Continuation. Part I here
Regarding the second scenario, Moscow does have a network of organizers, journalists, political experts, trolls and bots, which are capable to influence on public opinion in Ukraine. All this resource is used and will be used for support a candidate that is advantageous to the Kremlin and for discreditation of opponents. At the same time, the information company will be designed not only for domestic Ukrainian audience, but also for foreign observers.
Such meddling was carried out by Russians in elections in the USA, France, Germany, and Denmark. For example, in France, Putin relied on the leader of the conservative nationalist party “National Front” Marie Le Pen. In the last few years before the 2017 elections, the Russian leader and ultra-right-wing politician, who share similar nationalistic views, have developed close ties. These ties were reinforced by the complicated financial schemes and the exceptionally positive coverage of Le Pen in Russian state-owned media.
The victory of Le Pen promised for Putin the opportunity to sow discord in the West, and Putin’s support helped the French politician to present herself as a global leader, and to discredit the opponent at the same time. For example, just a few hours before the fierce presidential debate in France, which took place on May 3, 2017, Twitter trolls and bots began spreading unsubstantiated statements that the candidate from the centrists Emmanuel Macron has a secret offshore bank account. This was done with the submission of Moscow.
Russian spies tried to spy on the election campaign of French President Emmanuel Macron through fake accounts on Facebook. About two dozen accounts on Facebook were created for monitor the officials of the Macron campaign and other persons close to him.
In addition, the Facebook staff said that they had to take action against fake accounts that disseminated disinformation about the elections in France. Sources said that the number of Facebook accounts that were deactivated in France due to propaganda or spam – most of them related to elections – grew up to 70,000. Among the deactivated accounts were spy accounts, behind which were Russian agents, representing themselves as “friends of friends” of Macron’s partners who tried to collect personal information from them.
The third scenario, which the Kremlin can resort to, is the likelihood of increasing military tension in the Donbass, terrorist attacks and other actions aimed at spreading panic, fear and distrust towards the Ukrainian government and law enforcement agencies. This should frighten people and lead to their refusal to participate in elections.
Regarding the situation in the zone of military operations in the Donbas, a significant spiral of violence escalation is expected after the World Cup in Russia. Although literally a week before the football event, the situation in the Donbas has become sharply aggravated: during the week, the number of attacks increased in the last six months not only on the positions of the AFU, but also on settlements. The shelling of the Ukrainian territory was carried out to a depth of 30 kilometers, as a result of which civilian infrastructure was destroyed, there are dead not only among the military, but also among civilians.
Here it is worth to recall a sad parallel with the events of February 2014, when, right after the Olympics in Sochi, the Russians began a special operation to occupy the Crimean peninsula. There is a big risk that the East of Ukraine will again be flared up as soon as the last groups of tourists will leave Russia after the end of the football championship.
A large-scale cyberwar against Ukraine is the fourth scenario of undermining the situation to achieve paralysis of the electoral process. The electoral system and technologies of the country are vulnerable to invasion by outsiders, and the Kremlin knows this. It is likely that these weaknesses will be used to crack e-mail and identify the personal data of key presidential candidates, especially those who seriously threaten the Kremlin.
In 2017 Ukraine has already undergone targeted large-scale hacker attacks on the networks of Ukrainian state enterprises, institutions, banks, and the media. As a result of these attacks, the activities of such enterprises as Boryspil airport, Chornobyl NPP, Ukrtelecom, Ukrposhta, Oschadbank, Ukrzaliznytsia and a number of large commercial enterprises were blocked. The website of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, the Inter TV channel, the TV Holding Lux, which includes 24 channels, Radio Lux FM, Radio Maximum, various Internet media, as well as websites of the Lviv City Council , The Kyiv City State Administration and the Special Communications Service of Ukraine.
It is important to note that the large-scale hacker strike coincided with the death of Colonel of MoD Intelligence Department of Ukraine Maxim Shapoval in Kiev. His car was blown up by a powerful explosive, and Shapoval immediately died after that. The likely motive of the double subversive action was the desire to inflict image and moral damage on the official Kyiv on the eve of the national holiday – Constitution Day. The main purpose of a virus cyberattack could be the destruction of important data and the disruption of the normal operation of large state and private institutions.
