov stood with the losers, the men of Viktor Cherkesov against the siloviki Nikolai Patrushev and Igor Sechin.

Zolotov was later “forgiven” by Putin, as the General never made public his positions of “liberal siloviki” who supported Dimitri Medvedev as Putin’ successor in 2008.

Later Zolotov took command of the forces of the Ministry for Internal Affairs, now led by General Ragozhin, who has fewer ties with President Putin, while the President of the Judo Federation of St. Petersburg, a longtime friend of President Putin, who is a well-known judoka, has been appointed Head of the Military Police.

Zolotov’s appointment is also an action of President Putin who intends to bring peace to the vast community of the siloviki, a highly fragmented group as early as his return to the Presidency in 2012.

The fight between the former KGB agents regards power, the relationship with the economy and, above all, the struggle for the succession to Vladimir Putin.

And this will be the new scenario for which the National Guard seems to be already prepared, although Vladimir Putin has recently indicated that he is likely to run again in the next presidential election.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Transnational Crimes in the Maritime Realm

Zaeem Hassan Mehmood

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Maritime trafficking routes closely follow the commercial shipping lanes. The modalities, technologies and strategies put into place by criminals are often times more sophisticated in caliber than those used in regulated trade. The vast expanses of the sea, the complexity of the maritime transportation system, the immense volume of cargo transferred at each port, and the limited capacity for inspections of cargo creates opportunity for criminals. Seaborne trade in the maritime realm follows a defined set of “sea lines of communication” based on currents and weather. Because of the robustness of shipping and mass amounts of cargo moved, traffickers utilize the same shipping industry routes with great effect. Shipping and sea lanes tend to offer anonymity for criminals, whereas their activities can be hidden behind legitimate industries. Criminal activity, especially illicit trade in narcotics, humans, and weapons, has become so extensive that it is difficult according to various studies to rule out implications of states and corporations in the criminal enterprise.

Individuals from various nationalities, followed by multiple vessels flagged to different states, adds the UN Drug Trade Report 2019, are used in the networks which transit the waters of various states and call at different ports before reaching their final destination. Despite the abundance of laws designed to combat illicit trafficking and an apparent impetus to stop specific types of crime, government’s remains only marginally successful in preventing the global flow of illegal goods due to the overwhelming volume and complexity of the markets for illicit trade. Working in tandem, the maritime forces nevertheless have made successful efforts to disrupt the illicit supply chains as a result of sea-based security operations; cooperation and collaboration between law enforcement organizations.

Nevertheless, legal complexity arises as the high seas “fall outside the jurisdiction of any single state” under the United National Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The ocean space is to be collectively policed by all states governed by principles of Freedom of navigation. Piracy and the illicit trafficking of narcotics, humans, and weapons comprise the main varieties of transnational crime. UNCLOS addresses these matter of concern in the realm of the sea, where various articles provide guidance in order to curb or limit the threats. Article 110 expounds the customary rule that warships may “approach and visit” on the high seas “any ship that is suspected of piracy, human trafficking, unauthorized broadcasting; and is without nationality”; or, “is flying a foreign flag or refusing to show its flag.” Article 111 addresses the right of “hot pursuit”, allowing warships of one state to follow a vessel through the different maritime zones of the ship if based on “reasonable grounds,” it is suspected of illegal activity.

Narcotics Trafficking

UNCLOS under Article 108 empowers states to cooperate and offer assistance to suppress drug trafficking by other state-flagged vessels. Traditionally, drug traffickers used overland routes, but since last two decades, they have shifted transportation into the “Indo-Pacific Ocean”. The majority of this trafficking has proliferated in the littoral regions, and often within territorial waters. In the latter years, advancement in technologies, providing for larger ships have allowed traffickers to move further into the sea to capitalize “blue water” areas, outside the 12-nautical mile mark and at times further than the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of any country. It is a documented fact that U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs, also according to various studies the source and transit zones of drug trafficking between South America and the U.S despite high patrols on the border.

Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea

Piracy has been one of the most ancient forms of maritime crime that is treated rigorously under the provisions of UNCLOS. Article 101 defines piracy as “any illegal act of violence or detention, any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship or private aircraft on the high seas against another ship or aircraft, outside the jurisdiction of any state.” The latter parts highlights an important aspect that piracy is a type of transnational crime conducted by non-state actors in international waters. Article 105 of UNCLOS grants everystate the authority to seize any vessel, associated property and to arrest any persons engaged in piracy. Domestic courts of the state conducting the seizure have the mandate prosecute the pirates under domestic law and determine what to do with the vessels; however, to date the courts remain inadequate or unsupported in many places.

Piracy became a security issue of international concern since the last decade and half, primarily in the Horn of Africa, Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea largely due to weak patrolling and sea blindness by the littoral states of the region. However, to an extent order at sea has been maintained with the presence Combined Task Force-151(CTF-151), focused on counter-piracy, and Combined Task Force-150 (CTF-150) to combat illicit activities at sea. Supported by several U.N. Security Council Resolutions, these task forces have “engaged with regional partners to build capacity and improve capabilities to protect global maritime commerce and secure freedom of navigation.” 

Piracy in the Asia-Pacific remains a matter of concern, however most of the incidents are underreported and those reported are of such small scale that they cloud the assessment of major piracy events. In the region, although piracy has been contained in the eastern region of Africa whereas it has proliferated in the western Africa around the Gulf of Guinea. This subject-matter experts conclude is a result of an increased trafficking in narcotics from Latin America, along with the various other illicit elements involving illegal fishing and human trafficking. The increased in piracy is a reminder for states that piracy remains a persistent and widespread challenge to maritime security. The recent activities in Somalia and Yemen foreshadow a resurgence of piracy in the region, encouraged by trafficking of light weapons and small arms, along with non-state actor’s unprecedented access to ship monitoring, tracking devices, and use of unmanned systems and long range communications.

Conclusion

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) identifies only certain types of transnational crime that affect maritime security, but there are many varieties and combinations of criminal activity that affect security and safety from the high seas to internal waters. Domestic laws however need be brought in line with international law, and cooperative partnerships between the states, law enforcement, and militaries to combat illicit activity needs to transcend the morass of politics that are often a hurdle in the way of more comprehensive legal regimes. It is recommended that information and intelligence sharing, along with TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) need to be employed by the maritime forces to ensure freedom of the seas. UNCLOS provides a strong framework and multilateral efforts to deter criminal activity at sea for a more secure, safer operating environment for all. However, it is the difficulty in effective prosecution and applying of an equitable punishment to the culprits, involved in piracy, human trafficking and illicit drugs that must serve as a reminder to all states that much awaits for an all-inclusive solution.

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Fighting Corporate Espionage by a Counterintelligence Agent

Bob Budahl

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Corporate executives must bear the responsibility of today’s evolving corporate world entering into a global community where not only are the exposures to such a wide market area lucrative to an already thriving business, but also to a grave danger of the companies’ trade and technology secrets, systems, financial accounts and much more. No longer is “Security” to the facility and personnel all that is required. Many foreign countries and interests take short cuts to becoming competitive through the theft of trade secrets, products and overt and covert espionage of all sorts. Some of these entities are now facing a growing challenge from United States corporations with safeguarding of commercial information, proprietary information, and economic factors.

Many of the tactics utilized in private sector counterintelligence have much in common with the secrets and information the government does its best to safeguard from theft of foreign governments or non-traditional actor threats. The FBI estimates U.S. Corporations lose over $100 billion annually. There are open and legal methods of collection open that are harmful and a good counterintelligence program should target this as well as illegal activities such as electronic eavesdropping, hacking, etc. Passive counterintelligence tries to curtail what a collector may do through countermeasures, and awareness training. Active counterintelligence will prove beneficial to identify and detect a threat, and will conduct operations including eliminating threats or ongoing targeting. A mitigation policy should be of avail. After an attack it may raise shareholder concern which needs to be quelled quickly. Quick realization of a threat and implementing action promptly and efficiently can stop immeasurable damage.

The leaders in the private sector need to be proactive and realize that it is no longer only local threats they face. The threats can be global and may not only be an economic threat but also a threat to national security. In the U.S. private sector ties to the Defense, Intelligence and other government entities can be vast with a great deal of interplay and interconnectedness. Also, corporations do not employ many of the safeguards put in place by the defense and other government departments. Compartmentation, clearance, and many operations taken for granted in the government aren’t serving the corporate structures well-being at all or as well as it should be. The Economic Espionage Act of 1996, Title 18, Sections 1831 and 1832 of the U.S. Code covers economic espionage and also if they are considered trade theft prosecutions.

