Russian Intelligence Services are Getting more Dilettantish, However Dangerous

More information about individuals, who want to get electronic visa; biometric databank of the Ministry of the Interior of Russia; secret and public matters of Russian intelligence services – how are all these things interlin…

More information about individuals, who want to get electronic visa; biometric databank of the Ministry of the Interior of Russia; secret and public matters of Russian intelligence services – how are all these things interlinked? Let’s try to answer these questions.
Will collect more data
Some quite important news passed away without being mentioned already in November. First of all, it was announced that from 1 January 2021 Russia was planning to expand the list of data that have to be submitted for foreign subjects in order to get an electronic visa of Russia. Here we should mention that Moscow started an experiment with electronic visas already in 2017. Electronic visas that could be obtained easier since 1 January 2021 will enable people enter the territory of Russia and stay there up to 16 days. Some suspicions arose in regards to the mentioned visas already previously, since applications for electronic visas would potentially enable Russian intelligence services to collect information about foreign citizen in an easier way. This information can be used for recruitment of certain persons or organization of certain provocations against foreign subjects arriving in Russia.
The information that more personal information shall be necessary for getting an electronic visa of Russia only enhances such suspicions. For instance, from next year a foreign subject, who wants to get an electronic visa shall have to indicate his/her phone numbers and e-mail addresses and also indicate links to his/her references on social networks. Now they shall also have to indicate information not only about him/her, but also about family members and shall specify education, information about his/her workplace, military service, previous criminal records, etc. In the application one shall specify all countries that have been visited within the last three years. It is noted that an additional field shall be filled in by those persons, who previously emigrated from Russia or the USSR.     
Actually, we are talking that a person shall submit all potentially sensible information about himself/herself. Details from social networks can provide plenty of information about personal life, beliefs and tendencies of a person. Information about education, workplace and military service enables to have access to information that interests intelligence and so on.
Another related piece of news is plans of the Ministry of the Interior of Russia to develop a centralized biometric databank of Russian citizens and foreign subjects. In this case we are talking about the image and fingerprints. A person later can be easily recognized according to the mentioned parameters with the help of the special software. They are planning to develop this databank in the next coming years. As it has been mentioned above, it shall include not only Russian citizens, but also foreign subjects. It is most probable that in this case we are talking about foreign subjects, who will enter Russia and particular biometric data can be collected namely at the time when they cross the border. 
The biometric databank enables to develop an electronic surveillance and recognition system, managed by a neural network (artificial intelligence). Such system has been already successfully tested in China, where Uigur population have been actually driven to a certain digital concentration camp. In Russia biometric databank could obviously be used both for spying on its citizens and control of movement of aliens in the country, which together with available and analyzed information would enable Russian intelligence services to determine persons suitable for recruitment and construct conditions favourable for that. 
‘If we wanted to kill, we would have killed’
Of course, we can have a lot of sceptics, who would say that intelligence services of the whole world collect data and all of us are related in one way or other by modern technologies and in order to get a visa – it doesn’t matter whether it is a paper or electronic version – we have to submit certain information about ourselves and this is mandatory, thus, in this case there is no need to make a fuss here. On the other hand, Russian intelligence services have certain features that make us consider their activities with an evident concern. Firstly, modern Russia is authoritarian state and in non-free states intelligence services are always the anchor of a political regime; they also perform repressive functions. Besides, a heavy shadow of suspicions fall on Russian intelligence services that is related to activities that could be compared with international terrorism. Here we can bring to mind killing of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 and an attempt to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter in London in 2018 in the territory of the same United Kingdom and the attempt to poison a representative of the opposition Alexei Navalny that was realized this year.
The last crime enables to talk about methods how Russian special services operate. An interesting fact is that up to now no formal investigation has been initiated in Russia regarding poisoning of Alexei Navalny at the end of August of the current year. Meanwhile German specialists managed to establish (later these conclusions were approved by several independent laboratories) that the Russian opposition leader was poisoned with Novichok nerve agent, i.e., a similar material that was used in case of attempt to poison Sergei Skripal.  
Finally, not long ago a journalist investigation appeared that was carried out by an international group of investigators and Russian publication The Insider. It disclosed that for the last several years a group of agents from Federal Security Service of Russia (FSS) was involved in spying on Alexei Navalny. Besides, it is probable that there were previous attempts to poison Alexei Navalny and once his wife also felt the effect of a poisonous agent.    
Another interesting fact is that during the annual grand press conference that this year lasted for over four hours, the President of Russia Vladimir Putin actually admitted that the FSS was spying on Alexei Navalny. He announced that ‘players of this type’ have been spied on around the world and he told about the attempt to kill: ‘If we wanted to kill, we would have killed’.  
A piquant thing is that mostly military doctors and chemists were in the group of specialists, who were spying on Alexei Navalny, as the journalist investigation established. That is, actually it is obvious that the objective of the group was not just spy on the representative of the opposition. Admission of Vladimir Putin that actually Alexei Navalny has been spied on, in this context looks quite piquant.
Games of intelligence services
Recently a lot is talked about professionalism of Russian intelligence services, to be exact – lack of it. This is relevant both in the context of Sergei Skripal and attempt to kill Alexei Navalny. It seems that both agents of the Chief Intelligence Directorate and Federal Security Service work in a quite dilettante way. It is presumed that this might be a sign of degradation of the whole system. Meanwhile, despite of that, Russian intelligence services remain quite dangerous. Now they compensate their dilettantism with impudence. It seems that representatives of these services feel unpunished realizing that the Kremlin would always provide a cover.  
Namely for this reason everyone, who goes to Russia, have to think of information that potentially can get to the hands of intelligence services of the country. Even a person, who might think that he/she is not interesting to Russian intelligence services, may get attention of the agents regarding their relatives, professional links or even a certain post on social networks and sometimes simply become a hostage or victim of circumstances.   
Besides, we should also mention that despite the Russian intelligence services demonstrate more dilettantism, it would be not wise and in some way dilettante to devalue them. They remain the essential support of the Kremlin and obviously do not care about acceptability and purity of their methods applied in work.
 
Viktor Denisenko

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