September 21, 2012

Covert Games of Russia’s Foreign Policy

Published in March, Edward Lucas’s book Deception dissects a hidden facet of Russia’s foreign policy – a shadowy game of spies and dirty money, where destroying human lives is part and parcel of the great powers’ and especially Russia’s power plays. In the opening chapters of the book, Lucas describes the imprisonment of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, his death at the hands of the authorities, and how, according to Lucas, his only proven sin was his antagonistic stance towards the Kremlin’s interests. The detailed description of Magnitsky’s case sets the tone for the rest of the book – in Lucas’s opinion, it must be clear to everybody what Russia is capable of, and he warns Western nations that if they do not do anything about Russia and its spies, they veer dangerously close to becoming more and more similar to Russia. Lucas is International Editor of The Economist and his background includes decades-long interest in Russia, Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.

Published in March, Edward Lucas’s book Deception dissects a hidden facet of Russia’s foreign policy – a shadowy game of spies and dirty money, where destroying human lives is part and parcel of the great powers’ and especially Russia’s power plays. In the opening chapters of the book, Lucas describes the imprisonment of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, his death at the hands of the authorities, and how, according to Lucas, his only proven sin was his antagonistic stance towards the Kremlin’s interests. The detailed description of Magnitsky’s case sets the tone for the rest of the book – in Lucas’s opinion, it must be clear to everybody what Russia is capable of, and he warns Western nations that if they do not do anything about Russia and its spies, they veer dangerously close to becoming more and more similar to Russia. Lucas is International Editor of The Economist and his background includes decades-long interest in Russia, Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.

Covert Games of Russia’s Foreign Policy

Karoliina Raudsepp
Edward Lucas, Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West, Bloomsbury, 2012, 384 pages.
Published in March, Edward Lucas’s book Deception dissects a hidden facet of Russia’s foreign policy – a shadowy game of spies and dirty money, where destroying human lives is part and parcel of the great powers’ and especially Russia’s power plays. In the opening chapters of the book, Lucas describes the imprisonment of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, his death at the hands of the authorities, and how, according to Lucas, his only proven sin was his antagonistic stance towards the Kremlin’s interests. The detailed description of Magnitsky’s case sets the tone for the rest of the book – in Lucas’s opinion, it must be clear to everybody what Russia is capable of, and he warns Western nations that if they do not do anything about Russia and its spies, they veer dangerously close to becoming more and more similar to Russia. Lucas is International Editor of The Economist and his background includes decades-long interest in Russia, Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.
On the front cover, the reader meets Anna Chapman’s sly gaze and Vladimir Putin’s threatening eyes, which ties in well with the central theme of Deception – a Russian-hatched governing culture where gangsters, mobsters, civil servants and spies play more or less identical (and equally criminal) roles. Lucas describes in detail how lawyers and businessmen who are caught in Russian power plays disappear from the public eye. The lucky ones die quickly; others are tortured or left to die in prison. And there will always be somebody who takes the blame for such deaths. Lucas’s first chapters focus on explaining the background: the reader will understand what Russia’s secret services are capable of, who the spies are and how the Western world has turned a blind eye to all this. He does not picture the spies as James Bond type charismatic alpha-males, but rather draws attention to their inner weaknesses and personal ambitions. It is quite frightening that the descriptions of patriotic spies and traitors sound so similar.
An important part of the book focuses on ten Russian spies who were recently arrested in the United States, particularly Anna Chapman. Lucas characterises her as a rather vacuous socialite who could not be counted on for real spying. Still, her father was a high-ranking member of the Russian secret service. Lucas claims that this is Russia’s biggest weakness – it is often the case that spying positions are not manned by the people best suited to the job, but by youngsters with important relatives. However, despite Soviet-style corruption, nepotism and ineffectiveness, which are familiar to Estonians, Russia is also able to send undetectable and very active agents to the West, says Lucas.
The final chapters of the book are the part that is probably of most interest to Estonians. Lucas focuses on the activities of the British Secret Intelligence Service MI6 during the Cold War when the British trained dozens of people from the Baltic states as spies and sent them back behind the Iron Curtain, not realising that their local contacts had long since been recruited by the KGB and that the newly trained spies found their dire end rather quickly. Lucas shows in an impartial and detailed manner how one of the world’s best intelligence services completely let down Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, and how those stories were largely swept under the rug afterwards.
Lucas’s investigation into Hermann Simm’s case is the culmination of the book. He apparently called in all favours in Estonia and got access not only to Simm himself in the Tartu prison, but also to the officials of the Security Police (Kaitsepolitsei, KaPo) who had investigated the case. Although KaPo would not allow Lucas to hear all the details, Simm still described to him the process of his recruitment and how the exchange of information was organised through a secretive Portuguese contact who later disappeared into thin air. Lucas calls Simm a traitor who has caused the greatest ever damage to NATO. He sold the Russians everything he could find out about NATO from the minutes of meetings to the most important codes. In addition, he described at length all disputes within the alliance concerning Russia.
Simm had been active for years. He was recruited as far back as 1995 while on a holiday and was exposed only in 2008. Lucas also tries to explain why such a high-ranking official became a traitor at all. As many traitors before him, Simm felt that he was playing an important role in geopolitics. He said to Lucas that if Russia had lacked information and had begun to fear an attack for that reason, it would have pre-emptively attacked Estonia. Simm therefore believed that in some way his deeds were still greatly beneficial to mankind.
During the final year and a half, it was clear even to Simm that the noose around his neck was tightening. With a birthday cake for his mother-in-law in his hand, he was arrested in Keila in 2008. After thirteen years of shadowy business, his treachery was finally exposed to the Estonians and the world. The most sensational piece of news from Lucas has never before seen the light of day – during the first years, Simm also traded secret information about Estonia to Germany. Apologies have been made and it is unlikely that something similar would happen again, but it does show Simm’s opportunistic nature.
Lucas’s book was almost impossible to put down. He proves he is among the best investigative journalists in the world, as Deception is written with almost pedantic factual accuracy. While investigating the spy circle in the USA, Lucas made active use of all media at hand, social media among others, trying to get in touch with the spies’ contacts and middlemen, but also with turncoats. He tries to remain unbiased and has thus requested comments from almost all parties involved (Anna Chapman among them!), but has of course mostly been unsuccessful in doing so. Furthermore, Lucas does not see the world in black and white. For instance, he understands very well what it meant for the Estonians to have to choose between Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II. This ability is very important when discussing the topic of spies. As a result, the book has been written impartially and is rich in detail.
Deception is an easy read despite being laden with facts because the author is an excellent storyteller. The Estonians, however, see these stories as horrible nightmares. Lucas is sure that Russia will not cease its activities in the Baltic states and that the recruitment of spies will continue. He does not believe that it is possible to mould Russia into NATO’s trusted ally and friend while Putin’s regime is in power. If anybody is able to make the West believe it, it is Edward Lucas.

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