Where once economic espionage meant directly infiltrating a company or recruiting an employee within the corporation our biggest challenge today is cyber espionage. In reality secrets and information are stolen often and not even known they were taken. And a much less chance of apprehension. Cybercrimes operate in a stealth mode in many ways, but in a contrast way can be identified and detected and countered with effective counterintelligence methods. The U.S. economy has changed over the past 20 years. “Intellectual capital rather than physical assets now represent the bulk of a U.S. corporation’s value.”

With the growth of cybercrimes including corporate espionage some tips for safeguarding and thwarting foreign hostile intrusions include

Conduct real-time monitoring of networks and retaining access records

Software tools for content mgt., data loss prevention, network forensics

Encrypt data on servers

Utilize multi-factor authentication measures such as biometrics, PINS, passwords

Mobility policy in which measures are developed to oversee which connections can and cannot be made to corporate systems

Limits on social networking

Establish contingency plans

Many others

When deciding to emplace a counterintelligence program to safeguard a corporation the first stepis to conduct a risk assessment by assessing vulnerabilities and estimating the consequences of losing critical assets. This should be headed up by a board member or senior executive.

Then move to step two in which groundwork is laid for establishing a corporate counterintelligence program. Hire a manager dedicated to counterintelligence. Hook up the company’s security, intelligence assurance, general counsel and HR departments. Develop liaison with government law and intelligence. Ensure centralized management of the counterintelligence program. And have legal counsel provide guidance on the counterintelligence program actions.

Identify the Capabilities needed

Threat awareness and training

Analysis, Reporting and Response

Suspicious activity reporting

Counterintelligence Audit

Counterintelligence Investigations.

Liaison

Implement the Counterintelligence Program

A basic counterintelligence program description will look something like this: PM (Program Manager) interplay such as:

PM develops and implements CI program

PM oversees a centralized CI Program office

PM maintains insight into all corporate elements

PM is responsible for liaison with US Government

Security officers responsible for tactical CI

PM provides CI guidance through training programs

Also be aware that not only high tech companies are targeted since the targeted information they seek may be deemed important by who is doing the shopping.

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Where does allegiance lie?

Bob Budahl

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Dongfan “Greg” Chung who is a native of China and a naturalized U.S. Citizen had “secret” security clearance while working with Rockwell and Boeing Corporations on the Space Shuttle project. He had retired in 2002 but returned a year later as a contractor until fall 2006. The government proved Chung committed espionage by taking and concealing Boeing secrets regarding the Delta IV rocket and also the Space Shuttle. He did this for the People’s Republic of China. He was convicted on charges of acting as an agent of the PRC as well as economic espionage.

The investigation of a different engineer working within the U.S is what led to Chung’s investigation and resulting conviction. He was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison.

The Chinese had sent letters requesting information as far back as 1979. In correspondence with the PRC Chung expressed his wishes to help the PRC modernize. He also sent 24 manuals related to the important B-1 Bomberfrom Rockwell Corporation which was very damaging.

Travel trips to the People’s Republic of China occurred on multiple occasions to lecture but he also met with government officials. In letters from his handlers they use his wife Rebecca and Chi Mak to transmit information. In the fall of 2006 FBI and NASA agents searched his home and discovered more than 250,000 documents from Boeing, Rockwell and others which were secret.

The Shuttle Drawing System or “SDS” that Rockwell and Boeing engineers created held information regarding performing processes regarding the Space Shuttle. The engineers need a password and authorization to be able to access this system and files. This is a clear case that defensive counterintelligence measures could have prevented printing, concealment and removal of documents from the workplace. One great example of offensive counterespionage was the search of Chung’s trash which led to much revealing evidence.Also his extensive travel to the PRC was an indicator that his scope of activities while in the PRC were above speaking engagements, seminars, teaching, personal. The authorities did conduct offensive counterintelligence to the best of their abilities once it learned via the other agent implicated in similar dealings with the PRC.

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