In addition to Ukraine, Western European countries also became victims of hacker attacks by Russians. For example, in March 2017 it became known that a year earlier Germany successfully repulsed two cyber-attacks carried out by Russian hackers from the Fancy Bear group. According to Anse Schoenbom, head of the German information security department, the first attack was directed to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party’s server, and the second to the Bundestag’s data bank.
Also Denmark suffered from Russian hackers. The Ministry of Defense of the Kingdom stated that Russian hackers hacked the email of some employees of the department and for two years had access to their accounts. According to the Ministry of Defense, Russian hackers had access to e-mail in 2015 and 2016. According to the agency, these hackers committed cyber-attacks on the US Democratic Party in 2016.
As is known, about the cyberattack on the National Committee of the Democratic Party of the United States it was reported in April 2016, and CrowdStrike Company was involved in the investigation at the same time. After the investigation, the Company came to the conclusion that two hacker groups – Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear – managed to hack the information system. Representatives of CrowdStrike believe that these groups are closely related to the Russian government, and are involved in political and economic espionage.
According to the results of the investigation, Cozy Bear got unauthorized access to the information system in the summer of 2015, and Fancy Bear – in April 2016. According to the conclusion of CrowdStrike, both groups were able to steal letters from e-mail boxes, as well as blackmail on the competitor of the Democrats in the presidential elections – Donald Trump.
In case if the four scenarios described above will fail, or will not work in the complex, the Kremlin has the fifth scenario. We are talking about a coup d’état that will bring extremely radical forces to power, including members of volunteer battalions with combat experience in the Donbas.
This can already be a real military junta, similar to those that often came to power in Latin America or Africa. There is a guess that Moscow can use this as an excuse for carrying out a stabilization “peacekeeping operation” for the next protection of the Russian-speaking population from this junta. Thus, another maidan with elements of violence could create favorable conditions for the subsequent invasion of the Russian army for “bringing order and stabilization” of Ukraine, which, with Moscow’s effective participation, will turn into a “failed state” for the West.
In favor of this scenario is the fact of the involvement of Russian special services in attempting to organize a coup d’état in the Republic of Montenegro. On October 16, 2016, parliamentary elections took place in the country and the political force of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic won it, and he called for the country’s rapprochement with Europe and NATO.
This political course of Djukanovic to the West could provoke the Russian government to make a coup. On Election Day, after the closure of polling stations, attacks were planned on government agencies, police and officials. All the attackers were to be armed with automatic weapons. However, the country’s police detained 20 people who were preparing for the terrorist attacks, even before they began.
They were Serbs. Even before the elections began, the Prime Minister of Montenegro accused Nebojsa Medojevic – the president of the Democratic Front, the party-rival in the elections, in relations with Russia. He was also convinced that the party of Medojevic receives funding from the Russian Federation.
In few weeks after the election, information began to appear that pointed to the Russians which were responsible for planning the coup. The Kremlin denied involvement in the events in Montenegro. A month after the election, the names of the organizers of the terrorist attack were named. They were citizens of Russia Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov. Such conclusions were drawn on the basis of the testimonies of the persons involved in the coup and the data on their negotiations. According to the special state prosecutor of Montenegro Milivoe Katnich, one of the aims of the terrorist act was the murder of Milo Djukanovic.
Apparently, Moscow is ready for any adventures just to achieve its goals of keeping the needed countries in the orbit of its influence. And if Montenegro is a fairly small stake, then in the case of Ukraine everything is much more serious.
If in 2019 the Kremlin will not manage to take revenge on Ukrainian soil, this will mean the final failure of the strategy of revanchism, the concept of the Russian neo-empire, and the collapse of Putin’s Bonapartism. Such a defeat will finally convince the world community and the Russians themselves of the failure of their aggressive and adventurous foreign policy, which destroys peace and stability in an increasing number of places on the world map.